BJP banks on Modi’s popularity to fight Rajput anger in Saurashtra - Hindustan Times
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BJP banks on Modi’s popularity to fight Rajput anger in Saurashtra

May 05, 2024 08:15 PM IST

A day before PM Modi’s visit to Jamnagar, the Kshatriya leaders pledged that they will not stage any public protests or try to create any hindrance as a mark of respect for Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on May 2 ended his two-day campaigning in his home state of Gujarat by addressing a huge rally in Jamnagar. Donning a yellow and red colour turban, gifted to him by Jam Saheb Shri Shatrusalyasinhji Jadeja, Modi said it was like a ‘prasad’ (offering) to him. He spoke at length about the bond he shared with the royal family of Jamnagar and the plan to build a museum dedicated to the royal families of India near the Statue of Unity in Kevadia.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Jam Saheb Shri Shatrusalyasinhji in Jamnagar on Thursday. (Image posted on X by PM Modi)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets Jam Saheb Shri Shatrusalyasinhji in Jamnagar on Thursday. (Image posted on X by PM Modi)

During his tenure as chief minister of Gujarat, the Prime Minister reflected on an occasion when leaders from the Kshatriya community invited him to participate in an event held in memory of those who laid down their lives in the Battle of Bhuchar Mori. This battle, often referred to as the ‘Panipat of Saurashtra’ in Gujarat, was fought between the Kshatriya community of Saurashtra led by Rajput rulers and the Mughal Empire forces.

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“I was informed that none of the previous chief ministers had attended the event because of misinformation suggesting that those who went would lose their seat. I assured them that I would attend their event, regardless of the consequences,” Modi told the crowd in Jamnagar.

Modi’s speech, that mentioned various initiatives under his government including SAUNI water scheme, promoting hydrogen fuel and setting up of a world class ayurveda centre in Jamnagar, came in the backdrop of the Rajput protests that has gripped parts of Saurashtra, including Jamnagar.

On May 2, Modi addressed rallies in Anand, Wadhwan in Surendranagar, Junagadh, and Jamnagar. Throughout these events, he campaigned for the Lok Sabha seats of Anand, Kheda, Surendranagar, Rajkot, Bhavnagar, Junagadh, Porbandar, Amreli, and Jamnagar.

In Jamnagar, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded sitting member of Parliament (MP) Poonam Madam, who has been winning this seat from the last two terms. Earlier this week, she faced protests from Rajput community members who disrupted a public rally, brandished black flags and hurled chairs. Police detained some of the protestors but eventually released them.

The Ahmedabad police last month prohibited the hoisting of black flags or cloth and the display of inflammatory banners and placards or raising inflammatory slogans against anyone during campaign rallies, meetings, or processions leading up to the Lok Sabha elections.

The Kshatriya Rajputs have been protesting the BJP’s Rajkot candidate Parshottam Rupala over his remarks on March 22 where he suggested that former ‘maharajas’ succumbed to oppression from foreign rulers, including the British, and even went as far as to suggest that they dined with and arranged marriages for their daughters with these rulers.

Rupala has issued several apologies, yet community leaders insist that unless his ticket is revoked by the BJP, they will not support the party, pledging to vote against it instead.

“The Prime Minister aptly remembered the sacrifice made by the Kshatriyas (in the Battle of Bhuchar Mori), but he did not say a word about the present protests which have entered their 39th day today. Our Sankalan Samiti, which includes 92 organisations of Kshatriya community, has now decided to take our fight to EVMs (electronic voting machines). We will show the BJP by way of voting. Our focus now is on micro planning, including booth level management, and we will support any strong candidate who is contesting against the BJP,” said Kripalsinh Jhala, leader of Kshatriya Karni Sena Parivar.

Rajputs constitute less than 5% of the population of Gujarat, however, Jhala claimed that different communities of Kshatriyas together can make a huge impact in at least seven to eight seats of Gujarat.

A day before Modi’s visit to Jamnagar, the Kshatriya leaders had pledged that they will not stage any public protests or try to create any hindrance as a mark of respect for Modi.

Earlier, they have been holding small protests, forcing many BJP candidates to cancel their election meetings, including the BJP’s Patan Lok Sabha candidate and sitting MP Bharatsinhji Dabhi’s public meeting on April 26 in Vadgam.

Single-day bandhs have been effectively observed in various locations such as Shihor in the Bhavnagar constituency and Rajpipla in the Bharuch parliamentary seat.

