Top court ruling on EWS could help BJP’s Patidar outreach ahead of Gujarat polls
Senior BJP leaders believe that the verdict will help the party to bring back into its fold the crucial Patidar community votes, many of who moved away and voted for the Congress in the 2017 elections
The Supreme Court decision on Monday to uphold the constitutional amendment by the Modi government for granting 10% reservation to the economically weaker sections (EWS) of society in forward castes has given a major boost to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat ahead of the assembly elections next month, said party leaders.
Senior BJP leaders believe that the verdict will help the party to bring back into its fold the crucial Patidar community votes, many of who moved away and voted for the Congress in the 2017 elections.
Senior BJP leader and Gujarat’s former deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said the Supreme Court verdict will put an end to the agitations that were seen in the past in many states including Gujarat. “The provisions (of 10 per cent EWS quota) upheld by the Supreme Court will strengthen the country’s unity. The entire country is happy about this. I welcome the verdict,” said Nitin Patel.
Hardik Patel, who quit the Congress and joined the BJP recently, said members of 68 communities will get the quota benefits. “The decision taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been upheld by the Supreme Court. Members of 68 communities will get benefits in education and jobs. I feel proud that people will be benefited by our agitation,” said Patel, who is also the former convener of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), which spearheaded a massive quota agitation in the state in 2015.
In December 2015, the BJP suffered a serious setback in the local body elections that was seen as a litmus test for the then chief minister Anandiben Patel. The Congress made a major comeback in district panchayats where it won 22 out of 31 district panchayats. Next year, Patel resigned citing old age, but the Patidar agitation and the party’s inability to control it was seen as one of the major reasons for her decision.
In order to address the Patidars’ demand, the BJP government declared 10% reservation for economically backward classes among the higher castes through an ordinance in May 2016. This was in addition to a 49.5% reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, and OBCs.
The ordinance was challenged in the high court that struck it down in August 2016, calling it unconstitutional and illegal. The state government then approached the Supreme Court. In October 2017, however, the Gujarat government allowed the ordinance to lapse after it failed to make it a law.
In 2017 assembly elections, the BJP suffered a serious setback in Saurashtra where the Congress bagged 28 seats and the BJP won only 19 out of the total 48 seats in the region. One seat was won by the NCP.
The BJP fielded 29 Leuva Patels and 23 Kadva Patels, while the Congress has 26 Leuva and 21 Kadva candidates in 2017 elections. Of the total 54 seats in Saurashtra (including six in Kutch), the Congress won 30 in 2017, compared to 16 in 2012. The BJP won only 23 with its overall tally going down to 99 – the party’s worst performance since 1997. One seat went to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 2017.
The Patidars have been dominating the political narrative in the state for many years now. Incumbent chief minister Bhupendra Patel belongs to the sub-group ‘Kadva Patel’ of the Patidar clan. The state has seen at least five Patel chief ministers including Anandiben Patel, Keshubhai Patel, Chimanbhai Patel and Babubhai Patel since the formation of Gujarat state on May 1, 1960.
According to a Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies post-poll survey in 2017, 68% of Kadva Patels and 51% of Leuva Patels voted for the BJP in 2017 compared to 78% and 63% in 2012.
In comparison, the Congress’ vote share among the Patidars increased—27% of Kadvas and 46% Leuvas voted for it in 2017 as compared to only 9% and 15% in 2012.
The all-influential and powerful Patidar community form about 12-14% of the state’s population. They have been strong supporters of the BJP for more than three decades. There are close to 55 seats in the state where Patels are a major factor in the state.
The Congress had in the eighties come out with the ‘KHAM’ theory that advocated Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim vote bank at core. The party under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki won a record 149 seats then. The Patels, who voted for the Congress then, felt alienated as they believed that KHAM was essentially an anti-Patel and anti-upper caste political alliance. They gradually shifted towards the BJP and have been their major supporters.
There are about 16 seats (out of 182) where Patidar voters dominate, of which nine are in Saurashtra, three in north Gujarat and four in Surat. Of these, seven seats in Saurashtra and three in Surat are dominated by the Leuva Patels. There are, however, close to 55 seats in the state where Patels are a major factor.
In February 2021, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) debuted at the Surat civic polls and put up a stellar performance. The party got a lot of support from PAAS leaders whom it gave tickets and the AAP replaced the Congress as the main opposition in the civic body, garnering 28% vote share in the process.
At least three of its prominent leaders including Gujarat unit AAP chief Gopal Italia have been at the front of the Patidar agitation. The party has given tickets to PAAS convenors Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya, who had led the Patidar movement along with Hardik Patel.
Italia also welcomed the Supreme Court’s EWS verdict and said a demand for the same was made by the Patidar community members and the state’s youth like Kathiriya, now an AAP leader, said a PTI report.