Mumbai: Encouraged by the impact the agitation by the Patel community in Gujarat has made on the recent state elections, a Maratha organization based in Mumbai plans to rope in the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel to strengthen their demand for the Maratha quota.

Maratha Yuva Kranti, an organisation of Maratha youths formed in the wake of a strong Maratha mobilization across Maharashtra between August 2016 and August 2017, has invited Patel to speak at a Yuvak Melava (youth convention) likely to be held in Mumbai in January or February this year.

Nitin Deshmukh, one of the founders of Maratha Yuva Kranti, told Mint that Patel has not confirmed his participation.

“We have sent him a letter requesting him to come and address the Maratha youths on how to take the demand for Maratha quota further. We are not asking Hardik Patel to lead our campaign. As it is, the Maratha mobilization in Maharashtra has been leaderless. But we would like our youths to know from Hardik how he fought the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Gujarat and severely damaged the BJP in recent elections. We would like to replicate this in Maharashtra against the BJP," Deshmukh said in an interview.

A day after the Gujarat results on 18 December, Deshmukh and his colleagues at the Maratha Yuva Kranti put up posters right outside the BJP office in Mumbai warning the party of a severe drubbing in the Maharashtra assembly elections if the Maratha demands were not met in time. “We told the BJP through these posters that it will not get even 50 seats in Maharashtra if Marathas, like the Patels, decide to vote against it in the next assembly election," Deshmukh said. The BJP won 122 seats in the 2014 assembly elections.

In the Gujarat elections the results of which were declared on 18 December, the BJP’s strength went down from 115 in 2012 to 99. The BJP suffered a severe dent in rural Gujarat, especially the cotton growing region of Kutch-Saurashtra, which was also the hotbed of the Patidar or Patel agitation for quota.

According to a Lokniti survey done after the Gujarat polls, while the overwhelming majority of Kadva and Leuva Patels—68% and 51%, respectively—stayed with the BJP only in the 2017 polls, the party lost 10% and 12% of their votes as compared to the 2012 Gujarat elections. The Patidars account for nearly 12% of Gujarat’s population. In Maharashtra, the Marathas, if they vote en-bloc as a caste group, could make a more extensive impact on the electoral outcome since they account for 32-35% of the state’s population.

A BJP strategist in Maharashtra, who did not wish to be named, said the Marathas were a “more powerful and influential community" in Maharashtra than Patels were in Gujarat. “While the Patels are also powerful and economically better placed than other castes in Gujarat, they are numerically not as strong as the Marathas. The numerical strength of the Marathas as well as their long proximity to power and the patronage industry in Maharashtra makes them more significant," admitted this BJP strategist.

A Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey of the 2014 Maharashtra elections said that the BJP had got 24% of the Maratha-Kunbi caste votes and the Shiv Sena 30%, the highest among all political parties. While the Congress and later the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have been the favourite political preferences for the Maratha-Kunbi community in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and BJP started weaning away this formidable community from the Congress-NCP from the 90s. The October 2014 assembly elections saw the BJP put up its best performance in terms of the Maratha-Kunbi caste votes. But a strong Maratha mobilization, triggered by the rape and murder of a teenage Maratha girl in Ahmednagar district in July 2016, has made the BJP unsure about the community’s support in the 2019 elections.

To be sure, the BJP has been on a winning streak in a series of local elections in Maharashtra even in the wake of the Maratha mobilization. Yet, the state’s agrarian crisis—a majority of the state’s 13.6 million farmers and the farm labourers belong to the Maratha-Kunbi castes—has aggravated the Maratha discontent for the BJP.

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