Gujarat polls: Disgruntled Patels could make a dent, but will not upset Modi

The Patel’s never had it so good in the history of the electoral politics of Gujarat, however hard they shout of marginalization. A total of 191 Patels are contesting from the three main parties, the BJP, Congress and Gurajarat Parivartan Party (GPP), not counting those contesting from other fringe players like the BSP, SP, JD(U), NCP and others.

There is a renewed sense of self importance among the members of the community, particularly the Leuvas.

As the campaigning for the first phase of polling ends on Tuesday evening, a section of community members speak of caution: What if despite all the hype they are not able to tilt the scale of the final results the way they would have wanted? What if their mobilization with the single point agenda of defeating Narendra Modi does not work? What if their new found aggression causes a reverse consolidation in favour of Modi?

After all the community suffered marginalization for over a decade when Madhav Singh Solanki's successful experiment with social engineering, KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims), took him to a record 148 seats in 1985. It finally took the advent of Keshubhai Patel post 1995, for the Patel's to regain their lost prominence.

 Gujarat polls: Disgruntled Patels could make a dent, but will not upset Modi

Modi's margins could take a hit, but not cause too much damage: Reuters

At the moment the BJP and Congress are trying every trick in the book to win Patel support. The GPP led by Keshubhai Patel is an almost open and declared Leuva Patel party. The BJP has a star campaigner in former deputy Chief Minister Narhari Amin, an influential Patel community leader, who defected from the Congress. And the Congress is using all manner of tricks to try and checkmate its political rival.

In the 87 seats that go to the poll in the first phase on 13 December, 77 Patel candidates are in the fray. In terms of break up, the GPP leads the tally with 31 Patel candidates, the BJP comes second with 25 and Congress third, with 21. The reason is not hard to see, given that the community constitutes around 27-28 (Leuva & Karva included) percent of the poll bound population.

Their numerical gain in strength becomes weightier with their dominance in business and agriculture. The GPP and the Congress are in fact, building on the community's wounded pride hypothesis, real or perceived, around the numbers reality.

The significance of the battle and the consequent effect it can have on the fate of Narendra Modi can be assessed from the fact that in the last elections in 2007, the BJP won 43 of the 58 seats in the Kutch-Saurastra region, while the Congress won 14. Many believe that this is as much as the BJP can ever win, given that it was an almost 80 percent success rate. From those kinds of numbers in the last elections, the BJP is only likely to go down, because even maintaining that is going to be extremely difficult.

A recent socio-religious congregation of Leuva Patels at the foundation laying ceremony of the Kholdadham temle at Kagvad in Saurashtra is adding a further twist to this tale. It was attended by local community leaders including contesting Leuva candidates of all parties.

The organizer, Naresh Patel, claimed the meet was completely apolitical and ended with an appeal to leaders to ensure a 100 percent vote, without referring to any particular party. However there is a strong word of mouth campaign, more in the form of rumour than actual confirmation, that Modi and the BJP have to be defeated. That leaves the GPP and the Congress, depending on their winnability in their respective constituencies.

The grievances of the community range from its supposedly small representation in the Modi government, to the allocation of “Gauchar” (pasture land) to the industry, promoting big organized industries against smaller family centered business enterprises.

“This is a fight for our principles and protecting our turf. Beginning with the humiliation of Keshubhai Patel, Modi has consistently tried to marginalize us. In these elections he will realize what it costs to him”, said Harshit Patel a farmer near Chotil.

Another Leuva perspective comes from Mansukhbhai Suvagiya in Rajkot who ran two voluntary movements, the Jalkranti and Veer Gai Kranti. He sounded very critical of Narendra Modi on various counts but in the end conceded that when it comes to voting he would vote for the BJP. “If this were a Presidential election, I would have voted for Keshubhai, but he does not have enough resources as a party or the right candidates to capture power in Gandhinagar. Like any right thinking person, my first preference is for a stable government in the state. That leaves Modi as the only beneficiary for my vote.”

