Gujarat election: Parties look to win over Patidar vote

Updated on Nov 20, 2022 05:02 AM IST

For the upcoming elections to 182 assembly seats in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 45 Patidars and the Congress has fielded 42. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new entrant, has given tickets to 46 such leaders.

PAAS leaders Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya during a roadshow as they join AAP in Surat on November 5. (ANI)
PAAS leaders Alpesh Kathiriya and Dharmik Malaviya during a roadshow as they join AAP in Surat on November 5. (ANI)
By, Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad

With the Gujarat elections around the corner, political parties are leaving no stone untouched to woo the influential Patidar community.

For the upcoming elections to 182 assembly seats in Gujarat, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded 45 Patidars and the Congress has fielded 42. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), a new entrant, has given tickets to 46 such leaders.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi in general remains the most popular face of the BJP during elections, delivering victory after victory for the party in Gujarat since the 2002 assembly elections, the BJP, opposition Congress and AAP cannot afford to ignore the all powerful and influential Patidars, most of whom go by the surname Patel.

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So, why are the Patels or Patidars, who form about 12-14% of the state’s population, considered a crucial vote bank?

The Patidars are the biggest community of landowners in the state. An agrarian caste, it comprises multiple subcastes, most prominently the Leuvas and Kadvas. It was in the 1950s that the community benefited largely from the Saurashtra Land Reforms Act, 1952, that gave occupancy rights to tenant cultivators, who were mainly Patels by caste.

The Patels gradually got richer as they began cultivating cash crops like groundnut and cotton in Saurashtra region. They also invested in brass, ceramics, diamond, auto engineering and pharmaceuticals and slowly spread their dominance to other parts of Gujarat, buying land. The Saurashtra Patel lobby also moved to occupy the dominant position in politics.

“The Patidars are an organised and rich community and hence, their influence is disproportionate to their numbers. They control several businesses, trade and even co-operatives,” Amit Dholakia, professor of political science at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, said.

“Also, they have a huge presence among the Swaminarayan sect, a very powerful religious organisation. Also, a large number of NRIs are Patidars. Given all these aspects, all powerful parties try to woo them,” Dholakia added.

The community is largely present in Anand, Kheda and Mehsana districts and parts of Patan and Ahmedabad districts. In Surat city, they are a dominant lot in at least four seats. In Saurashtra, they have a strong presence in Rajkot, Amreli and Morbi districts.

There are about 16 seats where Patidar voters clearly dominate – nine are in Saurashtra, three in north Gujarat and four in Surat, according to an internal analysis by political parties. There are over 50 seats in the state where Patels can prove to play a key role and some influence in another 40 seats.

The Patidars have been strong supporters of the BJP for more than three decades, mainly from the 1990s. Initially, it was an ardent supporter of the party, in the mid-eighties, came out with the ‘KHAM’ theory to favour the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim vote bank, prompting the Patidars to shift their loyalty towards the BJP.

However, an intense agitation, spearheaded by then Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener Hardik Patel, in 2015 for reservation in education and jobs for the community, proved to be a major setback to the BJP with saw its worst performance in the last two decades by winning just 99 seats. The Congress, on the other hand, delivered an impressive show by winning 77 seats in the 2017 elections.

While the BJP won all 12 seats in Surat city in 2017, notwithstanding the Patidar protest, it lost as many as eight seats in Patel-dominated Morbi and Amreli districts in Saurashtra region. Demonetisation, the introduction of goods and services tax (GST) and agrarian distress were other factors that worked against the party.

“There has been continuous discontent among Patidars against the BJP since 2007 when former chief minister Keshubhai Patel formed the Sardar Patel Utkarsh Samiti (to oppose the ruling BJP government led by chief minister Narendra Modi then). In 2012, Patel and former home minister Govardhan Zadaphia (also from the Patel community), floated the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) to contest against the BJP that year. In 2017, there was PAAS. The ruling BJP last year even changed its entire cabinet and replaced chief minister (Vijay Rupani) with a Patel chief minister (Bhupendra Patel). The community and the public at large, that has for years supported BJP and their tall claims, can now see through their game. They will not be fooled so easily this time,” Paresh Dhanani, a Patidar and Congress’s sitting MLA from Amreli, said. He won the sobriquet of ‘giant killer’ after he defeated Union minister Purshottam Rupala in 2002 from Amreli seat.

Gujarat has seen at least five Patel chief ministers, including Anandiben Patel, Keshubhai Patel, Chimanbhai Patel and Babubhai Patel, since its formation on May 1, 1960.

There are close to 50 seats in Gujarat where Patidars account for more than 20% of voters, according to internal surveys by political parties. Of these, the BJP won 28 and Congress 22 in 2017 as compared to 36 and 14, respectively, in 2012.

According to a Lokniti-Centre for 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.

The Congress’s vote share among the Patidars increased in 2017. As many as 27% of Kadvas and 46% of Leuvas voted for the party in 2017 compared to 9% and 15% in 2012.

Inflation, joblessness, affordable education and a stable and business friendly government are some of the concerns of the community this election season.

With the Patidar agitation no longer in play in the 2022 elections, the BJP is hopeful that community members who shifted to the Congress will return to its fold.

Hardik Patel, who had supported the Congress in 2017, joined BJP in June this year and is set to make his electoral debut from the Patidar-dominated Viramgam constituency.

The BJP leader on Friday said he is “confident the people of Viramgam” will vote for him.

He also attacked the Congress and AAP, accusing them of “being against Gujarat’s culture”.

The BJP is also resting its hope on a recent Supreme Court verdict, upholding the constitutional amendment by the Narendra Modi government to grant 10% reservation to economically weaker sections (EWS).

Senior BJP leader and former Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitin Patel said the top court’s decision will put an end to agitations for reservations in several states, including Gujarat.

“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 the people will be benefitted by our agitation,” Hardik Patel said after the verdict.

Political analysts, however, believe that transferring the votes from the Congress to the BJP will not be easy.

Also Read| 'Was in Congress. I know...': BJP's Hardik Patel takes swipe at former party

The AAP, which has fielded candidates in all 182 constituencies, is also eyeing the Patidar votes. It has fielded incumbent PAAS convener and a former colleague of Hardik Patel, Alpesh Kathiriya, from the Patel-dominated Varachha Road seat in Surat city. The seat is currently held by former state minister and BJP leader Kishor Kanani.

Gujarat AAP chief Gopal Italia, who was also a part of the Patidar agitation, will contest from Patidar dominated Katargam assembly constituency in Surat. This seat is currently held by minister of state for urban development and urban housing Vinod Moradiya who has again been fielded by the BJP for the polls.

“There will be about 25-30 seats where the Patidar votes will be felt more than other communities. In most of these seats, there will be a direct contest between the AAP and BJP for the Patidar votes. The AAP is likely to eat into BJP’s Patidar votes and it remains to be seen how much it damages the BJP in the end. The Congress’s presence is not felt and their votes will also be sought by the BJP and AAP,” political expert and MSU professor Dholakia said.

While the BJP hopes that its most loyal vote-bank will return to their fold after the 2017 debacle, the Congress is looking for a repeat of that year’s elections. The AAP which has fielded some prominent leaders from the Patidar quota agitation is hopeful to emerge as a new alternative, riding on their votes.

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