On 5 March 2019, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for a Rs 1,000-crore socio-religious complex being built for and by the Patidar community in Gujarat, the Kadva Patidars in particular.
The Kadva Patel community is the one to which Hardik Patel, who had led a vociferous agitation against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), belongs. With Hardik set to join the Congress soon, the battle lines have clearly been drawn out as far as Patidar votes in Gujarat are concerned.
Hardik, who in 2015 led a section of Patidars in a struggle for Other Backward Classes (OBC) status that saw him land up in jail, is likely to contest in the Lok Sabha election from the Jamnagar constituency in Gujarat, sources in the Congress told PTI on Wednesday.
The Patidars are a community to be dealt with sensitively. They have traditionally been aligned with the BJP, but are now a fractured vote bank. The community has two broad divisions in the form of the Leuvas and the Kadvas.
If the balance to be struck to impress Patidars needs to be a fine one, then Modi, in his recent trip to Gujarat, can be credited with concentrating all effort on this. Before laying the stone for the complex, the prime minister, on 4 March, first participated in a function to consecrate the idol of Goddess Annapurna at a newly-built temple at Adalaj in Gandhinagar.
The Sri Annapurnadham Trust, which maintains the temple, is run by the Leuva Patels. Modi also laid the foundation stone of a Rs 15-crore training centre-cum-hostel for economically weak students to be housed in the temple complex, reported News18.
While on stage in the 5 March programme, Modi spoke to the audience like a friend would to another, exhorting the Patidars to give up the habit of female foeticide, saying he was angry with them for their skewed gender ratio, but repeatedly stressed that he was speaking to the very people he "grew up among".
Even though the BJP won the Gujarat Assembly election 2017, the fact that a nation's head felt the need to specifically reach out to each sub-group of a numerically dominant caste is telling.
For over 22 years, the Patel community in Gujarat has supported the BJP. The community's political inclinations did not change despite prominent leader and Modi's political guru Keshubhai Patel rebelling against the party and starting his own outfit. noted The Hindu.
That Modi chose to touch the feet of the same Keshubhai whom he had earlier systematically discredited, reflects the need of the BJP for a consolidated Patidar vote. Which is exactly what may be divided if Hardik joins the Congress, the party he had a tumultuous falling out and reconciliation with in the run-up to the 2017 Gujarat election.
Hardik still draws large cheering crowds and addresses programmes of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, which runs under him. Whether the Congress can capitalise on the Patidar agitation remains to be seen.
As recently as 5 December, 2018, Hardik had urged the Congress to move a private member's bill in the next session of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly for reservation to his community.
Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Congress' Paresh Dhanani, had then told him that his party had already moved a private member's bill seeking 20 percent reservation for economically weaker sections among the unreserved category, reported Times Now.
Hardik had been buoyed by the grant of quota to the Marathas in Maharashtra. Even as the Maharashtra government has announced reservations for the Marathas, the Gujarat government has not yet announced quotas specifically for Patels. In recent times, Hardik has frequently pointed out to this fact.
However, the Congress is known to have neglected the Patidars in the past. In the 1980s, Congress leader and then chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki had nurtured the KHAM vote bank of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims. This grouping excluded the Patidars, who lost faith in the Congress.
The Indian Express has pointed out that the 2019 Lok Sabha election could be more about disgruntled farmers than about community and caste lines. For instance, in the Assembly, the BJP suffered a shock defeat in Amreli, where cotton farmers have been facing difficulties in recent times.
However, the 10 percent quota for economically weaker sections may have taken the edge off the Patidars' agitation, as their chief demand has ostensibly been addressed, leaving Hardik to follow a new political and mainstream-adhering path.
Updated Date: Mar 07, 2019 16:53:58 IST