Ahead of Gujarat election, BJP goes all out to win Patidar-OBC support

Ahmedabad: The BJP is preparing to allot a substantial number of tickets to Patidars in Gujarat, a move aimed at blocking any shift to the opposition Congress.
The community, which constitutes about 14% of the state’s population and has been traditionally loyal to the BJP, has been on the boil over its demand for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Hardik Patel, a young Patidar at the forefront of the stir, has met Congress leaders and is likely to join hands with the opposition party.
BJP sources sought to play down the significance of Hardik’s move, claiming that the community was loyal and did not desert the party even at the peak of a revolt by one of its tallest leaders — former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, a Leuva Patidar.
Leuvas constitute two-thirds of the community, while Kadvas make up for one-third. Ahead of the 2012 assembly elections, Keshubhai quit the BJP to form the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) but couldn’t make a dent in the BJP’s prospects.
The GPP, which won two seats in the 182-member assembly, merged with the BJP in 2014. Keshubhai confidants such as Gordhan Zadaphia are likely to get a BJP ticket to contest the election. “In the last election, we gave about one-third of the total seats to Patidars. We will give them a similar share this time,” a BJP functionary said.
Patidars turned to the BJP after 1980 when the Congress’ KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) social formulation led to their perceived marginalization.
“There is a myth about monolithic support of a caste behind a leader from the community,” BJP spokesman GVL Narsimha Rao said. “No caste leader can command the following of the entire community.”
Hardik, he said, got some initial traction among Patidars, but he started losing it due to self-promotion and softness towards the Congress. There has been last-minute trouble in Hardik’s camp with his two aides deserting him earlier and the BJP expects to derive mileage out of it.
BJP’s campaign managers also see the “Alpesh Thakor factor” being blown out of proportion. The party fielded Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to “highlight” Thakor’s Congress affiliation and that he lost a zila panchayat election, which he fought on a Congress ticket, two years back. A Kshatriya Thakore, Alpesh’s proximity with the Congress may revive fear among Patidars about a possible KHAM domination, BJP leaders claim.
The other backward classes (OBCs) account for nearly 40% of Gujarat’s population and the BJP is confident that they will affiliate themselves with PM Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s “son of the soil” and an OBC. “By joining a political platform, Thakor has also limited his influence,” Rao claimed.
The BJP will attempt to turn the tables on the Congress in Gujarat with a high-decibel campaign about its outreach to the OBC, a community that the opposition party is courting .
The BJP’s campaign for the assembly election will also “prominently” figure the Modi government’s bid to provide constitutional status to the OBC commission and the ‘last minute glitch because of the Congress’.
The BJP has blamed the opposition party for blocking the bill in the Rajya Sabha where the government lacks a majority. The BJP’s campaign managers say both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah will harp on these issues to take the fizz out of Congress campaign to woo OBCs. The campaign will start within a week.

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