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Castes may overshadow religion in Gujarat polls
Parag Dave in Ahmedabad
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August 03, 2007 15:15 IST

The caste factor is likely to overshadow religious polarisation in the Gujarat assembly elections scheduled at the end of the year.

According to political observers the elections are likely to be fought on blatant caste lines in the state on a scale that has never been seen before.

Though the caste factor has been significant in earlier state elections, it had always been overshadowed in the last two decades by the polaristion on religious lines mainly because of the rising wave of Hindutva.

However, with the Hindutva issue losing its steam, the elections are likely to be fought more on the caste lines in the state.

The Patidar (Patel) community, which has voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party for the last two decades, is divided this time on the lines of sub-castes.

Out of the two sub-castes of Patels, Leuva seem to be drifting away from the BJP while Kadva Patidars are sticking to the party.

Leuva Patels have formed the Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti and started their campaign organising public meetings against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi at taluka levels where the population of the Patidars is high.

They plan to cover 102 talukas before the elections. Patels constitute nearly 20 per cent of state's population.

Modi's archrival Keshubhai Patel belongs to Leuva Patel sub-caste and the five MLAs recently suspended by the BJP --Gordhan Zadhapia, Dhiru Gajera, Bechar Bhadani, Bavku Unghad and Balu Tanti-- also belong to this sub-caste.

On the other hand the Kadva Patel leaders who have got prominence under Modi like the present state party president Purshottam Rupala seem to have decided to continue with Modi. Another powerful OBC community the Kolis has been a traditional voters of Congress.

The BJP had managed to win over the community in the last 15 years during the Hindutva wave. However, this time the situation might change drastically.

The leaders of Kolis, forming about 15 per cent of state population have flexed their muscles on the issue of government's alleged inability to curb crime against their community.

A Koli girl was raped and another was murdered in May in Junagadh and state police has not been to arrest the culprits so far. The only Koli MP from the state from the BJP, Soma Patel has sided with the dissidents in the Party and has organised community public meetings to hit out at Modi.

Suspended BJP leader Nalin Bhatt is also trying to mobilise Brahmins to go against the BJP and is making arrangements to hold a Brahmin meeting soon.

BJP leader and former MP Dilip Sanghani talking to PTI accused the party dissidents of playing caste politics in the state.

The Congress on the other hand is trying to woo its traditional vote banks of scheduled caste, scheduled tribes and minorities. The scheduled tribes (adivasis) community have a strong presence in the South and Central Gujarat region and have been a traditional vote bank of the Congress but had voted for the BJP in December 2002 elections after the post-Godhra riots.

The Congress has gone all out to win back the tribals and has organised rallies and public meetings in tribal areas one of which was attended by party president Sonia Gandhi. The Modi government on the other hand declared a package of Rs 13,000 crore for the development of tribals and has chalked out a plan to take out a yatra in the tribal regions of the state in the month of August.

The minority community which is around 14 per cent in the state has been the traditional vote bank of the Congress and the party is likely to retain that vote-bank in this elections also as the state offers no other secular alternative for the community.

With the defection of Shankar Singh Vaghela from the BJP, most of the Kshatriya community have towed with him and gone to the Congress fold. The kshatriyas are likely to stick to Congress this time.

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