Gujarat’s Patel community has “barred” BJP leaders from campaigning in the run-up to the crucial local body elections this month, vowing to avenge the alleged atrocities on protestors during the quota agitation in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home state.
More than 300 local bodies will go to the polls in the state on November 22 and 29, seen as an acid test for the party after its drubbing in the just-concluded Bihar assembly elections.
Gujarat is also the home state of BJP national president Amit Shah, the man credited with scripting the party’s overwhelming victory in last year’s Lok Sabha elections.
The influential Patidar community – as they are also known as in the state – are fighting for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions and the last round of stir in August had seen widespread violence, leaving at least eight protesters dead and several others injured in police firing.
Police also booked several Patidar leaders including the firebrand agitation spearhead Hardik Patel for sedition and other offences.
Before the agitation, the Patels were known as staunch supporters of the BJP which has ruled the state since 1998.
At the main market area Chachar Chowk in Mansa –Amit Shah’s native place in Gandhinagar district – the community has put up banners with “no entry” message for BJP leaders.
“Section 144 has been imposed on the BJP,” one of the banners read, giving a twist to the same section imposed by the state government during the agitation.
The scene is not much different in other Patidar-dominated areas across the state, turning the heat on chief minister Anandiben Patel, a Patidar herself. This will also be the first elections in the state in 14 years when the BJP will not have the guidance of either Modi or Shah.
Like Gandhinagar, the BJP has also not been able to campaign in Modi’s home district Mehsana.
At its traditional stronghold of 36-seat Unjha nagarpalika, which is only 35 km from Modi’s birthplace Vadnagar, the BJP couldn’t field a single candidate.
Last time, at least 26 candidates had contested on the BJP symbol.
“This is Patidars’ revenge to all sorts of atrocities committed by the Gujarat government through police to curb our agitation. We want to curb their campaign,” said Lalji Patel, president of Sardar Patel Group, one of the two main agitating Patidar groups.
With 22-year-old Hardik and his core team of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti in jail, the SPG is leading the anti-BJP campaign.
During her campaigning at various places, Anandiben Patel called the Patidar agitation a game plan of the Congress. But party leaders admitted they were facing a tough fight.
“There is so much anger among the Patidars against the BJP. The party has fielded its candidate as independents,” said Naran Patel, the party’s Unjha MLA.