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Tuesday, Oct 22, 2019

Gujarat elections: Pact with Hardik is Cong’s best bet, but it’s a tricky road to fulfill quota promise

Gujarat assembly elections 2017: The Congress has promised to give Patidars reservation in jobs and colleges but the state has already given 49% quotas to SC, STs and OBCs, which is just under the Supreme Court cap of 50%.

assembly-elections Updated: Nov 22, 2017 19:41 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Patidar leader Hardik Patel with Dinesh Bhambaniya (left) addresses a press conference in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.
Patidar leader Hardik Patel with Dinesh Bhambaniya (left) addresses a press conference in Ahmedabad on Wednesday. (PTI)

The Congress’s pact with the Patidar community in Gujarat marks the opposition’s best chance yet to end the BJP’s 22-year rule in the state, but it could upset other caste leaders or run afoul of legal ceilings set by the Supreme Court.

Patidar leader Hardik Patel said the Congress has promised to give quotas to his community in jobs and college admissions by bringing a bill once elected. The formula for how it will be done will be included in Congress’s manifesto, he added.

“We will majorly gain with Hardik’s support. It will help us in 25 seats. At least 65% of the Patidar votes will come to our party,” said Gujarat Congress spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi, hours after the announcement.

Prakash Shah, a Gujarat-based political analyst, agreed that the Congress will gain from the understanding.

Patidars, a community involved mostly in business, have traditionally backed the BJP. They make up for 12% of the state’s 60 million population. Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has been leading a strident agitation for the quota since over two years now.

The demand, specifically, was for Patidars to be included the Other Backward Classes (OBC) — a grouping that already constitutes 40% of Gujarat’s population and is given 27% quota in jobs and education. The scheduled castes have 7% and the scheduled tribes 15%, taking the total proportion of reserved jobs and college seats to 49% — just under the 50% cap set by the Supreme Court.

“Not only will any move to give Patidars a share from the OBC quota lead to a backlash, but courts too will not allow it,” said Vidyut Joshi, another Gujarat-based political analyst

Alpesh Thakor, an OBC leader who recently joined Congress, has previously been against including Patels in the quota grouping.

How the party tackles this tightrope-walk will be clearer when the manifesto, a list of policies and programmes that political parties promise to implement if voted to power, is released. The document is being prepared by a team headed by senior leader Madhusudan Mistry.

Hardik Patel told a news conference in Gujarat that the Congress has promised to conduct an extensive survey to identify castes and communities that are under-represented or educationally backward, and deserve a guaranteed share in government jobs and education.

This is not the first time the BJP is facing a tough contest in Saurashtra, a region dominated by Patels. In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP overcame a stiff challenge from its former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, who then formed the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP), to win 32 seats. The Congress bagged 13 while the GPP could manage to win just two and the NCP one.

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 18:19 IST

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