(BY ABDUL HAFIZ LAKHANI) The very community, Patels or Patidars, on whose shoulders the BJP rode piggyback through the decades In Gujarat was asking for its share in the spoils of power. This left the government in a quandary, since facilitating the Patels, who form around 14% of the state’s population, would mean cutting into 27% of the OBC quota, 7% of Scheduled Castes (SCs) quota and 15% of the Scheduled Tribes (STs) quota. With a 50% cap on reservations imposed by the Supreme Court, any more quotas would eat into the share of others. Ruffling the OBCs, SCs and STs in Gujarat would be committing political hara-kiri since they are an integral part of the Congress’s KHAM caste combination of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims, who constitute 75% of the state’s population. With the Patel agitation, a counter-consolidation of these communities has already taken place under the banner of OBC, SC, and ST (OSS) Ekta Manch.
The stage is set for three pronged election in Gujarat as Arvind Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party will contest the assembly elections in Gujarat – the home state of his political arch-rival Prime Minister Narendra Modi.. Elections are due in Gujarat later this year. Aam Aadmi Party leader Arvind Kejriwal’s recent visit to Gujarat may have been played down by Congress and BJP, but with the fledgling party deciding to contest all 182 seats in the assembly election , its time both the dominant parties took notice. AAP claims to have enrolled over one lakh new members in last June itself, and has about 5000 active workers in the state. AAP’s intent to formalise a pro-poor, agrarian agenda that takes on a corporate friendly government could be worrying for both, Congress and BJP.
Firstly, AAP has supported the Patel agitation being led by Hardik Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), and has criticised the government for giving 10% reservation to Economically Weaker Section (EWS) as a ‘lollipop’. AAP insists they will back any demand of PAAS for reservation, but it should be within the ambit of the Constitution. Some of Hardik’s closest aides like Chirag and Dinesh Patel have been associated with AAP earlier and the proximity between Kejriwal and Hardik could lead to an electoral understanding at a later stage. This has the potential to harm BJP, especially in Saurashtra where Patel community is dominant, has traditionally supported BJP wholeheartedly, and forms about 15% of the state’s electorate.
Secondly, Kejriwal has managed to rope in former BJP MLA from Mahuva, Kanubhai Kalsaria, and made him the face of their campaign. Kalsaria is a known activist in the state, often at loggerheads with the government over farmer issues since Narendra Modi was chief minister. He also enjoys influence in pockets of districts of Surendranagar and Bhavnagar in Saurashtra. A sitting BJP MLA from Dhari constituency in Amreli, Nalin Kotadiya, and former Sabarmati MLA, Yatin Oza, met Kejriwal during his visit. AAP is positioning itself to welcome more disgruntled BJP leaders who don’t want any truck with Congress. This is likely to dent BJP in Saurashtra
Thirdly, AAP is busy hard-selling their agenda of halving the rates of power per unit and claims to have got support from nearly 30,000 people already. This draws a parallel with Delhi where Kejriwal launched his political campaign with a ‘bijli-paani satyagraha’ to protest against hike in tariffs in 2012. While AAP had managed to completely sway the poor in Delhi and decimate the Congress, it will be far tougher to do the same in Gujarat. But if he manages to swing even a small percentage of votes in AAP’s favour, then it will eat into the Congress’ vote share which comprises of Dalit, Muslim and the poor.
Fourthly, the high profile social media campaign launched by AAP is likely to attract a section of youth as well. The party claims to have started running 5 Facebook pages and nearly 2,000 WhatsApp groups in major cities of the state. This could eat into the base of both parties- BJP’s urban and Congress’ rural youth vote bank.
Fifthly, the 2012 assembly election was all about close encounters in 35 of the 182 seats where the victory margin was less than 5000 votes. The emergence of AAP is likely to inflict more damage on Congress than BJP. By rooting for the anti-establishment vote, AAP will not only damage Congress, but could also prevent them from taking advantage of the Patel unrest.
In 2012, BJP had polled 47.85% while the Congress secured 38.93% of the vote share, giving BJP a lead of almost 9%. BJP will only be too willing to let AAP take the vote of discontent rather than Congress. If that happens, the numbers simply won’t add up for Congress even if BJP loses a significant percentage of votes.
Meanwhile,The face of the Patidar agitation favouring reservations for the Patel community, Hardik Patel on Monday said that in 2017 he will change political equations in India. The 23-year-old was jailed for nine months, for leading a Patel community protest for reservations in government jobs and colleges. Patel, who was labelled an anti-national during the agitation, said that this kind of name-calling is the worst thing anyone can do. He added, that because of his experiences, he now fears nothing. He added that after being jailed and called an anti-national, he has come out stronger and more determined about his views. “I have my age with me and the public with me. Whatelse can I want,” he told Navbharat Times.
He said that Narendra Modi and his government is afraid of him. He has nothing to hide from Modi or his aide Amit Shah. Patel says that it is untrue that he is against reservation of Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and Other Backward Classes. He believes that reservation for a country like India is important for its development.
When asked as to why does he want reservations for community which is rather well-to-do, he said that this is a misconception about the Patel community. “Go to Gadiyadhar or Amreli and see. Just because some five Patels are rich that does not mean that it is a well-to-do community,” said Patel. “BJP claims that it is here to represent people. My family worked very hard for BJP to win in the elections. But BJP has forgotten the hard work we have done,” Patel said.
The year 2017 has brought in a golden opportunity for Congress to defeat BJP and come to power in Gujarat. Congress will never get such an opportunity to win in the state again. This is what Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi said while addressing a large gathering at the ‘Jan Vedana’ sammelan in milk city Anand.
While urging Congress workers to expose the misdeeds of BJP government in Gujarat and NDA government at the centre, Patel said 2017 is a crucial year forGujarat Congress as it is the only opportunity for the party to win the polls in the state.
Gujarat Congress had organised the meet over the issue of demonetization at the ground behind Uma Bhavan near Borsad chowkdi in which senior state Congress leaders including Bharatsinh Solanki, Shankersinh Vaghela, Gurudas Kamat andDeependra Singh Hooda from Haryana among others addressed the gathering. Accusing the Narendra Modi government for putting people under “tremendous hardship”, Patel said the policy has taken a heavy toll on the country’s economy.
He accused Modi for spreading lies during his tenure as Gujarat chief minister. “He is doing the same as Prime Minister of the country,” said Patel, terming demonetisation as the biggest blunder of the Prime Minister.