Gujarat Elections: Why Political Parties are Wooing the Patidars
With the Gujarat assembly elections round the corner, the Patidar community is in demand in the state. The BJP was tough on the demand for reservation by the Patidars, under Anandiben Patel’s rule, and filed a sedition case against their leader Hardik Patel. However, realising their political clout, the BJP government recently invited representatives from the community for talks. On 27 September, the BJP government announced a slew of measures to placate the Patidars.
To what extent will the move assuage the community remains to be seen. Hardik’s group has vowed to continue the agitation and support any party which will comply with their demands. The Congress is also sending feelers to the caste block in a bid to encash their disenchantment with the BJP. Rahul Gandhi began his ‘Navsarjan Gujarat Yatra’ by visiting the Patidar-dominated areas earlier this week.
Influence of Patidar Community
The Patidars or Patels 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 Indira’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.
The Patidars account for close to 16 percent of the state population. The caste break-up in Gujarat shows that both the BJP and the Congress enjoy equal support among other castes, excluding Patidars, ie, 42 percent each. Traditionally, the KHAM alliance has voted in large numbers for the Congress, while the upper caste and OBCs have voted for the BJP. It is the support by the Patidar community which has been clinching the deal in favour of BJP for the past two decades.
Leuvas and Kadvas Voted for BJP in 2012
Among the Patels, there are two sub-communities – Leuva and Kadva. Hardik is a Kadva Patel. Keshubhai Patel belongs to the Leuva sub-group. More than two-thirds have been voting for the BJP since the 1990s.
The Congress enjoys maximum support among the Leuvas compared to the Kadvas. The community is strongly united and votes en bloc. 63 percent of the Leuvas, and 82 percent of the Kadvas voted for the BJP in 2012, thus showing significant consolidation in favour of the party.
The only other category which shows consolidated support for any party is the Muslims – 72 percent voted for the Congress in 2012. The Patidars can decide the fate of 73 assembly constituencies, which is 40 percent of the total assembly strength of Gujarat.
Congress Has Faired Better
The Congress has witnessed significant downfall in electoral fortunes, from 55.6 percent vote share in 1985, to 38.9 percent vote share in 2012. BJP’s graph has been consistently rising from 15 percent to 48 percent vote share during the same period.
The contest has remained bipolar in nature, with these two parties capturing 90 percent of total votes. On an average, there has been a gap of 10 percent vote share between the BJP and the Congress.
Patidar Agitation vs Keshubhai’s Revolt
The break-up of BJP’s vote share, over the years, shows that approximately one-fourth of it can be attributed to the Patidars. The OBCs, including Kolis, form the largest chunk of voters of BJP, followed by the Patidars and voters from the upper caste. Out of 48 percent vote share BJP received in 2012, 11 percent came from the Patidars.
The BJP’s worry is not just about the community switching over to the Congress, for even if a section of Patidars (around one-third) don’t vote for the incumbent, it will turn out to be a tight election.
In 2012, Keshubhai Patel rebelled against BJP, and contested elections under Gujarat Parivartan Party. Though it bagged only 3.6 percent vote share, it led to the defeat of BJP candidates in 23 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch. People would agree that the current Patidar agitation is much bigger in comparison to Keshubhai revolt.
The Patidars, with 16 percent of the population, hold the keys to government formation in Gujarat. While other caste/community blocks have already made up their minds, the Patels are keenly watching the political development on reservation. They know the caste-population dynamics makes them ‘kingmakers’.
While there are talks of a Third Front, at this moment, Patidars backing any such front looks improbable, as it has minimal chances of winning. Enjoying the fruits of power for more than two decades, makes it very difficult for the Patidars to remain out of power. So they will bargain with the two prominent parties in order to fulfil their demands.
The BJP will embark on ‘Gujarat Gaurav Yatra’ on 1 October from Karamsad, Sardar Patel’s birth place, as part of its efforts to woo the Patidars. It will, over the next few months, intensify efforts to create divisions within the community if Hardik doesn’t come on board.
(Amitabh Tiwari is an ex corporate and investment banker turned political consultant and commentator. He is co-author of ‘Battle of Bihar’ and can be reached @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)