The Bharatiya Janata Party’s efforts to woo Other Backward Classes leader Alpesh Thakor seems to have come to nought, according to people familiar with the situation. These people said that Thakor, founder of the OSS (Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe) Ekta Manch and Thakor Kshatriya Sena, declined to participate in the Other Backward Classes conclave scheduled to be held in Phagvel village in Kheda district on Monday. Instead, he is scheduled to hold a public meeting of his own nearby at around the same time.

As it turns out, the BJP has since been forced to cancel its conclave because of heavy rains, the party’s Gujarat unit said in a statement on Saturday. It was to be addressed by party president Amit Shah.

The Thakor community accounts for a fifth of the state’s 60-million-strong population.

Shah’s strategy

The development is a setback for Shah, who had made a determined bid to win Thakor over in the last few weeks. Thakor had caught the media’s attention when he opposed the Patidar agitation for reservation in government jobs and education two years ago, fearing that it would deprive the Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.

Since July 2015, the land-owning Patidar or Patel community has been demanding quota benefits under the Other Backward Classes category as they claim their prosperity is an illusion. Led by Hardik Patel, the Patidars – who constitute up to 14% of Gujarat’s population – have staged massive street protests in Gujarat, Maharashtra and other states and openly come out against the BJP, the party they once backed.

Anticipating an erosion in its Patidar vote base ahead of Assembly elections in Gujarat later this year, the BJP had planned the conclave to woo Other Backward Classes in Thakor-dominated Kheda district. Shah has been working to consolidate the Other Backward Classes and engineer a new social combination for the saffron outfit in Gujarat. Thakors are currently split equally between the BJP and the Congress. A complete consolidation of Thakors is imperative for the success of Shah’s strategy.

Speculation in recent weeks that Thakor may be considering backing the BJP seemed to gain ground as the young leader, who is the son of Congress leader Khodabhai Thakor, appeared to have scaled down his rhetoric against the BJP.

Other Backward Classes leader Alpesh Thakor (with bow and arrow) at a community rally in Ahmedabad in February. (Credit: PTI)

Thakor’s aide Ishwar Parmar, who is Kheda district president of the OSS Ekta Manch and Thakur Kshatriya Sena, accused the BJP of trying to pressure them into calling off their programme in Kaparvanj, 15 km away from Phagvel. “For last few days the BJP had been trying to pressurise us to postpone our public meeting,” he said. “When we remained firm, the ruling party resorted to coercion.”

He explained, “Initially, we were planning to hold our meeting in the Town Hall of Kaparvanj. Two days back, the local administration withdrew the permission. We then decided to move our venue to the Community Hall of the town.”