BJP woos Patels: Nitin Patel to meet community leaders but no swagat for Hardik
With time running out fast, the BJP is trying desperately to woo back the Patidars or Patels in poll-bound Gujarat. Patels comprised the core support base of the party for nearly three and a half decades but now they are threatening to drift away. This has obviously caused tremors in the BJP set up as it cannot afford to be embarrassed in its citadel of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.
Gujarat's deputy chief minister Nitin Patel along with other senior leaders of the BJP will be holding talks on September 26 with the senior representatives of the Patel community including those who have been agitating for reservations in jobs and educational institutions. However, Hardik Patel who has become the anti-BJP mascot among Patels, particularly the youth, is not going to attend the meet. He told Catch, “We have not been invited.”
Nitin Patel has reportedly claimed that more than around 100 community leaders are going to attend the meet to find an amicable solution to the issues pertaining to the Patel community that stand unresolved.
“The BJP has been reaching out to those who have been heading various Patel institutions in Gujarat hoping to convince them to persuade the community to support the BJP like they have been doing. The community leaders being approached include the top functionaries of the Umiya Mata Trust and those involved with the affairs of Khodaldham Trust besides other top Patel institutions. But the issue is that right now the situation is such that while the community still follows the old perception of 'P for P' meaning Patel for Patel, the community members are not inclined to follow 'P for BJP',” says a young and politically aware member of the community based in Ahmedabad.
He further points out, “There is a lot of resentment against the BJP as community members believe that all the BJP chief ministers after Keshubhai Patel have not done anything for the Patels. Modi made a lot of noise about working for the Patels even though very little was done on the ground. But his successors Anandiben Patel and Vijay Rupani have been big disappointments for the community.”
Community members point out that it is not just the issue of reservation on which the Patels have become belligerent. The main issues are related to farm distress and the treatment that has been meted out to the farmers.
“Look at the disparities when it comes to paying the claims on farm insurance. There is concern about water for irrigation. There is a total lack of sensitivity on the part of officials at the Taluka and district level when they deal with the farmers,” said the Patel youth.
Further elaborating on the government’s apathy towards farmers, he said, “The key issues being played up by the farmers at the national level like fixing of Minimum Support Price (MSP), loan waiver etc. are also there. For example, they encourage farmers at one point of time to grow onions promising good returns and by the time the farmers reap their onion harvest, he comes to know that the onions have been imported from elsewhere”.
“The BJP is forgetting one thing that no matter even if a Patel is an NRI owning a Motel in the US or an entrepreneur in Mumbai or Ahmedabad, his roots are in agriculture and his extended family continues with this vocation,” he pointed out.
Challenge for Nitin Patel
Observers say that despite being a Patel leader from Mehsana in North Gujarat, Nitin Patel is now facing a political crisis of his own. He will have to deliver in terms of bringing the community back to the BJP fold if he wants to carry weight in the party in the days to come.
“Patel disenchantment with the BJP can be gauged from the fact that when the Gujarat agriculture minister Chimanbhai Sapariya went to the Umiya Mata temple in Siddhsar in his own constituency of Jamjodhpur after the police action against agitating Patel youth, he was greeted by women who hurled abuses and threw bangles at him. Young entrepreneurs in towns and cities have turned against the BJP because of demonetisation and the manner in which the Modi government has implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST). These policies have hit the small businessmen really hard,” points out a Patel media professional.
The saving grace for the BJP at present is the support it continues to enjoy from the big businessmen and industrialists in urban Gujarat. “This is because these businessmen have got their work done over time with the help of the various BJP leaders and the equation suits them fine. The BJP has also managed to bring back some Patel businessmen in South Gujarat who had helped fund the reservation agitation led by Hardik Patel,” related a senior media person based in Ahmedabad.
But this doesn't seem to be enough. Veteran journalist and political analyst Dr Suresh Samani who has been keenly watching the developments in Patel hotbed of Saurashtra told Catch, “Earlier the BJP used to get 70-80% of the Patel votes in the polls. Right now the situation stands at a complete reverse. Barring the Patels of central Gujarat, the BJP is not confident of getting a majority of Patel votes in Saurashtra, North and South Gujarat.”
He underlined that a large number of Patels know that the community would not get the reservation benefits but are agitated over the manner in which the government has been humiliating Hardik Patel. “They have been piling cases on him. They have been keeping him in police custody even in cases of private complaint where there are provisions of an instant bail. All this is not going down well with the community that seems to be losing patience very fast with the BJP,” he added.
Amid all this Hardik Patel remains the rallying point for the disenchanted Patel youth. Observers say that he has been making a strong political statement by organising events that have either coincided or just followed the programmes of none other than PM Modi. What has rattled the BJP further is that the crowds at Hardik's events have been more in numbers and spontaneous as compared to the Prime Minister. “When Modi held a roadshow alongside Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Ahmedabad, the very next day the Patels organised a cavalcade of 2,000 vehicles to Somnath. Earlier, when Modi had held a held a road show in Rajkot, Hardik and his supporters had followed it up by another show of strength in the shape of a road show from Gondal to Junagadh. The Patels want to send across the message that they also know how to flex their muscle,” disclosed a Patel youth.
The BJP, while standing on the defensive, can only hope to woo back at least a portion of the Patels that have been threatening to abandon it. It remains to be seen what it has to offer the community on September 26.