BJP's bid to woo Patidars ahead of 2022 Gujarat polls shows their significance in state politics

BJP’s bid to woo Patidars ahead of 2022 Gujarat polls shows their significance in state politics

The Patel community is an estimated 12-14 percent of the population and one-fourth of the party’s vote share in the state can be contributed to them

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 11 September will virtually inaugurate the ‘Sardardham’ building in Ahmedabad, built at a cost of Rs 200 crore by the Vishwa Patidar Samaj, which is touted as the one-stop business, social and educational hub for the Patidar community.

Built over an area of 11,672 square feet near the Vaishnodevi circle at Ahmedabad Gandhinagar border area, the Sardardham building boasts of a residential facility for 1,600 students/aspirants, e-library with 1,000 computer systems, library, high tech classrooms, gymnasium, auditoriums, multi-purpose halls, resthouse with 50 luxury rooms along with other amenities for business and political conglomerations. A 50-foot-tall bronze statue of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel has been installed in front of the Sardardham building.

While Prime Minister Modi would inaugurate as well as perform ground-breaking for the projects through video conference, Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel, and Union ministers Mansukh Mandaviya and Purushottam Rupala, as well as donors and trustees of Sardardham would be physically present on the occasion.

Many believe that Modi’s participation in the ceremony on Saturday is an attempt by the BJP to appease the Patidar community, who had agitated against the government in 2015. Their protests had led the BJP to win only 99 of 182 seats in the 2017 polls, its lowest tally while in power.

Who are the Patidars?

Patidars or Patels claim themselves to be descendants of Lord Ram. The community is spread all over Gujarat, with a higher concentration in North Gujarat and Saurashtra.

The Patidars are an economically and politically influential group in Gujarat. Until the late 1970s, they enjoyed political dominance across the state, and were ardent Congress supporters.

However, in the 1980s, the Congress shifted focus to the famous KHAM alliance (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim), given the reservation dynamics and former prime minister Indira Gandhi’s garibi hatao slogan. This peeved the Patels, who shifted allegiance to the BJP. Today, one-third of the BJP MLAs are Patels, and so are seven senior cabinet ministers.

According to experts, it is the support by the Patidar community which has been clinching the deal in favour of BJP for the past two decades.

Figures suggest that Patidars can influence election results in more than 70 out of 182 assembly constituencies as they form around 15 percent or more of the electorate in 71 constituencies. Of about 6 crore population of Gujarat, Patidars constitute 1.5 crore, an estimated 12-14 percent of the population

The break-up of BJP’s vote share, over the years, shows that approximately one-fourth of it can be attributed to the Patidars. Out of 48 percent vote share BJP received in 2012, 11 percent came from the Patidars.

Patidar agitation for quota

Since 2015, the Patidar community has demanded for Other Backward Class status, as a simple welfare benefit by the state.

According to the leaders heading the agitation, reservation should be granted by the state to any community at its discretion. The Patidars argued increased competition, unemployment, lack of access to higher and professional education justified that they get a share of the quota cake. This notion also contributed to the perception that as Patels suffer, OBC youth, helped along by quotas, have been steadily improving their socio-economic situation.

The agitation saw the birth of people’s leader Hardik Patel, who led the protests under the banner of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti.

Over 5,00,000 Patidars participated in the major demonstration dubbed Kranti Rally at the GDMC grounds in Ahmedabad.

Hardik Patel was arrested as he did not have permission to stay on the grounds after the rally and was later released.

Later, there were incidents of violence and arson across the state, resulting in a curfew in several cities and towns. Properties and vehicles worth crores were damaged and destroyed. The state returned to normalcy by 28 August.

The government finally acceded by announcing a 10 percent quota for or the poor among upper castes (up to an annual family income of Rs six lakh), which also include Patidars, in jobs and education.

How they influenced 2017 polls

The BJP won the 2017 state assembly polls with a simple majority. Unlike their 2012 victory where they secured 115 seats, they won 99 seats in 2017. Their vote share, slumped sharply since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls when it clocked nearly 60 percent votes. In 2017, the BJP got close to 49.1 percent votes.

On the other hand, Congress’s vote share rose to about 41.4 percent in 2017 — up from 33 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and also higher than around 39 per cent in the 2012 assembly polls.

Many experts believe that it was the Patidar vote that helped Congress do better and rattle the feathers of the BJP.

What was indeed surprising was that the BJP managed to win 15 of the 16 constituencies in Surat district, the epicentre of protests and strikes against the Narendra Modi government’s implementation of the Goods and Services Tax. Many of the traders are Patidars, and had been turning out in large numbers to show support for Hardik Patel.

Wooing the Patidars

The BJP realises the significance of the community and has already begun wooing them ahead of the 2022 state elections.

In 2019 ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the BJP government in Gujarat saw an expansion in which six Patidar leaders took the oath of office.

Most analysts believed this was done due to the fact that BJP had suffered a dip of 16 seats in its tally as the its seat share in 182 seat assembly went down from 115 to 99 in 2017.

Moreover, seven leaders from the state found their place in the Modi Cabinet when it expanded in 2021.

Ministers of State (MoS) prior to the reshuffle, Mansukh Mandaviya and Purshottam Rupala have now been elevated as ministers in the Union Cabinet. Both of them are from the Patidar community.

Meanwhile, ahead of the assembly election of 2022, the politically influential Patidar community has started demanding top roles for Patidar leaders and even a chief minister from the community.

In June this year, social leaders of the community met at Khodaldham temple, the primary place of worship of Leuva Patels located in Kagvad near Rajkot city in the Saurashtra region. The meeting aimed at primarily bringing together the Leuva and the Kadva Patidar sub-castes.

“After Keshubhai Patel (former BJP chief minister of Gujarat), the Patidar community lost its dominance in the state. This meeting was held to discuss how to regain the political influence for our community in the state,” Naresh Patel, chairman of Khodaldham Trust, had told the media after the meeting.

“We want our Patidar leaders in political parties to be given main responsibilities in Gujarat. Be it the BJP or Congress, Patidars should get top posts. Why shouldn’t the next state unit Congress chief or even a chief minister be from our community?” asked Naresh Patel.

With inputs from agencies

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