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Gujarat elections: Will rickety Congress get extra strength from caste trinity?

The BJP’s image has taken a blow among Harijans and Patidars in particular and farmers across castes in general.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 23, 2017 22:59 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Gujarat elections,Gujarat polls,Congress in Gujarat
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi meeting with the supporters during a road show in Banaskantha district of Gujarat.(PTI File Photo)

The Congress has undoubtedly mounted spectacular proximate tie-ups in the run-up to the Gujarat polls. But that as much was the case when Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav teamed up to make an eye-catching twosome in Uttar Pradesh. The outcome was a humiliatingly damp squib. The BJP swept the polls like never before.

Bihar’s is a comparable story on the upside.

The grand alliance of the RJD, JD(U) and the Congress triggered an unbeatable social alliance that ran aground the ambitious BJP challenge. It’s another story that the uneasy partnership didn’t last.

The big question remains as to what’s in store for rival contenders in Narendra Modi’s home state: UP or Bihar?

Voices on the ground indicate that after over two decades, a contest is in store for the BJP the PM led to a hat-trick win in 2012. But organisationally, the Congress is the David.

It isn’t in good enough health to take on the ruling party that often proved itself as Gujarat Kesari — electorally and by the colour it wears.

The BJP’s strategy is a blend of tradition and modernity. Its battle plans are centralised, be it rallies, road shows, door-to-door canvassing, peer outreach, booth management or overtures to revered seers and temple priests with huge followings. There’s no dearth of resources, cadres, technology or phraseology.

These are the tools worked and held together by nodal navigational commands for variously named formations: panna pramukhs (electoral page in-charge), booth managers and the tier above them called shakti kendra that oversees multiple booths.

The architecture explained by BJP spokesman Bharat Pandya evoked awe.

“The excitement you see in the Opposition camp is a bubble. Nobody can match our grassroots support,” he claimed.

The reality, however, is that since 2014, Gujarat hasn’t been managed the way the PM could as chief minister. Observers attribute the rise of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor to bad political management. If Modi was around, there would’ve been no Una-type incident or police excesses on agitating Patidar youth.

The BJP’s image has indeed taken a blow among Harijans and Patidars in particular and farmers across castes in general.

But will anti-incumbency and alienation beat the Modi lure? Can the Congress take on its mighty rival organisationally?

On the face of it, the party, the way it is run in the state, inspires little confidence.

Top positions in its state unit are occupied by sons of former CMs: Bharat Solanki, Siddhartha Patel and Tushar Choudhary. But they lack the political guile or the mass base of their fathers — Madhavsinh Solanki, Chimabhai Patel and Amarsinh Choudhary.

The response to Rahul Gandhi’s meetings and people’s willingness to lend him an ear has buoyed the mood in Congress circles.

The promise fades with a closer look at its preparedness. The party’s election-time management barring rallies by central leaders is staggered, not centralised, left as it largely is to individual candidates.

The targeted poll matrix is simple. It makes one wonder whether it’s that easily doable: retain the party’s average base of 38% vote and augment it with disaffected sections among Patidars, Harijans and OBCs.

Gujarat-based Congressmen believe the formula will work if the contest doesn’t turn into Rahul versus Modi.

The PM knows the state much better. He’s an orator way superior with a hand on people’s pulse.

But how the script plays out wouldn’t merely depend on Modi’s ripostes to Rahul. Of greater import will be his faceoff with Hardik and other fiery prongs in the caste triumvirate backing the Congress.

(vinodsharma@hindustantimes.com)

First Published: Nov 23, 2017 22:59 IST