Gujarat polls: In three-cornered fight, Patidars hold key to power

NewsDrum Desk
03 Dec 2022
Gujarat polls: In three-cornered fight, Patidars hold key to power

Hardik Patel with Yogi Adityanath in an election rally

Ahmedabad: All eyes are once again on the less-in-number yet influential Patidar or Patel community of Gujarat, which had put the ruling BJP on the edge in the 2017 Assembly elections that took place in the shadow of Hardik Patel-led quota agitation to secure OBC status for the community.

While political analysts believe that most Patidars will vote for the Bharatiya Janata Party this time, former quota stir leaders think that many young voters from the community are open to other options, such as new entrant - the Aam Aadmi Party.

In the 2017 Assembly elections, despite setting an ambitious target of winning 150 out of 182 seats, the BJP barely managed to retain its bastion with 99 seats. It is believed that owing to the whirlwind campaign by Hardik Patel against the BJP, the opposition Congress emerged victorious on 77 seats.

As per the community's estimate, there are nearly 40 seats in Gujarat where Patidar voters play a decisive role. Some community leaders claim they are a dominant force on 50 seats.

Though Patels account for nearly 18 per cent of Gujarat's population, 44 Patidar MLAs were elected in 2017, which shows their influence in Gujarat's politics.

Some of the seats having high-concentration of Patidar voters in Saurashtra region are - Morbi, Tankara, Gondal, Dhoraji, Amreli, Savarkundla, Jetpur, Rajkot East, Rajkot West and Rajkot South.

While Vijapur, Visnagar, Mehsana and Unjha seats in north Gujarat have a considerable number of Patidar voters, there are at least five such seats in Ahmedabad city - Ghatlodia, Sabarmati, Maninagar, Nikol and Naroda.

In south Gujarat, several seats in Surat city are considered as Patidar bastions, including Varachha, Kamrej and Katargam.

Many believe that it was the Patidar quota agitation and resultant anger that led to the BJP's defeat on several Patidar-dominated seats in 2017, such as Unjha in Mehsana district as well as Morbi and Tankara seats in the Saurashtra region.

For the upcoming polls, the BJP has given tickets to 41 Patidars, one more than the Congress's tally. The AAP has also given tickets to a significant number of Patidars.

According to political analyst Ravindra Trivedi, chances are high that the community will bury the past and support the BJP this time.

"The 2022 election is different from 2017, when quota agitation was the main issue of the polls. This time, there is no effect of agitation, which will go in favour of BJP. Patidars will vote keeping in mind three things. If there are Patidar candidates fielded by both BJP and Congress on a seat, Patel voters will go with the party with which they are aligned traditionally," said Trivedi.

"There are nearly 30 seats on which both BJP and Congress have given tickets to Patidars. If the candidate is of some other caste against a Patidar candidate, it is most likely that Patel voters will give their votes to the one from their community irrespective of the party he represents," he said.

One of the main reasons that the BJP highlighted before the Patidars to seek their support is the declaration that Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel, who is from the community, will continue to occupy the top post if the party retains power.

"The BJP has already played its Patidar card by making Bhupendra Patel the CM last year and announced that he will remain at the post after the election too. Hence, many Patidars are thinking that if they want to see a Patidar as the next CM, they should support BJP this time," Trivedi said. He added that two of the most prominent Patidar organisations - Sidsar Umiya Dham of Kadva Patidars and Khodaldham of Leuva Patels also appear to support the saffron party this time.

"Khodaldham trustee Ramesh Tilala has been given a ticket by BJP from Rajkot South seat. Moreover, PM Modi's meeting with Khodaldham trustees in Delhi recently also gave a positive message to the community. Patidar Congress candidates may get Patel votes due to their personal rapport, but BJP will be their first choice if they have to choose between BJP, Congress or even AAP," said Trivedi.

Ahead of the polls, Sidsar Umiyadham Trust in Jamnagar, which represents Kadva Patidar sect, had demanded that the BJP give tickets to at least 50 Patidars.

According to the president of the trust, Jayram Patel, Patidars are just 18 per cent of the population of Gujarat, but wield influence far beyond the numbers.

"Patidars have been with the BJP since long and nearly 85 per cent of them will support it this time. The recent Supreme Court judgement legalising EWS quota will also help the party in attracting Patidar votes," said Patel.

But Congress is still hopeful of getting support from Patels.

"Not just Patidars, we are confident of getting support from all communities as farmers are suffering, and price rise, unemployment, exorbitant school fees, poor healthcare affect everyone. And Patidars must also not forget the atrocities done by BJP on them during the agitation," said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.

Kishor Makwana, spokesperson of Gujarat BJP, said, "Patidars have always remained with BJP. With their support, BJP will break all the previous records and form a government after the election. Both AAP and Congress are not in the picture at all." Notably, Hardik Patel, the face of quota agitation who had joined Congress earlier, is now fighting from Viramgam seat on BJP ticket.

Three other quota leaders - Alpesh Kathiriya, Gopal Italia and Dharmik Malavia - are now with AAP and fighting from Patidar-dominated Varachha, Katargam and Olpad seats in Surat respectively. Another former quota leader Reshma Patel is also into electoral politics and has recently joined the AAP after resigning from NCP.

Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti convenor Dinesh Bambhania claimed that young Patel voters may explore new options and opt for AAP this time.

"Except 2017, 90 per cent Patidars have been firmly behind the BJP since the beginning. I think young Patidar voters are now seeing AAP as an option this time. I think Patidars will return to BJP this time, but their numbers will not be significant," he said.

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