Ahmedabad: With Mr Hardik Patel joining the Congress, there is a strong sense in the Gujarat BJP that the party may lose Patel votes in the election.
Patels, both Kadva and Leuva, form the second largest vote bank and they have been with the party since the 1990s. After Mr Hardik Patelâs reservation quota agitation started in July 2015, the party has been struggling to retain Patel voters.
Under chief minister Anandibehn Patel, the BJP lost a majority of district panchayats in 2015. In the 2017 Assembly elections, too, the Hardik Patel factor had badly damaged the party and its tally in the state Assembly had gone down to 99 from 117. Â
Now, fearing a further loss of votes, the BJP seems to be focusing on OBCs and other non-Patel voters.
The recent induction of Congress MLAs clearly indicates this. Four of the five MLAs who joined the BJP are non-Patels. All four MLAs are from Saurashtra where the BJP could secure only 19 out of the total 47 seats in the last Assembly election, mostly due to the disappointment of Patel voters. The situation has not improved much for the BJP since then. There is also a buzz that along with Mr Hardik Patel, his former colleague in the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PASS) and Congress MLA Lalit Vasoya will also contest the Lok Sabha election. If this happens, the PASS momentum could re-emerge in the state. This could only add to the BJPâs troubles. Perhaps thatâs the reason the BJP was keen to induct Congress MLA and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor.Â âWe could have balanced the equations if Alpesh had joined us,â said a party leader.
The BJP is trying hard to pull in influential Patel leaders. Former MLA and Congress leader Hanubhai Dhorajia joined the BJP recently. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present at two social-religious events organised by Patel leaders during his last visit to the state. This is not the first time the party is facing such a situation. In the 2012 Assembly elections, former chief minister and party stalwart Keshubhai Patel formed a new party and fought against the BJP.
That time, too, there was a fear the party would lose its strong Patel vote base, but Mr Modi, then the Chief Minister, smartly consolidated non-Patel votes and won the game.
This time, especially when Mr Modiâs fate is at stake, the party canât afford to lose even a single seat in his home state. Presently, the BJP has all 26 seats in its pocket.Â Â