A few days ago, Gujarat Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president and Member of Parliament from Navsari C. R. Paatil warned party workers that “groupism will not be tolerated”. Paatil was addressing booth level workers in Amreli, Saurashtra region.

This indicates that there is a simmering discontent within the party at some levels. The BJP is known to have a strong network till the booth level.

For BJP that has been in power for almost three decades in Gujarat and has won all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in 2014 and 2019 elections, performing well is unlikely to be a cause for concern in this election.

However, it is for the first time that the party is faced with an overt opposition from within. The party had to change its Vadodara candidate, two-time MP Ranjan Bhatt, and Sabarkanta candidate Bhikhaji Thakor following discontent. Both candidates took to social media to say that they do not want to be in the fray.

Posters also came up against Union Health Minister Dr. Mansukh Mandaviya, who is contesting from Porbandar. As if this is not enough, members of the Kshatriya community across the state are reportedly demanding the cancellation of Union Fisheries Minister Purshottam Rupala’s candidature from Rajkot.

At a function organised by the Dalit community, Rupala while praising the Dalits had said that while the royals had established friendly ties with the British colonial power, the Dalits had stood tall.

Since then, Rupala has apologised twice. However, this has had no effect on the enraged community. Meetings of Kshatriya community members with BJP leaders have remained inconclusive.

The Kshatriyas want nothing less than cancellation of Rupala’s candidature. The only solace for the BJP is that some ‘Royals’ have reportedly come out in support of the minister and saying that if he apologies in front of the community then he should be forgiven. Moreover, the Kshatriyas have been saying that they do not have an issue with the BJP and that they are only opposing Rupala as a candidate after his “insulting” statement.

Importantly, the Congress that has been facing one rout after another over the years in Gujarat, the only exception being 2017 Assembly elections where it fared well, is no match for the BJP.

The saffron party has a strong network till the booth level. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, there were only four seats where the BJP candidates’ victory margins were less than 2 lakh.

On the rest, the margins were much higher and Paatil had the highest margin of over 6.89 lakh. In 2022, BJP broke all the records and won 156 out of the 182 Assembly seats.

Over the years the Saffron party has built its cadre, more so in Gujarat, which is now considered as the party’s ‘model state’. The booth level network has strengthened with each passing day and Paatil is the person who formalised it. Now, party workers are always in direct contact with the society.

The party now also has “panna pramukhs” (persons in charge of one page each of the electoral roll). They are engaged in spreading messages about government schemes, addressing grievances of the people and acting as a bridge between them and the authorities.

On the voting day, the ‘page committee’ (four to five for each electoral roll) members ensure that people have cast their vote.

As political observer Ghanshyam Shah puts it, “Everyday politics and agitational politics influences electoral politics.” The BJP is doing just that in Gujarat. “Their cadres have been built over the years with help from organisations like the Bajrang Dal,” Shah observes.

Prime Minister Modi is expected to address a public meeting in Gujarat in the next couple of days. Gujarat votes on May 7.

On the other hand, the Congress hasn’t seen aggressive recruitments in the state. The Seva Dal, which is its important arm, is almost defunct.

In the past one decade several Congress leaders quit the party and joined the BJP. The latest in the series have been tribal leader Narayan Rathwa and former Gujarat Congress president Arjun Modhwadia.

The Congress is yet to announce candidates on four seats including Navsari from where Paatil is seeking re-election and Rajkot.

The party has entered a seat sharing agreement with the Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as a part of the I.N.D.I.A. bloc. Umesh Makwana, AAP’s MLA from Botad, is contesting from Bhavnagar, the region from where Gujarat Congress president and Rajya Sabha MP Shaktisinh Gohil, hails from.

In Bharuch, the AAP has fielded Chaitar Vasava, an MLA from Dediapada. However, this kind seat sharing has not gone down well with the local leaders and party workers of the Congress.

Former Congress leader Ahmed Patel’s daughter Mumtaz appeared to be keen to continue her father’s legacy. Patel had held the Bharuch seat in the past. The party now seems to have succeeded in pacifying her.

Meanwhile, Paatil has given the state BJP a target of winning all the seats with a margin of 5 lakh votes. If the ‘exodus’ from the Congress continues, it will be seen as a step towards achieving the target.

The BJP candidates have been focusing on the works done at the Centre in the last one decade, and schemes implemented in Gujarat. Asked about the discontent among the Kshatriyas, Gujarat BJP spokesperson Yamal Vyas claimed that “people have made up their mind to make Narendra Modi the Prime Minister for the third time and the party will win all the 26 seats”.

Vyas alleged that the Congress “divides people on caste basis” and claimed that “the BJP treats all equally”.

Gohil sounded optimistic as he said that while the Congress is intent on winning all the seats, “it has zeroed in on a few seats”, which they have not disclosed.

When asked about the poor performance of his party over the years in Gujarat, he quipped, “We will discuss this after the election results”.

Meanwhile, political analyst Vidyut Joshi observed that, “Gujarat has a Mahajan (trading) culture where the ‘upper caste’ has more power than the ‘lower caste’”. He felt that the Congress was paying the price for the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) theory brought in by former CM Madhavsinh Solanki in the mid 1980s.

In their campaigns Congress candidates are highlighting the “false promises made by Narendra Modi – e.g. giving Rs 15 lakh in person’s account”.

They are also highlighting the promises made in their manifesto at the national level. In some constituencies, even the AAP workers are seen accompanying Congress candidates.

Gohil said that “despite being in power for a decade at the Centre and in Gujarat, people’s aspirations have not been fulfilled and the Congress manifesto is all about fulfilling people’s aspirations.”

Cover Photograph: Kshatriyas protest in Gujarat, demand the withdrawal of the Lok Sabha candidate Union Minister Parshottam Rupala for controversial remarks against them. Protests escalate.