Rajiv Shah: Veteran social scientist Prof Ghanshyam Shah, quoting data from the post-poll survey carried out by the top Delhi-based institute, Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), has said that, despite what seemed to be a huge Patidar upsurge ahead of the Gujarat state assembly elections under the leadership of young Hardik Patel, majority of the community voted for the BJP, though the party's voting share in the community did come down.
Talking with Counterview on Gujarat polls, which saw BJP's assembly strength come down from 115 in the 2012 state assembly elections to 99 this time, Shah said, "In 2017, the Congress got 36% of the upper caste votes, which is the highest ever since the BJP came to power in Gujarat in 1996", adding, "This time around 35% of the Patidars voted for the Congress, around 15% more than 2012 elections."
Pointing towards the reasons for the Congress "improvement", Shah said, this could be because, "one, in rural areas like other peasant communities, Patidars – particularly middle and small cultivators -- were very unhappy with the government procurement policy; two, younger Patidars supported Hardik's demand for reservation in jobs; and three, their feeling of being Patidar was hurt by the way the government treated Hardik and other Patidar youths."
Yet, the fact remains that the BJP continued to enjoy the support of majority of Patidars, the senior professor, who was director, Institute of Social Studies, Surat, and and was later at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, said. "BJP still enjoys the support of a large section (60%) of Patidars because of their economic interests, Hindutva ideology and Gujarat pride centred around Sardar Patel."
Shah continued, "Upper and middle-income strata have preferred BJP over Congress in all the last four elections. They overwhelmingly voted for Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. But over the last three years the proportion of BJP voters among them significantly reduced from 28 and 24 percentile points of the rich and middle class respectively. The Congress gained 44% of the rich and 41% of the middle-income group, the highest in the last four elections."
Yet, he added, the trend of their majority support to the BJP continued. "Though the traders and small industry entrepreneurs agitated against GST, many of them voted for BJP this time. Some had a hope that their issues would be sorted out soon by the government. Some others feared that they would be harassed in their business if they do vote for BJP."
Pointing out that the urban and semi-urban trend of support to the BJP this time did not percolate to the rural areas, Shah said, even bare economic realities suggest that Gujarat was in the grip of farm distress. "Between 2001 and 2011, the number of cultivators in Gujarat reduced to 3.55 lakhs (5%), and the number of agriculture labourers increased to 16.78 lakh."
"These figures speak about agrarian distress despite high agriculture growth (estimated 9.6%). Like elsewhere in the country, growth benefitted largely a tiny segment (less than 5%) owning two hectare or more irrigated land", he said, adding, "43% of Gujarat farmers are indebted with on an average Rs 1,26,109 debt per household. A majority of them pay 25% or more interest on their loan. 1,483 farmers committed suicide between 2013 and 2015."
"Things particularly became worse for Saurashtra", Shah said, adding, "Over the last two decades, a number of industrial units with an investment of Rs 10 crore and more were set up in Saurashtra by acquiring land from farmers with a promise to provide employment. Expectations for a better life were raised. But only a few of the land losers have gained employment, and many feel being cheated."
The result was, said Shah, citing CSDS data, "This time BJP captured 50% of OBC votes, declined significantly by 18 and 7 percentile from 2014 and 2012 elections respectively", even though it "maintained its hold over Kolis of the coastal area of Saurashtra and South Gujarat, and artisan communities."
"While the Congress could not got a majority of OBC votes, mainly because of Kolis", Shah said, it surely "improved its tally from the earlier polls. The party has maintained its hold over the Kshatriya-Thakors in the central and north Gujarat. Young OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, who joined the Congress after mobilizing the community, might have helped the Congress in consolidating its position among them."
"In the predominantly OBC constituencies at several places, Modi twisted Mani Shankar Aiyar’s reference to him that the Congress leader called him ‘of neech (low) caste person’, asking OBCs to give a fitting reply through the ballot box, such emotional speeches failed, and OBC candidates of the Congress in these constituencies won."
Suggesting that the numerically strong Kolis remain the weakest spot of the Congress, Shah said, this was reflected even in the selection of candidates. Thus, while the "Congress had more candidates from various OBCs than BJP, 65 and 57 respectively", among the OBCs, BJP had more Kolis than Thakors, 17 and 9 respectively. In the case of the Congress, the position was reversed, 16 Thakors and 4 Kolis."
Coming to Dalits, who form 7% of Gujarat's population, Shah said, the two parties got "almost equal proportion of votes", despite the Una Dalit agitation and Jignesh Mevani's leadership." In fact, "one-fifth of Dalit votes went to Mayawati's BSP, NOTA and independent candidates. Similarly, Congress could not improve its vote share among tribals than earlier elections. It retained 17 out of 27 reserved tribal seats."