Defensive on development and perhaps unable to manage the voter resentment as the polling nears, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now playing communal card to consolidate Hindu votes in its favour in the upcoming Assembly elections in Gujarat which will elect a new house comprising 182 members on December 9 and 14.
A new poster titled ‘Pasangi Tamari’ (Your Choice) is being circulated on WhatsApp that asks electorates to choose between RAM and HAJ.
‘RAM’ has been derived from the names of Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Ramniklal Rupani, BJP President Amit Shah and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The photos of the three leaders have been used right above the respective letters of their names (R-Rupani, A-Amit Shah and M-Modi).
Right next to it are photos of Lord Rama in aggressive pose flying over the proposed structure of Ram temple in Ayodhya. The poster a lotus – election symbol of the BJP – above the picture of Lord Rama.
The bottom of the poster has the word ‘HAJ’ in bold. The HAJ stands for Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani. The picture of the trio, who has launched an impressive campaign against the ruling BJP, stands next to the picture of Holy Kaaba, where Muslims go to perform haj every year.
In a clear attempt to communalise the polls, the election symbol of the Congress party – Hand – is printed just above the holy Islamic site. The poster seeks to brand the grand old party along with the three activists on the side of Muslims.
Similarly, the RAM trio (Rupani, Shah and Modi) has been portrayed as the voice of Hindus.
The poster has been made viral in the local WhatsApp group run by the local unit of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the political mentor of the BJP, in Amraiwadi Nagar in Ahmedabad.
The saffron party has already tested the waters last week when Chief Minister Vijay Rupani accused Ahmed Patel of helping terrorists because an alleged Islamic State member arrested recently used to work at a hospital where the senior Congress leader was a trustee long before.
The Congress has so far refrained itself from being provoked. The party has reportedly instructed its leaders, especially in Gujarat, to refrain from getting into a war of words on such matters as they end up helping the BJP. The party has perhaps taken a lesson from the 2007 campaign, when Sonia Gandhi described Modi as “maut ka saudagar (the merchant of death)” only to see it backfire.
Therefore, the Congress is “determined to keep the focus on the economic slowdown, demonetisation, implementation of GST, farm crisis and atrocities against the Dalits”.
Why is BJP worried ‘HAJ’?
As political tides are taking new turns every day, the BJP seems to be in an uncomfortable position in the state it has ruled for two decades.
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel and OBC leader Alpesh Thakore have joined hands to declare an ‘anti-right wing’ front. Mevani has earlier claimed that the three of them could together make a dent in 120 out of the 182 assembly seats. The trio later found itself in the midst of the BJP-Congress face off in poll-bound Gujarat. While Alpesh has officially joined the Congress, Jignesh and Hardik have not but are supporting the party and set to field their candidates on the Congress symbol.
Dalits comprise of 7% of the population of Gujarat. Patidars, who form about 13%, will affect North Gujarat and South Gujarat. Thakores comprise of about half the OBC population who are concentrated in North Gujarat. Alpesh Thakore’s influence is likely to affect poling there. There are tribals too, in the Eastern Gujarat belt, who form 15% of the population, whom BJP have been trying to woo, as it is one of their weak bastions. To sum up, at present it appears that the BJP and the Congress will be neck-and-neck and in all likelihood and there are speculations as well that the BJP can be restricted within 80 seats.
Hardik Patel shot to fame at the age of 22 after he lead the Patidar Anamat Andolan (patidar reservation movement) in 2015. Failed to handle the agitation, the then Gujarat Chief Minsiter Anandiben Patel tried to curb the resentments of Patels with the use of massive police force, which resulted in the killings of 10 youth of the Patidar community.
As a result, Hardik’s popularity grew and he received unprecedented support of the Patels in both North and South Gujarat. Two sub-castes of the Patidar community – Kadva and Leuva Patels – also got consolidated under one banner in his support.
Patels, most of them are diamond and textile traders, are an influential community of the state and used to be a traditional vote bank of the saffron party.
Dalits constitute 7% of the electorates here. A year ago, when seven Dalit youth were beaten in Una, Jignesh Mevani led an unprecedented march (Asmita Yatra) from Ahmedabad to Una, an event that made him the leader of the community.
The Dalit community, which never had a voice in the state, have found a voice after the march. Going by the electoral politics of the state, the BJP has won elections with the support of Dalits. But this time around, the situation is different. Now, the community has its leader. However, Mevani has made it clear that he himself will not join the Congress, but will aim to bring the BJP down. Noticeably, of the 13 seats reserved for SCs, the BJP had won 10 and Congress three, in the last assembly election.