The Gujarat elections are around the corner and various stakeholders are campaigning in full flow. It is an election with very high stakes as it is being seen as an acid test for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his home state after demonetization and GST.
Gujarat historically has seen a huge influence of the trader community and thus everyone wants to see if the demonetization and GST debacles, which impacted traders directly, will determine electoral results too.
However, the Gujarat election has become much more interesting due to another factor. Ever since Mr Modi moved to Delhi to run the nation, his carefully-crafted image of a developed Gujarat has deteriorated. However, this deterioration is not due to any efforts of the Congress which is now trying to ride the wave in a manner somewhat similar to the way BJP rode the anti-Congress wave across India in 2014 initiated by the ‘India Against Corruption’ movement.
The three people who are the architects of the takedown of the “Gujarat Development Model” are Alpesh Thakor, Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel.
Hardik, the most famous of the three, is also the youngest, born in 1993. A fiery orator, Patel formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) in 2015 with the aim of getting the Patidar community reservation under the OBC quota. He and his team used social media to spread his message and gather supporters. Jignesh, born in 1982, came into the limelight after the attack on Dalit men in Una village in the Saurashtra region by claimed members of a cow protection group.
He led the protest march called “Dalit Asmita Yatra” from Ahmedabad to Una, which culminated on 15 August 2016 and was attended by some 20,000. Alpesh Thakor, born is 1977, is the least known of the three but one who might make a bigger impact on the results as he founded the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena in 2011 which claims to have 700,000 members across Gujarat as of October 2017. Interestingly, he has also founded the OBC, SC, ST Ekta Manch to counter the Patidar reservation agitation by Hardik, claiming that the Patidar agitation was nothing but a game plan to scrap the reservation system.
Currently all three are campaigning along with the Congress, saying they have united to “end the BJP’s misery” as applicable to the people of Gujarat. However, Alpesh is the only one who has joined the Congress; the others have not joined any political party.
The interesting part of their campaign, however, is not about what they are doing on the ground in Gujarat – there have been many challengers before them and there will be many after them – but how they are challenging the BJP on an unexpected battlefield: Social Media.
The BJP has been largely unchallenged on social media so far. Apart from AAP in Delhi in 2013 and 2015, no other party has been able to match them blow for blow. However, for the first time, the BJP top brass is worried. So much so that party chief Amit Shah had to make an appeal during his interaction at a ‘Yuva Townhall’ saying, “Don’t Fall Prey to Anti-BJP Propaganda on Social Media”.
The fact that over one lakh youth sitting in 312 different locations across Gujarat saw the event live, while some of them asked Shah questions through video-conferencing, makes his statement even more noteworthy.
Let’s see what are these three doing that has got someone like Shah perturbed. All three a have presence on Facebook and Twitter. While Hardik is the more organized, with both accounts being verified for a start, Jignesh has a verified Twitter account but not on Facebook; and for Alpesh, neither account is verified. Verification does a very simple thing – it tells the world that this account really belongs to the person and is not some fan-run or parody account. Thus, it makes it easier for journalists to pick up news while attributing it to the said account. Because of this very basic reason, the media tends to pick up more news about Hardik, followed by Jignesh and then Alpesh. Their ground presence is also a factor but I won’t judge that, sitting 1,000 miles away from Gujarat.