Why is the BJP not afraid of protests by the Rajput community? | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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Why is the BJP not afraid of protests by the Rajput community?

Apr 21, 2024 03:46 AM IST

Despite threats of protests from Rajputs over Parshottam Rupala's comments, the BJP remains steadfast, showing no signs of yielding to the community's demands

The ultimatum given by the Rajput community to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) over the withdrawal of Union minister Parshottam Rupala’s Lok Sabha nomination from the Rajkot constituency, following his controversial comments regarding the Rajputs, ended on Friday. However, the BJP appears resolute and unmoved, seemingly unaffected by the Rajput community's threats of protests against Rupala and the saffron party.

Rajkot: BJP candidate Parshottam Rupala leads a roadshow on his way to filing his nomination papers as BJP candidate for Rajkot Lok Sabha seat, ahead of Lok Sabha elections, in Rajkot, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI04_16_2024_000106A)(PTI) PREMIUM
Rajkot: BJP candidate Parshottam Rupala leads a roadshow on his way to filing his nomination papers as BJP candidate for Rajkot Lok Sabha seat, ahead of Lok Sabha elections, in Rajkot, Tuesday, April 16, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI04_16_2024_000106A)(PTI)

Addressing a small gathering of Dalits in Rajkot on March 22, Rupala remarked that former "maharajas" yielded to the oppression of foreign rulers and the British.

“There were others also who ruled us. So did the British and…they spared nothing to persecute (us). Even kings and royals bowed down to the British, started family bonds with them, broke bread with them, and even married their daughters to them. But this Rukhi Samaj (a Dalit community) was steadfast. I commend their resilience, as it's this strength that has preserved Sanatana Dharma... Jai Bhim!!” said Rupala.

The Kshatriya community members were incensed after hearing Rupala's remarks, saying that his statement that Kshatriya rulers married their daughters to the British was wrong. Since then, Rupala has apologised twice for his remarks, but the Kshatriya community shows no inclination to relent. Posters have been set up in various cities against Rupala’s candidature and their leaders have announced that they will field hundreds of candidates to ensure the BJP candidate’s defeat. The community leaders had given an ultimatum that if the candidature of Rupala was not withdrawn by April 19, they would campaign against him and the BJP in even other parts of the state and country.

Read Here: BJP parries Rajput angst

PT Jadeja, international president of the Akhil Gujarat Rajput Yuva Sangh, said that if Rupala does not withdraw his nomination by April 19, the Rajput community will initiate the second phase of their agitation.

Even Union home minister Amit Shah voiced support for Rupala, stating that the minister had sincerely apologised. “I am sure we will once again win all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat, with even greater margins than before,” Shah said on Thursday while talking to media persons during a roadshow in Sanand, a segment of his Gandhinagar Lok Sabha constituency.

Rupala is a member of the upper-caste Kadva Patidars, the biggest community of landowners in the state. An agrarian caste, it comprises multiple subcastes, most prominently the Leuvas and Kadvas, who mostly go by the surname of Patel. The community benefited from the Saurashtra Land Reforms Act, 1952 which gave occupancy rights to tenant cultivators, who were mainly Patels by caste. The Patidars constitute about 12-15% of the population and have a stronghold in Saurashtra, parts of Mehsana and Surat. In comparison, the Rajputs only constitute about 4-5% of the population.

The Patels gradually got richer as they began cultivating cash crops like groundnut and cotton in Saurashtra. They also invested in brass, ceramics, diamond, auto engineering and pharmaceuticals and slowly spread their dominance to other parts of Gujarat. The Saurashtra Patel lobby also moved to occupy the pole position in politics. With the current chief minister Bhupendra Patel hailing from the Patel community, Gujarat has witnessed five Patel chief ministers, including Anandiben Patel, Keshubhai Patel, Chimanbhai Patel, and Babubhai Patel, since the state's creation on May 1, 1960.

Read Here: Amid protests by Rajput community, union minister Rupala files papers for Rajkot

To take on Rupala, a Kadav Patel, the Congress has fielded Paresh Dhanani, the former leader of the Opposition in the state assembly and a Leuva Patel.

