Gujarat lesson for Maharashtra’s Opposition: Caste mobilisation does not guarantee poll success

Mobilising Patidars weakened the BJP, but the party maintained majority as not everyone supported the cause

mumbai Updated: Dec 20, 2017 11:19 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,BJP,Maharashtra
The Maratha community held massive rallies last year, demanding reservation.(HT File Photo)

The outcome of the Gujarat assembly elections has a lesson for the main Opposition parties in Maharashtra, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): Mere dependence on caste mobilisation won’t guarantee success. They will have to work on other issues if they want to defeat the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The result of the Gujarat assembly polls shows the Congress could damage the BJP because of the mobilisation of Patidar community and Other Backward Classes (OBC). It was a major reason why the Congress put up its best performance in Gujarat since 1985 and the BJP could not cross the 100-seat mark. Still, the BJP managed to retain power. The results also showed that all Patidar or OBC voters did not respond to the appeal by community leaders Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakore respectively to vote for the Congress.

For instance, in the Saurashtra region, the impact of Patidar agitation could be felt, as the Congress won 28 out of 48 seats. The BJP could win 19. This area is dominated by the Patidar community, but the rural distress seems to have been an equally important factor for Congress scoring over BJP here. On the other hand, in the diamond-textile hub of Surat, where Patidar voters are in sizeable numbers, the Congress did not perform well.

The BJP retained all of its 12 seats in Surat city and neighbouring areas. In all, it won 15 seats in Surat district and Congress just one. Surat was the nerve centre of the Patidar community agitation for reservation in government jobs and education. Some other areas that have Patidars in significant numbers too elected BJP candidates. Insiders from both Congress and BJP say the OBC community was split in its support. The Thakore community did support the Congress, but the BJP succeeded in wooing other castes among the OBCs that were not happy with Congress-promoting Alpesh Thakore.

The Patidar agitation has parallels with the Marathas in Maharashtra. The community held massive rallies last year demanding reservation. Various Congress-NCP leaders were seen openly supporting Maratha community mobilisation in a bid to politically damage the BJP. However, the municipal and district council elections showed the BJP performed well, as OBC and Dalit communities reacted to the Maratha mobilisation.

The Congress and the NCP have been hoping that the discontent among Marathas would be a key factor in wresting power from the BJP in the 2019 assembly polls. There have been efforts to revive the Maratha agitation and some community outfits have already convened a meeting to work out the same.

If opposition parties become active in such a mobilisation, it would be counter-productive, say experts. First, the entire community may not support a particular party. Further, given the tussle for power between the Marathas and the OBCs—who are about 40% in Maharashtra—the latter may tilt towards the BJP. This will turn into an advantage for the BJP.

“We are analyzing the Gujarat results. It is clear we can’t take up cudgels for one community. However, the Maratha community has been politically dominant in the state, and them going against the BJP will upset lot of calculations for the ruling party,”said a key Congress leader who did not want to be named since the issue is politically sensitive.

“There are limits to a social coalition like this. The Congress-NCP will have to work as an effective opposition, raise the issues that bother the people and also project strong local leadership to win the election,”opined political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar.

First Published: Dec 20, 2017 11:19 IST