For two weeks now, Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel has been organising convention of one sub group of an OBC community daily in a bid to woo the smaller communities ahead of the State Assembly polls.
So far, he held the convention for over a dozen sub-castes belonging to the OBC as the ruling party is apparently trying to create divisions among the OBC block that comprises over 140 different communities belonging to both Hindu and Muslims and identified as socially and educationally backward castes.
In the convention, the community leaders felicitate the Chief Minister and assure support to the ruling party while the CM talked about the welfare measures of the Modi government and how the central and State BJP governments worked in tandem for development and welfare of the various communities.
According to the party insiders, the strategy is to attract smaller castes from the OBC block and get their support for the ruling party.
So far, such convention has been held for the communities like Darji (tailor), Mochi (cobbler), barbers, blacksmiths, masons, carpenters and others who are non dominant in their numbers but are scattered evenly with a few thousand votes in each constituency.
The party’s strategy is to attract them into its fold since the opposition party is focusing on the dominant OBC castes like Thakors and Kolis, who are traditionally pro-Congress in Saurashtra, North and Central Gujarat regions.
The opposition Congress is banking on the support of Thakors since the state Congress President is Jagdish Thakor while several other top Congress leaders like Bharatsinh Solanki or Baldevji Thakor are from the same community, which plays a decisive role in close to 30 assembly seats in North and Central Gujarat regions.
On Tuesday, the State Congress president Jagdish Thakor held a long meeting with Koli community leaders seeking their support for the party. Like Thakors, Kolis dominate over 20 seats in Saurashtra and around a dozen seats in South Gujarat.
A decisive group
In Gujarat, OBCs make up more than 50 % of the population and are a decisive group politically. The OBC group in the State comprising 146 communities belonging to both Hindu and Muslims have emerged important as certain communities like Chaudhary in North Gujarat control dairy cooperatives or Ahirs and Karadia Rajputs, who have graduated from agriculture to contractors, construction and transport.
To corner the ruling party, the State Congress leaders have been demanding caste census in the State and have been very vocal about 27 % quotas for the OBCs in local panchayats and urban local bodies namely municipal corporations in big cities and municipalities in smaller towns.
“Why the ruling party is not giving the OBCs its due? Why the BJP is shying away from conducting the caste census,” asks the former Gujarat Congress President Amit Chavda, also a prominent OBC leader.
In July this year, the Gujarat government was forced to set up a commission to fix reservation for OBC communities in elections to local bodies like municipalities and panchayats in the State, in line with a Supreme Court order.
The Commission was set up following the opposition party leaders as well as OBC groups and even BJP OBC leaders had accused the ruling party of being negligent in compliance of the Supreme Court order.
Among those who criticised the ruling party over the delay in setting up a panel was Alpesh Thakor, a leading Thakor community leader who defected from Congress to BJP in 2019.
On more than one occasion, Mr. Thakor, who also runs a statewide OBC community outfit Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena, has demanded caste census to ascertain the exact population of different castes in the State.
Recently, leaders from both the BJP and the Congress separately met the panel called the ‘Dedicated Commission,’ the BJP delegation urged it to give the highest possible reservation to OBCs in local body polls, the opposition Congress urged it to take the quota level to 27 %.
Under the Gujarat Panchayats Act, 10 per cent seats are reserved for OBC communities in gram panchayat elections.
“Since reservation will be given on the basis of population and present social and economical condition of OBCs, our first demand was to have a census to find out OBC population. As per our estimates, OBCs are 52 % of the state’s population,” Congress chief Jagdish Thakor told reporters after meeting the panel in Gandhinagar.
“In that case, we urged the Commission to increase the quota from present 10 % to 27 %. Even the budget should be allocated as per this new proportion,” Mr. Thakor added.