Gujarat election 2017: The Congress party is hoping to surprise BJP, even the country, by coming back to power in the state after 22 years, riding on a "wave" of support from caste groups like Patidars, OBCs and Dalits. Among all of these communities, Patidar's voting pattern is curiously awaited - by both political observers and parties. Patidars have solidly backed the BJP in the last 22 years. But their agitation for reservation led by young Hardik Patel in the last two years, which also led to the death of some Patidar agitators in police firing, has cast a shadow on whether they will vote for the saffron party once again or not.
Hardik Patel has joined hands with the Congress. Will all Patidars vote for Congress? The final answer will come on the counting day - December 18. But with only two days to go for the first phase of polls, few signs have emerged on how Patidars may vote in the upcoming. The Patidar community is not a homogenous group. It is divided into groups. While around 80 per cent Patidars are Kadva and Leuva Patels, others are Anjana and Matiya Patels, who enjoy reservation benefits under OBC quota.
Hardik is a Kadva Patel. The BJP is confident that Leuva Patels will vote for it and there will be a division in the Kadva votes as well. The claim of the BJP may be true if latest surveys are to be believed.
As per the recorded caste-wise Census of 1931, Patidars form around 11-12 per cent of the population in the state. The percentage has increased since then, and some estimates say their population stands at around 16% and can influence the result in at least 60 seats. Out of the 182 seats, Patidars are in full majority in 16 seats -nine seats are in Saurashtra, three in north Gujarat, four in Surat. Seven Patidar-majority seats in Saurashtra are dominated by Leuva Patels.
Congress is hopeful that the reservation promise would swing Patidar votes in its favour. However, it may not happen as Patels are divided on whether it is Constitutionally possible to provide quota to Patidars. On Thursday, Patidar Organisation Committee (POC), which is a forum of six influential religious and social institutions of Patels, made its stand clear that the Congress' poll promise of reservation to Patels is not "feasible." Convenor of the POC, EP Patel was quoted as saying by Times of India that they were informed by senior Supreme Court lawyer Harish Salve that it was not Constitutionally valid to give any reservation above the 49% cap.
After two years of agitation, Patidars are also facing class and urban-rural divide. For instance in Patidar dominated Rajkot, Morbi and Amreli, the financially well-off Patel are still staunch Modi-backers, while there is anger among the poor and rural voters.
Several Patidars believe that reservation is a non-issue for them. Some others believe the Congress promise of reservation has divided the community from within. The India TV-VMR opinion poll has given clear indication of this. When asked about the effect of Congress-Hardik Patel deal, 26 per cent said Hardik Patel fell in Congress’ trap; 16 per cent said Hardik is playing a ‘double game’; 22 per cent said Hardik should join Congress; 23 per cent said Hardik should give everyone freedom to take their own decision.
The Congress has not nominated any Patidar face as CM candidate and the party is still unclear about who would lead the party if it wins. As Patels remain divided and confused about the validity of Congress' quota promise, in the end, most of them may just opt for the tried and tested faces - putting BJP in an advantageous position.