As it did in Uttar Pradesh, and is now attempting in Karnataka, the BJP is re-engineering its political strategy to woo sub-groups among OBCs in Gujarat.
In the past 10 days, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has addressed ‘sneh milans’ of nine such sub-groups, with OBC leaders felicitating the CM and assuring support to the BJP Tuesday.
The OBCs constitute nearly 52% of the population in Gujarat, and with both the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) wooing them too, the BJP has refocused its attention on the non-dominant groups among them. The Congress has an OBC leader in PCC chief Jagdish Thakor and AAP in Isudan Gadhvi, its joint general secretary.
They include the Vishvakarmas, who comprise artisans like carpenters, blacksmiths; the Bhois, who traditionally pick water chestnuts and lotus stems and sell the same for livelihood; Ranas, who specialise in zari work on textiles; Ravals, who rear camels or work as drummers; Odhs, who build mud houses and dig ponds; Goswamis, a community of sadhus; Vanzaras, a nomadic community; and Nai-Vanand, who are barbers. There are nearly 146 such OBC communities in Gujarat.
The sub-groups that are publicly supporting the BJP at these sneh- milans “can be easily drawn to a party in power”, the party believes.
In UP, the BJP has been similarly focusing on non-Yadavs, while in Karnataka, it has announced a series of schemes for non-Kurubas.
In July this year, the Gujarat government had announced a commission to fix reservation for OBC communities in elections to local bodies in the state, in line with a Supreme Court order, after facing accusations of being negligent in compliance. One of the prominent critics of the BJP government was its leader Alpesh Thakor .
The BJP push for OBCs coincides with the decline in its popularity among the Patidars. The slide began with the agitation for Patidar reservation, and was evident in the last local body elections, when the community is believed to have helped AAP capture the opposition space in the Surat Municipal Corporation. Surat is the home town of BJP state chief C R Paatil, and AAP’s rise there has been particularly galling for the BJP.
Although the BJP replaced Vijay Rupani with Bhupendra Patel as CM as a strategy to appease the Patidars, the party’s ambitious target of winning 150+ seats of the total 182 needs to account for this decline in Patidar support.
At least three announcements over the past two weeks, to appease protesting government employees, are also linked to wooing of different voting blocs.
After AAP said that if it came to power, the best grade pay in the entire country would be of the Gujarat Police, CM Patel said on August 14 that Rs 550 crore was being allocated for a hike in wages of police personnel at various ranks. Families of police personnel across the state have been protesting for a pay hike.
On August 17, the government said it would give benefits of continued services to those employees who were recruited under the fixed wage policy of the government before 2006. This would help 42,035 employees when it comes to seniority and promotion, the government said. Employees had been holding protests for long over this.
On August 22, the government revised its policy on financial assistance to families of defence / paramilitary personnel who die during service or sustain 50% or more injury / disability on duty, from Rs 1 lakh to Rs 1 crore. It also relaxed the eligibility criteria for the same.
The government could next be looking at the Gujarat Industrial Security Force (GISF). The last town hall of AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal, in Bhavnagar on August 23, saw many GISF employees in uniform in the audience, complaining about their salary issues. If voted to power, Kejriwal replied, “within one month, your rights will be given, and you shall be given justice”.
A veteran BJP leader questioned the practical gains of such promises. “Employees always have some or the other demands, which they push aggressively before elections. And the state government too grants some to project itself as an employer who listens to its employees… But employees’ associations do not have much impact on electoral outcomes. Their protests do not change their mindset in terms of voting.”
BJP leaders, however, argue that this has changed in the last few years due to increased awareness among government employees, with their rising numbers also making them a vote bank that can’t be ignored.
Apart from the message to different groups, the BJP is taking another signal from the events of the past few days. According to them, the visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the BJP office at Shree Kamalam on Sunday, where he met the expanded core committee of the party, was a sign that Bhupendra Patel would remain the CM as it goes into elections.