New Delhi: The appointment of C.R. Patil, a non-Gujarati, as state president of the party by the BJP central leadership seems to be a befitting reply to the Congress’ master stroke of appointing Hardik Patel, a fiery youth leader, as Congress working president. Both these new appointments have come just ahead of the crucial by-elections for eight Assembly seats necessitated by the defections of Congress MLAs during the recently held Rajya Sabha polls. Gujarat will also be going for a major round of municipal and district panchayat elections in November and December when six main municipal corporations in Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Jamnagar and Bhavnagar will go for polls followed by 33 districts panchayat polls.
Both the BJP and Congress have planned their strategies to ensure victory in the elections. By appointing Hardik Patel, Congress has attempted a fine balancing act of appeasing both the Patidar and OBC sections of society. Young Hardik Patel is not just a fiery orator of the Patidar cause, but also speaks about issues that concern youths, farmers and small businesses, which have found wider resonance among the people of Gujarat cutting across class and caste barriers. It is for this reason that the BJP leadership in Gujarat avoided commenting on Hardik Patel’s appointment. In a counter move BJP gave a befitting reply by appointing C.R. Patil as Gujarat’s BJP president. He is known as an astute troubleshooter and a mega fundraiser, particularly from the rich belt of south Gujarat. But he needs to be careful in his fund-raising activities. His abilities to handle the most difficult situations are well known and BJP’s top brass is aware of it.
Basically, there are two ways for BJP to maintain its lead in future elections. One by strengthening the organisation and second by weakening the Opposition. There is a problem of incumbency as the party has been in power for more than two decades now and added to this, Narendra Modi is no more at the helm of affairs in the state. Since time is too short, the BJP’s first priority would be to weaken the Congress as much as possible.
The Congress recently alleged that the BJP is trying to topple its governments in Congress-ruled states and has mischievously orchestrated defections in states like Goa, Manipur, MP and Arunachal.
However, in Gujarat where BJP does not even require MLAs to maintain its majority, many Congressmen have left the party and joined the BJP. It seems that there is a sense of insecurity and these leaders left Congress because they were unsure about the party’s future.
BJP would be game for grabbing such opportunities in future and under the skillful leadership of C.R. Patil, it would be easier for the party to keep an eye on all such possibilities.
Secondly, owing to Hardik Patel’s appointment, BJP anticipates an intense power struggle within the Congress between the old guard and the new entrants. Patil, with his manipulative skills, can convert such a scenario into the party’s advantage by garnering direct/indirect support from disgruntled members of the old guard and their followers, which includes substantial numbers of Patidars, OBCs and other communities.
Thirdly, with Hardik Patel leading the Congress, BJP will have to be prepared to face challenges of an aggressive style of campaigning by Hardik Patel’s young brigade. In such a scenario, shrewd Patil is capable of replicating the style in a tit-for-tat format.
Lastly, by appointing Hardik Patel as working president, the Congress has once again played caste and community politics of which people of Gujarat are aware. On the other hand, with a Jain as Chief Minister and Maratha as state president, the BJP has shown that its politics is above caste and community and is solely based on performance and merit.
Overall, it seems that in the coming times, the political scenario in the state will be very interesting and may lead to a decisive turn in many ways.
Sudhir S. Raval is a veteran journalist and columnist from Gujarat and Consulting Editor with iTV Network, New Delhi.