Bhavnagar: Nitinbhai Ghelani and Kuldeepsinh Gohil were sitting together and having tea at a makeshift office for Congress candidate Dilipsinh Gohil. Neither is a Congress worker, nor are others in the gathering.
Ghelani is the Bhavnagar district convener of Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and Gohil is a local Kshatriya activist. Both have decided to throw their support behind Dilipsinh Gohil, who is challenging BJP’s Gujarat President Jitu Vaghani.
Strange as it may sound, but new faultlines have emerged this election season in Gujarat’s caste-conundrum. Patels and Kshtriyas — the two dominant social groups in the state’s socio-economic landscape — have been traditional rivals.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to Palitana in Bhavnagar and in his speech he brought up an issue that is emotive for both Patidars and Kshatriyas. In 1983, some clashes took place in Mangarh village of Bhavnagar district. Three Kshatriyas were killed by some Patidars and then about a dozen Patidars were killed in retaliation. Those were one of the deadliest clashes that took place in the district. Today, Kshatriyas and Patidars of Bhavnagar are more united than ever,” says Ghelani.
That sharp division in the society led to the mobilisation of KHAM (Khshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) communities under Madhavsinh Solanki in 1985 when Congress won 148 seats in the state assembly.
The counter polarisation, thereafter, led by Patel resuscitated BJP not only in Gujarat, but also gave the party a strong toehold to expand its political footprint in other parts of the country as well.
Gohil leader claims the two communities have healed old wounds in recent times. “The massacre happened 34 years ago. It was much before any of us were born. We don’t identify as much with the riots of the past, but with events which we are witness to,” he says.
The “recent events” Gohil referred to was a land dispute between BJP state President Jitu Vaghani, the sitting MLA from Bhavnagar East, and local Karadiya Rajputs.
Ghelani, who hails from Budhel village in Bhavnagar, says “In my village, there was a land dispute between Vaghani and the village sarpanch. Vaghani used his might to initiate action against our sarpanch, which angered locals greatly. He had to face protests in his own constituency.”
The seven assembly constituencies of Bhavnagar district have around 16.26 lakh voters, with 7.77 lakh women and 8.48 lakh women. The largest caste group in Bhavnagar is the Koli Patels, an OBC community with nearly 3.91 lakh voters. Patidars form the second largest caste group, with 1.61 lakh voters, followed by non-Rajput Kshatriyas with 1.05 lakh voters. Karadiya Rajputs, the community that head earlier expressed displeasure with Vaghani, has 45,000 voters.
Together, Patidars, Kshatriyas and Karadiya Rajputs form 3.11 lakh voters, nearly as much as Koli voters. BJP is confident of retaining the Koli vote. The party is hoping its popular Koli leader and state cabinet minister Purshottam Solanki, who is contesting from Bhavnagar Rural, will keep the community with the BJP.