Gujarat polls: Patidars return to BJP as agitation anger cools
There are about 16 seats where Patidars are the dominant community, of which nine are in Saurashtra, three in north Gujarat and four in Surat, internal surveys by political parties show.
In August 2015, a fiery Hardik Patel , then a mere 22 (it made him too young to contest in 2017) spoke to a large crowd of Patidars gathered at the GMDC ground in Ahmedabad, railing against the state’s ruling BJP and demanding reservations in government jobs and educational institutions for the influential community which, like many other dominant agrarian groupings, had seen its economic prospects decline.
In the days that followed, there were intermittent, often violent protests that formed the bulwark of a spirited Congress campaign in 2017 that brought it to a 77 seat tally, and cemented Patel’s identity as a young community leader. In 2022, having quit the Congress in May , Patel fought on a BJP ticket and won. And in the complete move of the Patidar leadership away from the Congress, and in the absence of any discernible, voluble anger, there was the dissipation of any semblance of a Congress challenge.
Considered one of most powerful land owning communities in Gujarat, the Patidars were in the past a solid bulwark for the BJP, moving away from the Congress after Madhavsinh Solanki weaved the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) social coalition in Gujarat. The 2017 elections therefore, were a departure from this two decade norm for the Patidars. It was prompted by the government’s refusal to pay heed to their demands, and further amplified by the violence that left nine Patidars dead across two years of protests. According to a Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies’ post-poll survey in 2017, Congress’s vote share among the Patidars increased with as many as 27% of Kadva Patels and 46% of Leuva Patels voting for it in 2017 compared to 9% and 15% respectively in 2012.
In 2022, while the BJP has swept the state with an over 50% vote share that can often make a community wise assessment redundant, experts said it is clear that the Patidars have returned to the BJP fold. There are close to 50 seats in Gujarat where Patidars account for more than 20% of the voters. Of these, BJP won 28 and Congress 23 in 2017 as compared to 36 and 14 respectively in 2012. In 2022, those numbers would be about around 40 for the BJP and around 10 for the Congress, said Amit Dholakia, a political expert who teaches political science at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda.
“The BJP has worked hard to get back Patidars into their fold right after 2017. The BJP began by inducting more ministers into the Cabinet and even replacing their chief minister (Vijay Rupani) with a Patidar CM (Bhupendra Patel). Many PAAS [Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti] leaders also joined BJP and the BJP cultivated religious shrines from Patidars, like Umiyadham and Khodaldham, to woo them back,” said Dholakia.
With no Patidar agitation in 2022, the BJP has won all 16 seats in Surat where the Aam Aadmi Party was looking to make a big impact, particularly those where it had fielded prominent former PAAS leaders like Alpesh Katheriya, Gopal Italia and Dharmik Mandaviya. PAAS was the Patidar organisation that was at the heart of the 2015-17 protests.
There are about 16 seats where Patidars are the dominant community, of which nine are in Saurashtra, three in north Gujarat and four in Surat, internal surveys by political parties show. Of these, the BJP has won 14 and the Congress has won two.
Among the key BJP Patidar leaders to win are Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel from Ghatlodia, Jitu Vaghani from Bhavnagar(West) and Ramesh Tilara from Unjha. Tilara is considered close to Patidar strongman Naresh Patel, the chairman of the Khodaldham temple trust. Both the AAP and the Congress attempted to convince Naresh Patel to extend support to them, but Tilara’s nomination was seen as a clear message of the Patels loyalty.