BJP's poll ties with the Patidar community

The 2017 assembly elections held in the backdrop of Patidar agitation for quota-related demands brought the BJP close to defeat, as they managed to scrape through with 99 seats out of 182, marking their worst performance in the last two decades, while the Congress secured 77 seats, representing its best performance in the same period.

"This isn't 2017, and the Rajputs aren't the same as the Patidars," said a senior BJP leader, speaking anonymously.

"Rajkot was the first municipal corporation Jan Sangh won in 1958. It has long been a stronghold for the BJP, evidenced by the assembly election victories of three former chief ministers - Keshubhai Patel, Vijay Rupani, and Narendra Modi, who won his first by-election thereafter assuming office as Gujarat's CM in 2001. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP candidate Mohan Kundariya secured the Rajkot seat with a commanding lead of over 3.5 lakh votes over the nearest rival from the Congress. Also, not all Rajputs are against the BJP, and we are confident that a majority of them will continue to support us," the senior leader added.

Read Here: How the BJP's path to power in Maharashtra became a tale of strategic missteps

The BJP has solidified its grip on Gujarat, attaining total dominance with victories in all 26 Lok Sabha seats in both the 2014 and 2019 elections. The 2022 state elections saw them achieve a historic feat, winning a staggering 156 out of 182 seats, a feat achieved by no other party ever in Gujarat.

While Rajput leaders anticipate opposition from the Kshatriya community towards the BJP and Rupala, experts suggest that due to internal divisions among various castes within the community and the remaining time until voting, it’s easier said than done. Kshatriyas constitute about 15% of Gujarat’s population, however many of them belong to the OBC community, as compared to Rajputs, who are upper caste.

“The Patidars are a dominant force in the BJP to the extent that they mostly control the party. Rajputs, on the other hand, are not united and they cannot mobilise the Kolis and other OBC Kshatriyas. Also, they are no longer that powerful in Gujarat to make a difference in the electoral outcome. Now, they have been strong supporters of the BJP because of Hindutva and they don’t have any other option than the saffron party,” said Ghanshyam Shah, a political expert and retired professor from JNU.

The protests, however, highlight the socio-economic tensions resulting from contradictions of the BJP's politics where on one hand you join hands with different communities on the Hindutva plank but at the ground level, the economic interests are conflicting Shah added. “For instance, the Rajputs and Patidars experience such tensions, with the former losing land to the latter in Saurashtra. Similarly, the Koli Kshatriyas find themselves at odds with the Patidars, given their roles as small-scale farmers or farm labourers," he further said.

Read Here: Rajput groups threaten to intensify agitation against Rupala’s candidature

Congress leader Shaktisinh Gohil criticised Rupala's statement, deeming it inappropriate. He expressed that people were angered by it and argued that the BJP should have taken responsibility by retracting Rupala's candidacy, which they failed to do. Gohil claimed that Rupala's apology was insincere and motivated by concerns about its impact on the party rather than genuine remorse.

Sociologist and political commentator Gaurang Jani said that the Kadva and Leuva Patidars are likely to collectively support Rupala in the upcoming elections due to the current circumstances. He said that BJP leaders would be looking to address the issue promptly to prevent it from lingering further, although they will not allow it to become a significant point in the election. Jani added that the Kadva and Leuva Patidars are solidly poised to support Rupala in the coming elections due to the prevailing situation.

"The BJP leaders are likely to seek a resolution to the issue behind closed doors, as they are keen on avoiding prolonged tensions. While certain Rajput protestors aim to unite different segments of the Kshatriya community, this might prove challenging as a considerable number of them already support the BJP,” Jani added.

“This decision however hasn't significantly affected their electoral outcomes. With issues like the Ram Temple in Ayodhya and Hindutva at the forefront, along with initiatives such as free ration distribution, the BJP holds significant sway in shaping voting behaviour. Hence, a single issue like the one involving Rupala may not significantly impact a voter's mindset," said Jani.

The voting for all 26 seats in Gujarat will be held on May 7.

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