Urbanization, Caste & Elections in Gujarat

 

Courtesy: TNN

Caste equations are unlikely to affect the outcome of this year's Lok Sabha elections in Gujarat to the degree they did in the 2009 polls. The main reason for this is growing urbanization of the state which has steadily reduced the influence of caste, at least in parliamentary elections, believe political analysts.

In the 2009 polls, however, caste rivalries affected the outcome for both Congress and BJP in several Lok Sabha constituencies of the state. Perhaps the most important was rivalry between Leuva and Kadva Patel sub-castes of the Patidar community which affected election results in many constituencies. Other factors that also affected poll results in Gujarat in 2009 was the absence of communal mobilization by BJP, the Congress projecting Narendra Modi as the 'chief minister of five billionaires' and lack of clarity among voters over the candidature of L K Advani for the prime minister's post.

Returning to the role of caste, BJP has had the loyal support of the Patidars (Patels) since it first came to power in the state in 1990, jointly with Janata Dal. Of the two Patel sub-castes, the Leuva Patels - they comprise 8.11% of the state's total population - have been particularly loyal to the BJP and have been successful in influencing the poll outcome on a large number of assembly seats.

But Modi, who apparently had set his eyes on the prime minister's post long ago back, launched his Sadhbhavna Yatra in 2011 to woo Muslims who comprise 9.89% of the state's population. The third social group that plays a pivotal role in elections is the Thakors who comprise 7.67% of Gujarat's population. In assembly polls, they have been able to influence outcomes on 40 seats in North and Central Gujarat.

Caste equations in Gujarat are so sensitive that a small shift in preference for some caste groups or within a caste group can have a substantial impact on the outcome of the polls. For instance, Modi had fielded Kiran Patel, a Kadva Patel, from Rajkot Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. This angered the Leuva Patels in Saurashtra. Further, Modi had made Parshottam Rupala, a Kadva Patel, president of the state BJP. Modi had done this to promote Rupala as a leader of the entire Patel community and to counter the influence of Keshubhai Patel. But Leuva Patels voted against the BJP and the party lost the Rajkot seat.

But political scientist Ghanshyam Shah believes caste will not have much of a role to play in 2014.

"The political tone for this year's parliamentary elections is set at patriotism and nationalism. Scams and corruption are dominating debates on various platforms. In such a situation, the voter is likely to go by what he expects the government to do for him-he will not be guided by caste. We are an urbanized state. In assembly polls and in local panchayat polls, caste may play a role but not in elections in a large Lok Sabha constituency. The priorities of Gujarat voters are different in different elections," said Shah. He further said that as the influence of parochial considerations like caste has been declining, parties like AAP can eat into the votes of both Congress and BJP.

The National Election Study (NES) conducted by Mahashweta Jani of Delhi-based Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) soon after the Lok Sabha polls of 2009 found that the BJP continues to enjoy the support of around 80% Brahmins and 60% of OBCs in Gujarat. (The figure for OBCs supporting the BJP is the same - around 64% - as in the 2007 assembly elections.)

As for the Congress, apart from a section of Leuva Patels, the other big support for the party comes from Kshatriyas. In the 2007 assembly elections, only 37% of Kshatriyas voted for the Congress but this rose to 50% in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. In fact, according to the NES study, Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims had thrown their weight behind the Congress in the 2009 elections. Dalit support for the Congress in the 2007 assembly elections was 56% but this increased to 61% in the 2009 parliamentary polls. Tribal support for the Congress was around 55% in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections while it was just 39% in the 2007 assembly elections.

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