Gujarat civic polls: BJP faces test of strength as the Patidars remain adamant on quota

On Sunday morning, when people step out of their homes in Gujarat to cast their votes in the municipal elections, they would answer two important question: Can the BJP retain its home bastion? Or, will the Narendra Modi story end at the very place it began?

Elections for more than 300 local bodies in Gujarat are to be held in two phases, on 22 and 29 November. This would be the first electoral test of the BJP in the post-Modi era and after the Patidar agitation for reservation. The results would indicate which way the wind is blowing and may be a reliable indicator of the direction of the assembly elections in 2017.

 Gujarat civic polls: BJP faces test of strength as the Patidars remain adamant on quota

Tough road ahead for BJP. Reuters

At the moment, the BJP is struggling. Upset with the party for not accepting their demand for quota benefits, the politically influential Patidars are running an aggressive campaign against the BJP. Such is their vehement opposition to the BJP that its leaders have been "banned" from campaigning in many areas. And its influential leaders are being shouted down and facing protests during their rallies.

Earlier this week, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel faced the wrath of Patidar women during a rally in Naroda Gam, when hundreds of them protested her presence shouting "Jai Sardar, Jai Patidar." The Gujarat chief minister had come to the venue in an open jeep, flashing a victory sign. But she left in an escort vehicle after security officials advised her caution. Just a day ago, Anandiben Patel was interrupted by Patidar youth while addressing an election rally in Bhavnagar.

In many other parts of Gujarat, influential BJP leaders are facing a tough time dealing with the ire of the Patidars, who are demanding why the BJP ignored their quota demand and failed to take action against cops responsible for the death of eight youth during the August agitation.

Even in the pocket boroughs of its tallest leaders -- Prime Minister Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah -- the BJP is on the run. According to the Hindustan Times, at the main market area Chachar Chowk in Mansa – Amit Shah’s native place in Gandhinagar district – the community has put up banners with "no entry" message for BJP leaders.

Like Gandhinagar, the BJP has also not been able to campaign in Modi's home district Mehsana.

At its traditional stronghold of 36-seat Unjha Nagarpalika, which is only 35 km from Modi's birthplace Vadnagar, the BJP couldn’t field a single candidate.

Last time, at least 26 candidates had contested on the BJP symbol.

Patidars are nearly 1.5 crore of Gujarat's six-crore population. Apart from their numerical strength, their financial muscle makes Patidars an influential vote bank. Till the 80s, the Patidars were traditional supporters of the Congress. But they ditched the party after Congress leader and former Gujarat chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki restructured the party's support base around the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) communities. Since the 80s, Patidars have been supporting the BJP and have been instrumental in voting it continuously to power. This is for the first time in nearly two decades that the BJP is in the electoral fray without being guaranteed the support of the Patidars.

In a bipolar contest, if the Patidars desert the BJP en masse, it could be curtains for the BJP.
The BJP is desperately trying several ploys to counter the possible damage from the Patidars. In some places, it has fielded its candidates as independents. In others, it is aggressively wooing the OBCs, who see the Patidar agitation as a threat to the existing quota system that benefits them. In addition, the BJP has gone out of its way to accommodate more Muslims as candidates: around 500 are contesting on the party ticket this time compared to 300 in 2010.

In 2010, the BJP had swept the elections, winning 21 out of the 24 district panchayats, 162 of the 208 taluka panchayats and 41 of the 53 municipalities.

Updated Date: Nov 22, 2015 08:20:20 IST