Arvind Kejriwal flirts with caste, reservation politics in Gujarat

Arvind Kejriwal has been courting young Patidar leader Hardik Patel for some months and his public praise for Hardik has increased in recent days.

Written by Kanishka Singh | Updated: October 17, 2016 2:17 pm
surat, arvind kejriwal, arvind kejriwal surat, india news, indian express, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal speaks during a press conference at his residence in New Delhi on Saturday. PTI Photo

Aam Aadmi Party national convenor and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement that his party will fight the Gujarat Assembly elections came with a touch of leaning to caste and reservation politics, a move away from his usual anti-corruption agenda propagated across states.

Kejriwal has been courting young Patidar leader Hardik Patel for some months and his public praise for Hardik has increased in recent days. Hardik has spearheaded the Patidar reservation agitation and was in jail for around a year under charges of sedition before being released recently. Kejriwal condemned police action against agitating Patidars and called Hardik a patriot.  It is notable that in the same light, his party has spoken against the BJP, SP, BSP and several others of doing communal or caste politics. He also spoke highly of Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakore setting a clear picture for his election agenda and the electorate he plans to woo.

Recently this year, leaders from Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti were left flabbergasted when Kejriwal expressed his wishes to meet Hardik to show his sympathies to their cause. One of Hardik’s closest aides Akhilesh Katiyar even commented that Kejriwal’s party has “championed the cause of equality and freedom” and that the Patidars were surprised to see that the Delhi CM had shown his support for a “caste-based reservation movement”.

Hardik’s aides acknowledged in the past that the AAP did not have a huge vote base in the state and with the Patidars comprising over a quarter of the electorate, wooing them will be crucial for the party that had announced that it will fight on all 182 seats in the state. Hardik has on multiple occasions insisted that he doesn’t want to turn his agitation into a political one. However, if the AAP can put up a good fight against the BJP, which has lost significant support from the Patidars, and promise a push for their reservation movement in coming years, Hardik might just guide the support of the huge community to the benefit of Kejriwal.

Kejriwal’s move to invoke the Una incident shows that he intends to keep the incident alive during the poll fray. He condemned the incident where four Dalits were flogged publicly for skinning the a cow’s carcass. Kejriwal applauded Mevani for keeping the Dalit community together in the testing times. Thakore received praise for efforts against bootlegging in the state.

The AAP has done a fair amount of ground work in the state but it still isn’t as robust as in Punjab. If it gets the full support of Hardik, Thakore and Mevani, coupled with the anti-incumbency in the state, the party may pose a significant threat to the ruling BJP that is much weaker than how PM Modi left it when he assumed power at the Centre in 2014.