AS the rest of the country on Monday hailed Bihar Governor Ram Nath Kovind as a Dalit leader, the Gujarat BJP called him a leader of the Koli community, which is classified under the OBC category in the state, and said that his nomination as the NDA’s Presidential candidate is “very important for Gujarat”. The party sent out pictures of Kovind being felicitated at a Koli community event in the state, and issued a release mentioning that Koli and Thakor communities constitute more than 20 per cent of the state’s population.
The move is seen as an attempt by the BJP to woo voters from OBC communities ahead of the Assembly elections later this year. Party leaders said on condition of anonymity that they are apprehensive that a significant chunk of Patidars, a traditional support base for the BJP in Gujarat, may not vote for the party and are likely to go with Patidar leader Hardik Patel, who is leading a quota stir for the community.
Asked why the party is hailing Kovind as a Koli, and not a Dalit, a BJP leader said: “In North (India), Kolis are Dalits.”
Gujarat BJP president Jitu Vaghani said, “He is a Koli community leader and has been the president of Akhil Bharatiya Koli Samaj.”
He said: “In Gujarat, the number of Koli community and backward communities is very big… This announcement has proved to be very important for Gujarat.”