The way the caste identities and allurement around the caste credentials for Leuva are openly flouted disturbs him. “It had never been like that in this state but we have to accept that this election is going to be different,” he said. But ahead of polling, people like Suvagiya are in the minority, unlike others in the Patel community who are keen to claim their pound of flesh when it comes to decision making.

The allocation of Gauchar land to the industrial houses, an issue first raised by the Congress, weighs heavily in the Patel’s discontent against Modi. The Patel's have been a landowning class and keep a sizable number of cattle for milk and other purposes. Every village used to have demarcated state owned pasture land. With pasture land gone, cattle feed is an issue. Modi claims that whatever he has appropriated from Gauchar was only a fraction of what the Congress gave industrial houses when it was in power before 1995. But the Leauvas don’t to be convinced by that argument.

Travel deeper inside the Saurastra region, and the divide between the two sub-castes of Patels, the Karva and Leuvas become sharper. The Karavas are in the minority among the Patels and the two sub-castes have always been in conflict with each other. Even before Keshubhai formed his Gujarat Parivartan Party, he negated any accommodation of the Karvas by holding an exclusive Leuva Patel conclave.

Velji Desai, a social entrepreneur who manages agricultural processing industries, is a Karva. He narrates the story of the social advancement of the Patels, detailing how the first Saurashtra Chief Minister UN Dhebar transformed them to landowners with a single stroke of law, and how industrious the Patel's had been in business. He laments that the divide between the Karvas and Leuvas came to the fore only recently. Others say the divide became sharper during the Keshubhai regime. The Karvas for some reasons, are generally anti-Congress and anti Nehru-Gandhi family.

“The development that you see is the people’s contribution. Modi has only marketed it well for himself. The Patels have contributed immensely to this development. But when the issue of voting or throwing Modi out comes, the question is who do we elect then? The Congress has only negatives in its kitty. And who takes the credit if Congress wins? Sonia Gandhi. Why should such credit ever go to her when she has done noting to claim it? After weighing all these aspects one would be inclined to vote for Modi.”

While talking about the vote, there is constant reference to Madhav Singh Solanki’s social engineering, KHAM. That fear is driving many even in the Leuvas to consider how they should vote. A complete negation of the vote to the BJP would mean that if Modi still manages to retain power, he is not going to forgive and forget.

That’s a tricky situation. This should be weighing in minds of many in Leuvas as they vote, says Kaushik Mehta, edito of a multi-edition vernacular daily from the region. “The caste factor has never been so manifest in Gujarat as in these elections. It has become so important in the Saurashtra region that all other pretensions have been shattered’, he says.

The Patel’s supposed disenchantment with Modi is not a new phenomenon however. It was there in 2007 as well.

Though Keshubhai Patel was still in the BJP, he had already turned into a known dissident and it was alleged that he had lent his support to rebels and rivals. His prominent colleague in the GPP Gordhan Zadhaphia headed the rival Mahagujarat Janata Party, but without an eventual impact.

The central theme of Gujarat, The fringe elements of the Sangh Parivar, those in the VHP, the Bajrang Dal, and Kisan Sangh were as unhappy then as they are now.

Many say last time they didn’t have a choice. The GPP has given them a choice.

The statistics suggest that around 60 MLAs in last elections won by a margin of 5000 or less. So if Keshubai’s party is able to make that much of a dent, his job to make Modi perspire, is done.

But it’s not that simple. The mobilization of Leuvas in the name of Ekta (unity) is making some strong undercurrents of reverse consolidation of other votes. Ramkubhai Khachar said the brazen Patelwad is being watched with great curiosity by people from other castes. There is a realization that there was a clear understanding between the Congress and the GPP. Desai too shares this feeling.

In the final analysis it looks as though Keshubhai’s GPP will win few seats in Saurashtra and cause little discomfort in some constituencies. But will that upset Modi’s applecart? unlikely.

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Updated Date: Dec 12, 2012 13:28:10 IST