Even as the Anandiben Patel government in Gujarat was busy grappling with the Patel agitation demanding reservations in jobs and education and the recent statewide agitation against the flogging of Dalits in Mota Samdhiyala have compounded her misery. Gujaratis are getting increasingly disenchanted with the BJP rule.
Gujarat hasn’t seen even a minor agitation in the past two decades on the caste front. There was a rare farmers’ agitation around environment concerns which stalled the Nirma project in Saurashtra. But with the aggrieved Dalits (7.5 percent of the state’s population) and Patels (around 15 percent), Gujarat is suddenly on the boil. Gujarat sans Modi is a world apart. After the agitation, led by Hardik Patel, the Patel community cold-shouldered BJP’s Patel leaders. Ministers like Nitin Patel and Saurabh Patel were not allowed to hold public rallies, they were kept from many Patel-dominated areas and snubbed publicly. Junior Home Minister Rajni Patel’s residence in Mehsana was razed twice by members of the Patidar community. Even Purshottam Rupala — otherwise a powerful orator — who has joined the Union Cabinet recently, was heckled. Chief Minister Anandiben Patel faced hostility in Patel-dominated villages.
Similarly, the Dalit rally in Ahmedabad last week gheraoed homes of Dalit MP Kirit Solanki and Rajnikant Patel, MLA of Asarva area. BJP holds 10 of the 13 seats reserved for SCs in Gujarat but none of these representatives are defending the Patel government. It is clear that a rebellion looms.
Gujarat has always been a trendsetter in national politics. The anti-Mandal agitation of 1990 had a precursor in the Anamat Andolan of 1985 in Gujarat. Jayaprakash Narayan was inspired by Gujarat’s Nav Nirman Andolan. Started in 1973 by students of an engineering college to protest against high prices of their hostel food, it forced then Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel to step down.
There is great discontent in Gujarat over self-finance colleges (part of the Gujarat model) that charge exorbitant fees. Some of the colleges started in the past 20 years are largely owned or supported by the BJP MLAs, MPs, or by members of their families.The youth’s support to Hardik Patel has a lot to do with Gujarat’s dismal education system.
On July 23, Dalits came out in big numbers shouting slogans against Modi at his hometown Vadnagar. Modi being jeered at a public rally, and that not being countered, is a sign of the changed scenario in Gujarat.
If the massive mahakranti rally of Patels on August 24 last year was a rude wake-up call for the Gujarat BJP in the post-Modi times, the current Dalit assertion is the people’s way of demanding action from the jaded BJP in Gujarat. That the situation is far from normal is clear by the silence of PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. It seems they want to let Ananiben face the music alone and keep the issue limited to Gujarat.
The CM knows that the Patel agitation was primarily against the idea of reservation, itself and the Dalit anger is against loopholes in the reservation system where the advantages of more than six-decades of affirmative actions have not reached the lower rungs of the lowest section of the caste pyramid. The CM also faces the frustration of the youth due to high-cost education and dwindling job prospects. If the Gujarati farmers are not on the streets yet, it’s only because they are hoping against hope that the rainfall deficit of around 49 percent will reduce by the end of the season.
CM Patel, 74, an efficient administrator and poor political communicator, is perceived by the cadre as one whose exit is just a matter of time. They believe that even if under her leadership, the BJP goes to the polls, she won’t be CM if the party wins. She has tried to correct the perception, lately, saying if the party wants she will continue as CM after winning the next election. But her problems are not merely about handling antagonists in the Cabinet or the vertically-divided party (Amit Shah camp versus Anandiben camp) but the Gujarati bazaars.
After Modi’s exit from Gandhinagar, around 29 lakh MSMEs have seen a decline in fortunes. The RBI data says the outstanding loans of MSMEs has increased from Rs 836 crore in 2012-13 to Rs 2,601 crore in 2014-15 and the number of sick units in the state increased from 20,615 in 2012-13 to 49,003 in 2014-15. Gujaratis had celebrated Modi’s leadership after the riots of 2002 by giving the BJP 127 seats at a massive vote share of 49.85 percent. Modi has been unable to better this performance: BJP got 49 percent and 117 seats in 2007 while in 2012, its vote share was 47.9 percent and it got 115 seats. Congress’ vote share is 9 percent less than that of the BJP.
Elections in Gujarat are due in winter next year but Patels, Dalits, and Muslims — 32 percent of the state’s population — are visibly miffed with the BJP. Things look rather bleak for the BJP.