New Delhi: The Congress party’s strategy to lure the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) core voter base in Gujarat, especially Patels and a section of other backward classes (OBCs), does not seem to have worked in its favour, according to analysts.
Realizing that the caste arithmetic had the potential to create problems for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi reached out to sections that were visibly annoyed with the state government.
“Six crore Gujaratis are one and they want to move ahead on the path of progress. Let every Gujarati embrace one another, we cannot and won’t be divided. Whatever happened, let that be forgotten...only think of unity and brotherhood," Modi said in a victory speech on Monday.
“In the last few months, efforts have taken place to sow the seeds of caste politics but the people have rejected that. The people of Gujarat will have to be more aware now. All Gujaratis are one and have the faith to move forward," he added.
In the run-up to the Gujarat elections, for nearly two years, Patel anger was palpable, particularly over issues of reservation and unemployment. Hardik Patel led an intense agitation under the banner of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), which drew visible support in the state’s Patel-dominated belt.
Its electoral impact, however—given that it had the Congress’s implicit support—was not felt to a great extent and it failed to make a major dent in the BJP’s vote share. While the Congress performed well in the Patel-dominated areas of Saurashtra like Amreli, Morbi and Patan, the BJP did well in those of central and north Gujarat.
“A sizeable section of the Patel votes were retained by the BJP, which is visible in the number of seats it has won in Surat area and north Gujarat. What seems to have worked in favour of the BJP was the last minute messaging by the prime minister and the fear of Congress returning to power that was projected by the BJP," said Amit Dholakia, professor of political science at Maharaja Sayajirao University in Vadodara.
“Going by the results, it seems that Patels have voted in favour of Congress in Saurashtra and rural areas. It seems there was counter-polarization among OBCs against Patels, which helped BJP win seats in north Gujarat and Surat areas," he added.
Patels account for around 12% of the state’s population and are often engaged in trading in urban areas and farming in rural areas. They have been a core support base of the BJP and were instrumental in its rise in Gujarat in the early nineties, after they distanced themselves from the Congress party.
Shaswati Das contributed to this story.