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Make or mar battle for BJP in Gujarat

Why do the BJP and the Sangh Parivar need to polarise the electorate in a state where it is already so strong? Why this insecurity in monopoly? An insecurity apparently so strong that it prompts the party's foot soldiers to unleash the worst carnage since the demolition of the Babri Masjid. The target: Muslims who constitute a tiny 8.5 per cent of the population. It's this puzzle of Gujarat politics that perhaps holds the key to understanding why the BJP national executive floated the poll balloon in Goa, a balloon that it's deliberately not yet shot down but kept afloat to confuse the Opposition. 

Over much of the '90s, the BJP was in a virtually unassailable position in the state. It defeated a potential anti-incumbency wave by winning two successive state assembly elections in 1995 and 1998; both with a thumping three-quarters majority. This despite a formidable rebellion in its ranks led by Shankarsinh Vaghela. Gujarat is the only state where the BJP today is in an absolute majority, where it doesn't need to care for needling allies. It's the only state where in the last Lok Sabha elections the party received more than half the votes, in fact, 52.48 per cent. 

Throughout the '90s, the party has been almost 10 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival (even in 1999, the BJP got 7 percentage points more than Congress), its seat tally several times that of its opponent. So are the party and the Modi administration paranoid? Or is there a real threat to the BJP's dominance?

Since the six consecutive riots from 1980 to 1986, the Ayodhya aftermath in 1992-93, the state has been on a veritable powder keg, erupting periodically. And not coincidentally it is precisely in these years that the BJP has grown from strength to strength. No wonder Modi was the architect of the party's victories in 1995 and 1998. 

Unlike Modi's strategy, the Congress in the '80s under Madhavsinh Solanki and Jinabhai Darji built its decade-long dominance on the basis of the rainbow KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim) coalition. The BJP, under Modi, ripped apart the carefully constructed KHAM by targeting Muslims and isolating backwards from the coalition. The fact that Modi was a Ganchi by caste and Keshubhai Patel, a Patidar, helped build the new upper caste-backward coalition of the BJP until Vaghela rebelled. Despite the Congress's gradual growth in the 1990s, the BJP's insecurity stemmed from another source.

The new alliance built in 1999 between the Vaghela-led Rashtriya Janata Party and Congress had alarmed the BJP. Pure arithmetic suggests that if both had combined in 1998 in a pre-poll arrangement, they would have swept the polls with 45 additional seats. Although the combined coalition of Congress-RJP could not defeat the BJP in 1999, there were ominous signs of defeat all around.

Consider the local reverses: The BJP lost the strategic Sabarmati assembly and Sabarkantha Lok Sabha by-elections. In a similar outcome, the BJP lost the panchayat polls conducted in 2000 even as it lost the municipal corporation election of both Ahmedabad (after 15 years) and Rajkot (after 25 years). Although the BJP, in the 1990s, was much ahead of the Congress in both votes and seats, it felt threatened not so much by attempts to revive the KHAM coalition by a much weaker Solanki as with the possible tie-up of KHAM with Vaghela's OBC vote bank (and also the Janata Dal's). 

The BJP's attempts to polarise Gujarati voters once again could be because of the threat from Vaghela who is trying to build the new HAMDOST coalition (Harijans, Adivasis, Muslims, Dalits, and other Scheduled Tribes and castes). This has the potential of uniting three quarters of the total electorate. In fact, it's the same paranoia that led Modi to target the "Khajurias" (the Khajuraho MLAs who sided with Vaghela) and patronise the "Hajurias" (the loyalists) within the party. Post-riots Modi might have polarised the voters of Gujarat somewhat. But other than the losses suffered by all communities, the fierce opposition to Modi has the potential to unite the various Congress factions. If these unite under the leadership of Vaghela, the HAMDOST coalition with its potential of uniting three-quarters of the electorate of Gujarat, might prove to be costly for the BJP. Maybe it will not, but one thing is clear: this is what was worrying Modi and his party before the bodies began to pile up. And it must be worrying them even now. 

(1) BCs: 50.39% 
     KOLI 24.22%
     PATIDAR (Patel) 12.16%
     ARTISAN 6.13%
     BHARWAD 2.01%
(2) STs 14. 65%
     BRAHMIN 4.00%
     BANIA 2.95%
     RAJPUT 4.85%
(4) MBCs 9.43%
     SCs 7.17%
(5) OBCs 2.26%
(6) MUSLIMS 8.53%

*Only prominent communities are included
*Based on 1991 census.

The issue of mobilisation will be a test case for the Congress as well. While the BJP support base is converted into votes, the Congress oscillates between its committed voter and a supportive electorate who may or may not vote. "The voting percentage among the Patels, who form a major chunk of BJP's vote bank here, will be as high as 80 per cent. But the Muslims, who form the Congress support base, will have a low voting percentage: even less than 50 per cent. So even while the Congress talks of support, what use is it?" lamented a senior Congress leader. 

MH Lakdawala, Mumbai

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