The BJP, Gujarat’s ruling party, and its main opponent Congress have set up their game in recent weeks and it’s now time to choose viable candidates for the Assembly election, being held in two phases on December 9 and 14. This is proving a complex exercise for both parties as this election appears to have more energy than the earlier three due to the credible campaign that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi has run, and the fightback this has necessitated on the BJP’s part.
There has been conspicuous rebellion in the BJP camp, as the party has dropped over a dozen sitting MLAs and a clutch of ministers. This is the result of the perceived erosion of its traditional social base — the Patidars, or the Patel community, and OBCs, sections of which look to be disenchanted, with OBCs led by Alpesh Thakore joining the Congress.
Evidently, in order to woo these groups, a significant number from their ranks have been given party tickets at the expense of sitting legislators. It’s not clear if those left out can have a negative effect on the saffron party’s prospects.
As for the Congress, it’s clear that initially it placed too much faith in the necessity to woo Patidars led by young Hardik Patel, whose organisation PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) itself seems divided and vulnerable to being lured by the BJP.
Talks are now rocked by differences over the number of seats PAAS should get from the Congress, and from the PAAS side who should have a veto on which PAAS members will contest on Congress tickets. PAAS is, however, in no position to drive a hard bargain.
Since Patidars, who as a social group are traditional BJP backers, are angry with the saffron party for many social and economic reasons, including the state government lathicharging even protesting women and children at protests, Hardik can’t conceivably call for a return to the BJP. From the Congress perspective, it might serve its purpose if Patidars don’t en bloc vote BJP this time, even if they don’t give clear-cut support to the Opposition.
Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party has officially announced its decision to contest separately from the Congress and not together as UPA. This is in line with a pattern. The BJP will be benefited if the Opposition vote is divided. The NCP has obviously made its calculations and the BJP’s defeat may not rank high in its priorities.
The ruling party has mounted a communal campaign in this election once again, with a video suggesting that PM Narendra Modi alone can provide safety from marauders in the minority community. This is shocking, as Muslims lead an insecure existence in Gujarat, but not very surprising.