Gujarat: BJP makes a last-ditch pitch for Kshatriya votes

Have Parshottam Rupala's ill-considered remarks cooked the saffron party's goose in Gujarat for good? There's a particularly fierce battle over 5 seats

Union minister Parshottam Rupala's attempts to apologise and win back the Rajputs seems to be falling flat, on top of existing anti-incumbency (photo courtesy @PRupala/X)
Union minister Parshottam Rupala's attempts to apologise and win back the Rajputs seems to be falling flat, on top of existing anti-incumbency (photo courtesy @PRupala/X)

Ashlin Mathew

In a last-ditch attempt to ensure Kshatriya votes come to the BJP in Gujarat, the party’s own Rajput leaders pleaded with the community on Sunday, 5 May, to generously support and vote for the saffron party—and to forgive the union minister Parshottam Rupala, the BJP candidate from the Rajkot seat, for his unfortunate comments. The 2024 general election is for the “larger national cause”, they tried to say.

However, their plea seems to have been rejected by the community.

Sunday was the last day of campaigning before Gujarat goes to polls on 7 May for all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state.

In his election campaign for Rajkot in March, Rupala had sarcastically said that the erstwhile 'maharajas' (who were Kshatriya kings) had bowed down to and broken bread with the British and other 'foreign invaders', and had even married off their daughters to them.

He was praising the Dalits at the expense of the Rajputs, who he accused of maintaining a "roti–beti" relationship with the 'invaders', which the Rukhi samaj (a Dalit community) refused to do. "I salute them for their fortitude and strength. It is this strength that has kept the Sanatana Dharma alive... Jai Bhim!" said Rupala at a public rally on 22 March.

This was the region where more than 100 large and small princely states existed at the time of Independence.

Apologies <not> accepted

Rupala’s comments set off protests within the Kshatriya community—not just among the Rajputs of Gujarat and Rajasthan, but across Uttar Pradesh and beyond as well. The Kshatriyas demanded Rupala’s withdrawal from the Rajkot Lok Sabha seat. 

Rupala made an attempt to apologise for his comments, but that did not go down well enough either—and nor did the BJP withdraw his candidature despite mounting protests across Gujarat.

In a statement signed by several senior Kshatriya leaders from the BJP — Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Indravijaysinh aka I.K. Jadeja, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Rajkot 'royal family scion' Mandhatasinh Jadeja, state labour and employment minister Balvantsinh Rajput, Jaydrathsinh Parmar, Mahendrasinh Sarvaiya, Dharmendrasinh Jadeja, Virendrasinh Jadeja, Pradhyumansinh Jadeja, MLAs Kiritsinh Rana, C.K. Raulji and Arunsinh Rana and Rajya Sabha MP Kesridevsinh Zala — appealed to their community to choose the lotus while voting.

‘When Rupala has apologised repeatedly… the Kshatriya community should show generosity in the national interest by exhibiting the Kshatriya dharma of kshama veerasya bhushanam (forgiveness is the virtue of the brave) and the proud tradition of renunciation and sacrifice.

'In the coming days, India is going to be the third super power in the world. In these circumstances, it is our duty to protect the country and Sanatan Dharma. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi is bringing glory to India, it is our national duty that we cooperate with him and be part of the process,' read the statement.

Though the BJP leaders themselves were reportedly appalled by Rupala's statement, they said the community has done its part for the nation's and the region's development and must continue to be part of that 'developmental' trajectory.

The statement also pointed out that Rupala has apologised more than once. 'He has also urged the community to not punish Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his mistakes,' the statement continued.

However, the committee which is organising the Kshatriya protests rejected the appeal for votes immediately after the state BJP released this statement and instead underscored its stand against Rupala and the BJP.

A member of the core committee, Karansinh Chavda, said that they had asked the BJP to reconsider Rupala's candidature. However, since the party has failed to do so, there was now no question of supporting it, he said.

The core committee has been coordinating with more than 75 different caste and community groups, which have been protesting against the ruling BJP across the state, for more than a month now. 

Enter the third pole

Indeed, far from cutting any ice with the annoyed Rajputs, Rupala's statement instead revived old caste rivalries between the Rajputs and the Patels.

