Ahead of Polls and Hardik’s Moves, Parties ‘Can’t ‘Afford to Lose Patels’

Politics around Patidars is heating up in Gujarat. After a number of outreach programmes organised in the election-bound state, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to address a convention of the Patel community on Saturday at a village in Rajkot. He will also inaugurate a multi-speciality hospital built by the Shree Patel Sewa Samaj at Atkot.

Sources had last week informed News18 that Modi was likely to visit Gujarat thrice in about three weeks, with an aim to woo the highly-influential Patel community. They said the PM’s second visit is likely to be in the month of June, and his third on June 18.

And out of the 17 events that Modi has addressed since March, six were organised by groups with strong links to the Patidar community. But why this Patidar push? News18 takes a look:

The Importance of Patidars

The Patidar community has a tremendous impact on Gujarat’s politics. They account up about 12% of the state’s overall population of about 6 crore people. Many Assembly constituencies have a Patidar population of over 15%, which could have a direct impact on the election outcome, say reports.

More than 60 of the 182 Assembly constituencies are influenced by the votes of the prominent Patidar group.

As Hardik Patel Quits Congress…

After being limited to 99 seats in the 2017 Assembly elections, the BJP has worked hard to reclaim Patidars, a significant portion of whom had defected to the Congress under Hardik Patel’s leadership.

The developments are moving fast after Hardik recently quit the Congress, alleging casteism by the top leadership and non-support by the party.

Now, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener and former Congress working president may even join the BJP, according to reports. He has regularly bread crumbed hints and has even hinted at contesting elections.

Eyes on Naresh Patel Too

Another prominent Patidar leader, Rajkot-based businessman Naresh Patel, who is chairman of the Shree Khodaldham Trust, has been the blue-eyed boy for parties now after stating his intention to enter politics. He has held talks with the Congress, after the party approached him a day after Hardik quitting.

However, nothing is clear yet, and Patidar politics in Gujarat are still taking shape.

The number of Congress MLAs has decreased from 77 to 65 in the last five years. A party senior was mentioned in a Deccan Herald report as saying that the BJP is “seeking to lure” 10 Congress legislators. Congress had to evacuate its MLAs to a resort in 2020, fearing poaching after a few defected to the BJP.

And last year, the BJP replaced its CM Vijay Rupani with a Patidar leader Bhupendrabhai Patel, recognising the damage and the potential of Patidars’ migration to the Congress.

Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai told the Deccan Herald, “The smart thing to do in Gujarat politics is to keep the Patidar with you (at least not against you). The parties will have to manage an umbrella coalition of caste groups, which are not so inimical to Patidars. Winning Gujarat for any Opposition party will be a tough challenge given the state is home to both PM Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and they will not leave any stone unturned to keep the saffron flag fluttering there.”

After the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) threatened to renew their agitation, the BJP-led Gujarat government announced the removal of ten cases filed in connection with the 2015 Patidar quota squabble, the report further argued.

Modi’s Push

Modi virtually launched the K K Patel Super Specialty Hospital in Bhuj on April 28. The hospital was also established by a Patidar organisation, Shri Kutch Leuva Patel Education & Medical Trust. Patel Seva Samaj, Atkot, a Patidar philanthropic trust, built KD Parvadiya Hospital, which will be inaugurated on Saturday.

Modi delivered a virtual talk at the Gujarat Patidar Business Summit, 2022, hosted by Sardardham, a Patidar organisation, on April 29. Modi chose to virtually address the summit’s third edition in Surat for the first time this year.

“There are some boys in your area, who come out against us, raising flags… they would not even know how you spent your days in darkness… tell them… about what kind of days you have seen and from where we came…”, Modi had said in an apparent reference to the 2015 Patidar quota agitation.

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