Manas Dasgupta

AHMEDABAD: The move of Mandhatasinh Jadeja of the Rajkot royal family to join the Bharatiya Janata Party has sent shock waves through the Congress leadership in Gujarat.

Mr. Jadeja’s induction in the BJP, formally set for Sunday, could signal the fall of the last bastion of the Congress in the Saurashtra region. Kshatriyas, particularly those belonging to the Other Backward Classes, hold considerable sway here.

Mr. Jadeja’s father, Manoharsinh Jadeja, a former Minister, is a staunch Congress leader. He was also a strong claimant for the post of Pradesh Congress Committee president before the last Assembly elections, until the high command decided to bring in the younger generation. Bharat Solanki, son of another Congress stalwart and former Chief Minister, Madhavsinh Solanki, was then chosen for the post.

The senior Jadeja, however, is reported to have become disenchanted with the Congress lately, particularly after a section of the local leadership ensured his defeat in three consecutive Assembly elections causing erosion of his influence among Kshatriyas in the region.

Though the junior Jadeja was never very active in the Congress, his joining the BJP is a conscious effort by Chief Minister Narendra Modi and his supporters to balance the strong “Patel” lobby in Saurashtra politics.

Kshatriyas are known to be strong rivals of the Patels. Their ascendancy in the Congress during the tenure of Mr Madhavsinh Solanki under the party’s KHAM formula (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims) caused the alienation of the Patels.

They slowly moved towards the BJP when the party came on its own in the State in the early 1990s. In fact, the Patels have become so powerful in the party in Saurashtra that under the leadership of the former BJP Chief Minister and Mr. Modi’s arch-rival, Keshubhai Patel, they began to function as a pressure group.

They even threatened to dislodge the Chief Minister if the BJP failed to secure a clear majority in the Assembly. But the near two-thirds majority the party secured further strengthened Mr. Modi’s hands and the Patels were forced to lie low at least for the time being.

Apparently, Mr Modi has since then been trying to woo the Kshatriyas to the BJP to reduce the influence of the Patels. He found in Mr. Mandhatasinh Jadeja one of the most potential leaders to play his cards. Besides being from the royal family, still holding sway over his “subjects,” the young industrialist could influence the younger generation which even otherwise is closer to the BJP than to the Congress.

His joining the BJP could also considerably erode the momentum Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi generated to woo youth to the party during his visit to the Saurashtra region last month.