With elections round the corner, the Patidar community is in demand in Gujarat. BJP acted tough on the Patidar demand for reservations under Anandiben rule, even filing case of sedition against their leader Hardik Patel. However, realizing their political clout, BJP government recently invited major representatives of community for talks. On 27th Sep., BJP government announced a slew of measures to placate Patidars.
How far this will assuage the community members remains to be seen? Hardik’s group has vowed to continue the agitation and support whichever party in polls that will provide reservation to Patidars in government jobs. Congress party is also sending feelers to the caste block in a bid to en-cash their disenchantment with BJP setup. Rahul Gandhi begun his Navsarjan Gujarat Yatra by visiting Patidars dominated areas during his recent three day visit.
Patidars or Patels are an economically and politically influential group of Gujarat. Until late 1970s they had complete political dominance over the state and were ardent Congress supporters. However in 1980s the Congress shifted focus and formed the famous KHAM alliance (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) given the reservation dynamics and Indira’s Garibi Hatao slogan. This peeved the Patels who shifted allegiance to BJP. Today, one-third of BJP MLAs are Patels and so are seven senior cabinet ministers.
Patidars account for close to 16% of state population. The caste break-up of the state is such that both BJP and Congress enjoy equal support among excluding Patidars, i.e., 42% each. While traditionally KHAM have voted in large numbers for Congress, upper caste and OBCs have voted for BJP. It is Patidar support which has been clinching the deal in favour of BJP for past two decades.
Traditional Support Blocks
|BJP – 42%||Congress – 42%||King Makers|
Other Upper Caste 12%,
Not yet clear who they will support
Source: CSDS, NES, Gujarat Calculus 2012
Amongst Patels there are two sub communities – Leuva and Kadva. Hardik is a Kadva Patel. Keshubhai Patel is a Leuva Patel. More than 2/3rd have been voting for BJP since the 1990s. Leuvas account for 60% while Kadvas account for 40% of community population. Congress has higher support amongst Leuvas compared to Kavdas.
The community is strongly united and votes en-block. 63% Leuvas and 82% of Kavdas voted for BJP in 2012 exhibiting significant consolidation. The only other category which shows such high support for any party is Muslims, 72% voted for Congress in 2012. Patidars can decide the fate of 73 assembly constituencies, 40% of total assembly strength of Gujarat.
Voting Pattern of Patels in Last 3 State Elections
Source: CSDS Post Poll Surveys
Congress has witnessed a significant fall in fortunes from 55.6% vote share in 1985 to 38.9% vote share currently. BJP’s graph has been consistently rising from 15% to 48% levels during the same period. In the last three elections it has hovered between 48%-50%. Congress has also been improving its performance from a low of 30.7% in 1990 to 39% in 2012. The demise of Janata Dal in the state has helped improve performance of both parties. The contest is very bipolar in nature with these two parties capturing 90% of total votes. On an average BJP-Congress have maintained a gap of 10% vote share as shown below.
Performance of BJP-Congress in last 3 Decades in State Polls
The break-up of BJP vote share over the years shows that c.one-fourth of it can be attributed to Patidar support. OBCs including Kolis form the largest chunk of voters of BJP, followed by Patidars and then Upper Caste. Out of 48% vote share BJP received in 2012, 11% came from Patidars voting for party. If one removes the Partidar votes from BJP graph above, the two lines of Congress and BJP will merge, leaving both the parties with almost equal vote shares. So the 10% advantage which BJP enjoys is essentially because of Patidar support.
BJP’s worry is just not limited to entire community switching to Congress. Even if a section of Patidars (around one-third) don’t vote for the incumbent, and switch sides, it will become a very tight election and too close to call out the winner.
In 2012, Keshubhai Patel rebelled against BJP and contested elections under Gujarat Parivartan Party. Though it bagged only 3.6% vote share, it led to the defeat of BJP candidates in 23 seats in Saurashtra and Kutch. People would agree that the current Patidar agitation is much bigger in comparison to Keshubhai revolt.
To conclude, Patidars with 16% of population hold the keys to government formation in Gujarat. While other caste / community blocks have already firmed up their minds, Patels are keenly watching the developments / announcements of parties on reservations. They know the caste-population dynamics makes them ‘kingmakers’.
While there are talks of Third Front, at this moment, Patidars backing any such front looks improbable, as it has minimal chances of winning. Enjoying the fruits of power for more than last two decades makes it very difficult for Patidars to remain out of power. So they will bargain with the two prominent parties, get their fair share of demands met and back such party to the hilt.
BJP has started Gujarat Gaurav Yatra from October 1st from Karamsad, Sardar Patel’s birth place, in continuation of its efforts to woo Patidars. It will over the next few months intensify efforts to create divisions within the community if Hardik doesn’t come on board. Interesting times ahead, watch out this space for more on Gujarat polls…
The article was first published in The Quint.