In the Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017, caste dynamic remains at the core, say political analysts. The Congress and the BJP have carefully fielded candidates, keeping in mind the caste arithmetic. The impact of the recent caste-based movements can be seen on the tickets' distribution and maximum tickets have been given to the Patidars and Other Backward Classes this time.
The BJP has nominated 50 Patidars while the Congress has fielded 41 candidates from the community. The ruling party has fielded 58 OBCs while the Congress has 62 such nominees. 14 Dalit candidates have been given tickets by the Congress while the BJP has fielded 13.
According to the past trend, in 2002, 2007 and 2012 Gujarat elections, the Congress bagged around 40 per cent while BJP got around 49 per cent vote share each time. "Even a slight swing of four to five per cent would significantly benefit the Congress and become the game changer," said political analyst Achyut Yagnik.
While there is a possibility that Congress might win some additional seats, it is too early to predict that it would come to power despite the support extended by caste leaders - Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, Mr Yagnik said.
"The caste factor is still at the core of Gujarat's politics and tickets are also distributed accordingly," he added.
The Congress is trying its best to attract the castes which are 'angry' and can fill in that gap in the vote share, say poll watchers.
Since the last two decades, the BJP was enjoying support of the Patidars, a traditionally rich community that prospered from diamond trading and farming and accounts for 11 to 12 per cent of Gujarat's six crore population. But caste equations seem to have changed after Hardik Patel's agitation demanding reservation for Patidars that triggered the rise of a counter agitation by OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.
When the BJP government was busy pacifying them, SC/ST leader Jignesh Mevani took up the cause of the Dalits and started agitating against the ruling party.
While Mr Thakor has already joined the Congress, Mr Patel and Mr Mevani moved closer to the Congress and appealed to their respective communities not to vote for the BJP.
Though scattered across many sub-communities, the OBC population, including the influential Thakors in north and Kolis in central Gujarat and Saurashtra, account for around 40 per cent.
The BJP is fighting on all the 182 Assembly seats while the Congress has not fielded its candidates on six seats - five which were given to the Bharatiya Tribal Party and one seat where Mr Mevani is contesting as an Independent.
Political analyst Ghanshyam Shah says, it will be premature to think that the entire Patidar community or the OBCs would vote for the opposition party.
"Ultimately, Hardik and Alpesh are leading an individual fight in some way. Though they have extended their support to the Congress, we should not conclude that all the votes of Patidars and OBCs would go the party," Mr Shah was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.
While Congress has indirectly supported Mr Mevani by not fielding any candidate against him on Vadgam (SC) seat, Mr Shah claimed that the Dalit vote swing would not leave any impact due to the marginal population.
"Dalits are scattered. They are only seven per cent of Gujarat's population. Even in reserved seats, they account for only 10 to 11 per cent," Mr Shah said.
Another political analyst Hari Desai said that it will be a challenge for the BJP to retain its loyal vote bank of Patidars.
"We cannot conclude that all the Patidars would vote as per Hardik's appeal, because, those who are party workers and loyal, will ultimately go for BJP. But it is clear that their loyal vote bank is drifting away after Hardik's agitation," Mr Desai was quoted as saying by PTI.
This time, the Congress has nominated six Muslims while the BJP has not nominated anyone from the community. Mr Desai claimed that a minor tweak in the loyal vote bank of BJP would result in a windfall gain for the Congress.
According to the Election Commission of India's data on the 2012 Gujarat elections, the BJP then received 47.85 per cent of the valid votes, while the Congress garnered 38.93 per cent votes - a difference of 8.92 per cent between the two parties.
"People from all communities, including Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are coming to the Congress with a hope that we will bring a solution to their problems. We firmly believe that the Congress will form the government this time," Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
However, the BJP feels this is not going to happen. "These new caste equations will not leave any impact," Gujarat BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said.
Mr Pandya said that it is a fact that when a social movement turns political, it loses its credibility. The same is happening with Hardik, Alpesh and Mevani. Gujarat never accepts people who talk negative," Mr Pandya said.
Gujarat will vote in two phases - on December 9 and 14 - to elect a new 182-member Assembly. The results will be announced on December 18.
(With Inputs From PTI)