Gujarat verdict: How RSS reaching out to Adivasis helped BJP edge Congress out

PM Modi may have promises to keep, but his rival has miles to go before he can sleep.

 |  4-minute read |   18-12-2017
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On December 31, 2016, when political stakeholders were neck deep in the election campaigns being run in five Indian states, Gangapur village of Vansada taluka in Gujarat’s Navsari saw the arrival of RSS sarsanghchalak, Mohan Bhagwat to address a large gathering of Adivasis. In the tribal heartland of Gujarat, this visit was significant because it was not one of engagement by the Sangh parivar with the Adivasis of Gujarat.

It was two decades of streamlined efforts by the Sangh and its affiliates such as Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram, Dharma Jagaran Vibhag and Ekal Abhiyan of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), on the cusp of convergence in the form of aligning the traditional Congress vote base of Adivasis with it. Religious conversions into Christianity have been a mercurial issue in the region with violence preceding 2002 Godhra carnage and, in recent times, BJP has been very careful not to stoke the issue as evidenced by tickets offered to a number of Christian candidates to fight the taluka Panchayat polls.

It would be anyone’s analysis to state that Gujarat, in 2017, has primarily been about Patidar agitations, with nominal Dalit support born out of the Una protests. The messaging carefully manoeuvred through the state of farmers – stagnant MSPs, demonetisation and GST.

raga-2_121817082842.jpgOne may wonder if the Congress party ignored the Adivasis, who have been their traditional vote bank. Photo: PTI

Traction was achieved through Rahul Gandhi 2.0, but it was evident that the grand old party had outsourced its campaign to the trio of Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor.

One may wonder if the Congress party ignored the Adivasis, who have been their traditional vote bank. Did the Patel reservation formula alienate the Adivasis, who constitute 14.8 per cent of Gujarat’s electorate?

While the Patel magic did work for the Congress in Saurashtra — where it made significant gains — it lost a big chunk of tribal seats it had won in 2012.

The first phase of the 2017 Gujarat elections recorded a 70 per cent voter turnout in seven Adivasi districts. Prima facie, this may seem remarkable, but the seven districts namely Narmada, Bharuch, Surat, Dangs, Navsari, Tapi and Valsad saw an average voter turnout of 75.58 per cent in 2012. For a party facing anti-incumbency, a five per cent decrease in voter turnout is a godsend.

Central Gujarat — which served as the battleground for Patidar agitations — saw the BJP retaining its vote share. The urban Patels seemed to have passed a clear verdict on GST/ demonetisation in BJP’s favour while the Patidars in rural seats have swayed towards the Congress.

This leads one to wonder whether the Patidars in rural seats caught the bait of reservation, or were these voters only farmers who happened to be Patels of rural Gujarat?

Gujarat accounts for 8.1 per cent of the Scheduled Tribe (ST) population of the country, who constitute 14.8 per cent of the state’s electorate.

Adivasis are concentrated in the eastern districts, from Mt Abu on the Rajasthan border in the north to Dahanu district on the Maharashtra border in the South. This placement has historically made tribal voters heavyweights in Gujarat elections.

The Congress began its campaign with best intentions and efforts. The messaging was right, the narrative was right and the communication through social media, especially WhatsApp, was spot on. However, the people have spoken and it was just not enough. The Congress was dealing with pracharaks from the Sangh, some of whom left their homes and villages decades ago. They set shop in the Northeast, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh or any nook and corner where they could park themselves and weave the undercurrent in favour of Hindutva.

One by one, the bastions fell and in the last ten years, all the tribal-dominated states became predominantly BJP states. The attack vector of this social engineering saw social inclusion through Sangh-affiliated schooling, last mile service at village level in health care and Hinduisation of tribals in India.

The poorest regions of the country, with 90 per cent rural population practising obsolete methods of farming, found solace in the systematic efforts of the Sangh parivar.

While today’s results have certainly been a face saver for Rahul Gandhi, especially in lieu of his ascension, there will always be those who say a loss is a loss. It is more pertinent since the Congress party president will have to share the crown of Baazigar with Jignesh, Hardik and Alpesh.

For 22 years of anti-incumbency, BJP did put up a good fight. And won!

Workers, campaign managers, election strategists, all of sound political acumen converged in Gujarat and filled the election war rooms on both sides. The Congress was seen stepping up and only banking upon its in-house teams unlike its past engagements with external political contractors.

But unlike its counterparts from the Sangh, it does not have the advantage of scale.

The approach should be to augment the in-house teams manifold, and with the teams thus augmented, walk into the battle of 2019.

While prime minister Modi may have promises to keep, Rahul Gandhi has miles to go before he can sleep.

Also read: Member of Jignesh Mevani's campaign team on how the young Dalit icon beat BJP


Parakram Kakkar Parakram Kakkar @maatikalaal

The writer is a former member of the Indian Political Action Committee (I-PAC) and now works in the sphere of public policy. He has worked in the Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh election campaigns.

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