The Gujarat BJP on May 5 issued a statement, appealing to the Kshatriya community to graciously embrace forgiveness and continue to extend their support to the party. The statement said, “Rupala has on multiple occasions apologised for his remarks. Rupala has also said that the people should not punish Prime Minister Modi for his remarks. They should continue to support Prime Minister Modi for the development work done in their region and in the country.”

Kishorsinh Jadeja, 28, a farmer of Jhakhar village in Jamnagar said the BJP could change its entire cabinet including the chief minister in Gujarat but could not replace Rupala who made such derogatory comments against the Rajputs.

“There has been a lot of development in Jamnagar region with lot of industries and development projects coming here in last two decades. Given a choice between PM Modi’s Vikas and self-pride, it’s a tough call,” said Jadeja.

Manish Aghera, an accountant with a private firm in Jamnagar and who belongs to the Koli community, said he felt that the Rajputs have been stretching it too much.

“Rupala has already apologised, so I think they should let it be. People vote for Modi, and I am sure this time too will be no different,” said Aghera.

The BJP has been facing the heat of Rajput protest in nearly half a dozen seats in Saurashtra region including Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Junagadh and Surendranagar.

Gujarat housed numerous princely kingdoms pre-Independence, with approximately 128 significant states, excluding smaller ones. Bhavnagar state in Kathiawar was among the first to agree to India’s first home minister Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s integration plan for princely states into the Indian Union.

“Rajkot is the epicenter of the Rajput protest, and although the Prime Minister hasn’t directly addressed this constituency, he has attempted to address areas where the protests have spread and are expected to impact the margin leads. Achieving the BJP’s goal of a five-lakh margin won’t be easy, but the party is now working on a strategy of maintaining the lead, as was the case in 2019. By not addressing the Rajput issue heads-on, the BJP is also looking at consolidating all the non-Rajput votes,” said a senior political leader who preferred not to be named.

To take on Rupala, a Kadva Patel, the Congress has fielded Paresh Dhanani, the former leader of the Opposition in the state assembly and a Leuva Patel. Several villages of Saurashtra have put up banners saying the BJP and their leaders are not welcome there.

“People may put up such banners or even say publicly that they are against the BJP and their candidate. But when it comes to the day of voting, the majority of people in Rajkot only see the BJP symbol of lotus,” said Rajesh Patel, a resident of Kalawad area of Rajkot.

Rajkot’s political history indeed reflects the rise of the BJP in Gujarat. The Jan Sangh’s victory in 1958 marked the beginning of the BJP’s stronghold in the city. Over the years, Rajkot has remained a significant base for the BJP, as evidenced by the election victories of prominent leaders like Keshubhai Patel, Vijay Rupani, and Narendra Modi. Modi’s win in a crucial by-election in 2001, shortly after assuming office as Gujarat’s chief minister, further solidified the BJP’s dominance in the region.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, BJP candidate Mohan Kundariya secured the Rajkot seat with a commanding lead of over 3.5 lakh votes compared to the nearest rival from the Congress.

“Many BJP supporters may feel that leaders like Rupani and Kshatriya leaders like Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Pradeepsinh Jadeja have been sidelined by the BJP. As a result, these supporters may also be supporting the Rajput’s cause. A committee has been set up by the BJP to find out the brains behind this protest,” said a BJP leader who spoke on condition of anonymity.

In Junagadh, which also has a large population of Rajputs, the BJP has fielded its two-time MP Rajesh Chudasama against the Congress’ Hirabhai Jotva.

“Chudasama had come in bad light for his alleged involvement in late Dr Atul Chug’s suicide. Chug was very famous doctor who worked for the poor and the BJP is now up for a tough battle there. Also, in Amreli constituency of Saurashtra, the Congress’ Jenny Thummar is emerging as a very strong contestant against the BJP’s Bharat Suthariya,” said Ashokbhai Shrimali, a political observer.

The BJP has solidified its grip on Gujarat, attaining total dominance with victories in all 26 Lok Sabha seats in both the 2014 and 2019 elections. The 2022 state elections saw them achieve a historic feat, winning a staggering 156 out of 182 seats, a feat achieved by no other party ever in Gujarat.

“The BJP voters have matured and may not be very vocal as in 2014 or 2019. This does not necessarily mean that they are not there or have shifted their alliances. Also, when the opposition has been finished and has been reduced to about a dozen MLAs as in the case of Gujarat, where five sitting MLAs quit the Congress and joined the BJP, people will vent out their anger in the form of protests,” said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai based political analyst.

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