Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: Will Hardik Patel go the same way as Keshubhai Patel in 2012?

After massive crowds in Hardik Patel rallies, people in Gujarat are wondering what effect these rallies by the protagonist of the Patidar movement might have. Will the crowd at these rallies listen to Hardik's pleas to vote against the BJP, or has the crowd only come to take a look at him?

Be it a rally in Rajkot or a road show in Surat, young patidars are increasingly seen to be supporting Hardik. They neither have any problems with Hardik's CD nor do they care about other things. At Hardik's rally, there is an electricity which emerges when a leader directly connects with the public.

The crowds gathering at Hardik's rallies are being compared to the ones which showed up at Keshubhai Patel's rally before the last Assembly elections. In 2012, when Keshubhai Patel formed a separate party to contest elections, the Patel factor was being discussed. There was also talk of the displeasure in the Patel community, but they deserted him during the election and voted for the BJP again.

In the 2012 elections, only one other candidate other than Keshubhai Patel won a seat. Keshubhai's party Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) won only two seats and their vote share was 3.6 percent. It is a different matter that GPP later merged with the BJP.

Why didn't the Patels support Keshubhai?

What was the reason that despite Keshubhai being in the fray, the Patel community did not support him? To answer this, we have to understand some things about the Patel community and their politics.

Patels make up about 15 percent of the voters in Gujarat,  out of which 60 percent are Leva Patels and 40 percent are Kadwa Patel. The Patels were with the Congress till the 1970s. However, Congress leader Madhav Singh Solanki then implemented the KHAM formula in which the party appealed to Kshatriyas, Harijan, Adivasis and Muslims. Congress won a big victory using this policy. However, this led to the Patel community feeling neglected.

Slowly the Patels started joining the BJP. Since the formation of the BJP government in 1995, the Patel community has stayed with them. Even when Narendra Modi was made Chief Minister after the removal of Keshubhai Patel of the Leva community, the Patels stuck with the BJP. This was the result of Modi's development-policy in which he worked heavily for the Patel-dominated Saurashtra.

File image of Patidar leader Hardik Patel. PTI

File image of Patidar leader Hardik Patel. PTI

People in Saurashtra had to walk long distance to get water. Modi's policy has supplied water to each house. In villages, electricity is now provided twenty-four hours. Farmers too were happy as their electricity and water woes were taken care of. Patel businessmen too were able to take forward their businesses without any troubles. Essentially, under Modi's rule, the Patel community in Gujarat got everything that they wanted. The community got progress as well as respect.

This had an effect in the 2012 elections. Then too, the Patels were sympathetic to Keshubhai. They felt that he had been sidelined. The displeasure regarding this was evident in many Patel-dominated ares. However the Patels gave up on Keshubhai and supported Modi and the BJP. As a result, the BJP again took control of Gujarat's Assembly by a two-thirds majority.

Will it be the same story this time? Will the Patels leave Hardik and vote for the BJP? This is the question uppermost in many minds. However, one must consider the vast difference between their personalities and experiences.

How different is Hardik from Keshubhai?

When Keshubhai was removed from the Chief Minister's post, he was gradually marginalised in the party. He was a big name but his influence steadily fell in the party. By 2012, his influence fell considerably but he failed to realise that. As he lost his hold on the public, Keshubhai challenged Modi by forming a separate party. However by that time he was too weak and while he got respect from the community, the votes did not materialise.

Even other than Keshubhai, there were many BJP leaders who achieved little after splitting ways with the party. Their stature was reliant on the party and the organisation. After splitting, their appearance of popularity was shattered. From Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh to Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh to former Gujarat chief minister Shankar Singh Vaghela, everyone met the same fate. Keshubhai too could not break this trend.

However, Hardik is a 23-year-old who is neither a part of any organisation nor a party worker. Hardik emerged as a leader from the fire of the reservation movement which he has been leading.

It is pointless to compare Hardik's stature with that of Keshubhai. However the comparisons are being done as people are visibly supporting Hardik. Where last time, the talk was about Keshubhai, this time it is about Hardik. BJP's worries in this election are at least partly a result of the crowds which have been showing up for Hardik's rallies.

Many of Hardik's partners have joined the BJP. BJP has labelled the reservation formula as useless. It has called Hardik an agent of the Congress. Even then, young Patels are still standing with Hardik. Hardik's image has turned into one of a hero. All of BJP's moves against him have failed be it lathi charges at rallies to jailing Hardik to filing sedition cases against him. Even after being banished from Gujarat, Hardik is showing a connection with the youth.

The people at Rajkot's Hardik rallies said that they are with Hardik. Sanjay and Tulsi Patel spoke of voting for the Congress based on Hardik's speeches. The two had voted for the BJP till now and even voted for the party instead of Keshubhai. Even the release of the so-called sex CD has not affected Hardik's popularity. It is worth noting that it was something similar which had marginalised BJP's former general secretary Sanjay Joshi in the party. Hardik has sought to portray the CD as a conspiracy of the BJP.

Many of Hardik's supporters are those who were born around 1995. Aged between 18 to 30 years, these people did not suffer through the days without electricity and water before the BJP came to power. This is the biggest challenge for Modi and Shah this time around. How to woo these young people standing with Hardik Patel is a serious challenge for the BJP.

A bigger challenge is to woo the Patels, who the party has convinced that the Congress is anti-Patel. This policy has been effective as seen from the fact that even when a leader like Keshubhai left the party, the Patels stayed with the BJP. Hardik is now convincing the Patels that it is not the Congress but the BJP which is anti-Patel. From lathi charges on Patels to the removal of Anandiben Patel to the appointment of Vijay Rupani as Chief Minister instead of Nitin Patel, all of these have been blamed on the BJP.

The real test of just how effective Hardik's appeal will be is soon to come.

At the moment, the biggest question remains whether the Patels will again leave Hardik like they left Keshubhai? Will the Patel community once again remember Gujarati identity and the work done by Modi, and go with their vada pradhan? Or will the story be something else this time? This is the biggest question that remains. Will the BJP's allegation that the crowd at Hardik rallies was actually brought by the Congress prove true? To find out, we have to wait till 18 December.

Click here for detailed coverage of Gujarat Assembly Election 2017

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2017 15:16:58 IST

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