While the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party recently conceded the demands of deputy chief minister Nitin Patel, who had been sulking over the allocation of portfolios, the Congress has named Amreli legislator Paresh Dhanani, a powerful Patidar leader, as leader of the opposition in the assembly.
The BJP, after winning the 2014 general elections, has for the first time conceded such a demand from a leader in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Both developments highlight the fact that neither party can afford to overlook the powerful and influential community that forms about 12-14% of Gujarat’s electorate.
The Congress’ tally of 77 seats is its best performance in the state since 1985 when it won a record number of seats by weaving a coalition of communities that alienated the Patidar voters. This time, with Patidar quota campaigner Hardik Patel supporting the Congress, the party has for the first time decided to name a Patidar as leader of opposition in the Gujarat assembly.
Dhanani, 41, believed to be close to Congress president Rahul Gandhi, helped the party improve its electoral performance in the Saurashtra region.
While the BJP maintained its winning position in all 15 seats in Surat district, notwithstanding the Patidar protest, it lost as many as eight seats in Patel-dominated Morbi and Amreli districts in Saurashtra. Demonetization, the goods and services tax and agrarian distress were other key factors in the region.
There are close to 50 seats in Gujarat where Patidars account for more than 20% of the voters, according to internal surveys by political parties. Of these, BJP won 28 and Congress 23 as compared to 36 and 14 respectively in 2012. Of the total 54 seats in Saurashtra (including Kutch), the Congress won 30 this time, compared to 16 in 2012.
According to a Lokniti-Centre for the Study of Developing Societies post-poll survey, 68% of Kadva Patels and 51% of Leuva Patels voted for the BJP in 2017 compared to 78% and 63% in 2012.
In comparison, Congress’s vote share among the Patidars increased—27% of Kadvas and 46% Leuvas voted for it in 2017 as compared to only 9% and 15% in 2012.
According to a BJP leader who spoke on condition of anonymity, the BJP president’s decision to give additional portfolio of finance to deputy chief minister Patel had further consolidated his position as a powerful Patidar leader.
“All major Patidar organizations including PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti )and SPG (Sardar Patel Group) had backed deputy CM Patel over his demand for a heavyweight portfolio. Nitin Patel, despite so much opposition, has managed to win his Mehsana seat with a huge margin and has also helped the party win other seats in the district. By backing his demand, BJP has increased the party’s popularity among the Patels," he added.
Meanwhile, in a show of strength, the Patidar community organized a three-day business summit at Gandhinagar from 5 January aiming to host 1,000 Patidar industrialists and businessmen from over 30 countries.
The event, on the lines of Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit, was organized by Sardardham, a Patidar outfit.
One of the aims of the summit seems to be to articulate a counter-narrative to the claims of PAAS leader Hardik Patel about the lack of job opportunities in the state.
Chief minister Vijay Rupani, deputy CM Patel and Congress’ Dhanani were among those present at the event.
Gagjibhai Sutariya, president of Sardardham, announced a ‘Mission 2026’ where around 10,000 Patidar businessmen will take up the task of giving jobs to around a million Patel youths after providing them training.
“This will also ease the burden on the state government," Sutariya said in his inaugural speech at the event.