Earlier, when the Congress was in power in the state, the Rajputs held more influence than the Patels, despite being fewer in number. However, the Patels consolidated themselves in favour of the BJP and that helped the saffron party wrest control of Gujarat from the Congress.

The BJP has, since 1995, won seven assembly elections consecutively. Now, both the Patels and the Rajputs support the BJP. Even so, the Patels hold more sway in the government than the Rajputs.

Now, whether the Kshatriya protests will change voting patterns in Gujarat or beyond is yet to be ascertained. But either way, the ruling BJP got a breather last week when Kshatriya community members announced on Thursday (2 May) that they would not protest amid Prime Minister Modi’s election rallies in the Saurashtra region out of deference to the "dignity and respect" due to his office.

Several Rajput leaders have also said that they are not organising major rallies and are instead concentrating on ensuring the defeat of the BJP in at least 10 seats in Gujarat where the Rajputs hold sway, including Rajkot and Jamnagar.

The BJP had won all the 26 seats in Gujarat in 2019. This time, there seems to be a tough fight across at least five seats – Rajkot, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha, Patan and Anand.

The fiercest five

Of these, Rajkot is Ground Zero for the Kshatriya protests in the state. The BJP has fielded Rupala, the union minister for fisheries, animal husbandry and dairy, as their key candidate here against Congress MLA Paresh Dhanani, an old-timer. They are longstanding rivals. Dhanani had defeated Rupala, with a margin of more than 2 lakh votes, in Amreli in the 2002 assembly election. Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge personally came down to campaign for Dhanani, while former home minister P. Chidambaram held a press conference here.

In Anand too, Kshatriya pride seems to be an issue for the BJP. Here they have fielded their sitting MP, businessman-turned-politician Mitesh Patel. He is up against five-time Congress MLA and Kshatriya leader Amit Chavda. Here, unemployment too is an important part of the conversation. Gopalpur, a village in this constituency, had banned BJP candidates and workers, giving the local party leadership quite the headache.

Banaskantha is the only constituency in Gujarat where both the BJP and Congress have fielded women candidates — Rekhaben Hiteshbhai Chaudhari for the BJP and Geniben Thakor for the Congress. The sitting BJP MP, Parbatbhai Savabhai Patel, was set aside in favour of Chaudhuri, for whom this is the maiden election. She is the granddaughter of Banas Dairy founder Galbabhai Chaudhary.

AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra addressed a rally here on behalf of Geniben Thakor, who is the sitting MLA from Vav in Banaskantha district. She defeated senior BJP leader Shankar Chaudhary, then Gujarat minister, in the 2017 assembly elections and Swarupji Thakor of the saffron party in 2022.

Priyanka Gandhi Vadra speaks up for Congress, country, Constitution and colleague Geniben Thakor in Banaskantha, Gujarat (photo courtesy @vibesofindia/X)
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra speaks up for Congress, country, Constitution and colleague Geniben Thakor in Banaskantha, Gujarat (photo courtesy @vibesofindia/X)

In Sabarkantha, the Congress candidates faces off against a former Congress leader's wife! The BJP has fielded teacher Shobhna Baraiya, wife of former Prantij MLA Mahendrasinh Baraiya, who left the Congress and joined the BJP in August 2022, just ahead of the assembly elections in the state.

The Congress has fielded Tushar Chaudhary, son of former Gujarat chief minister Amarsinh Chaudhary. Mallikarjun Kharge addressed a rally in Bhiloda, one of the seven assembly constituencies that make up the Sabarkantha Lok Sabha seat, to campaign for Chaudhary.

In Patan, the Congress has pinned its hopes on former MLA Chandanji Thakor. This is one of the few seats in the state where Rahul Gandhi has personally campaigned for the candidate. The BJP candidate is sitting MP Bharatsinghji Dabhi. Dabhi had won in 2019 with a margin of 1.93 lakh votes.

Of the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat, only 25 will go to elections in the third phase, on 7 May—because the BJP candidate in Surat, Mukesh Dalal, was declared the uncontested winner after Congress candidate Nilesh Kumbhani's nomination was rejected and all the other eight candidates in the fray withdrew.

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