For over 22 years, the Patel community of Saurashtra and in other parts of Gujarat has faithfully voted for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), even when Patel strongman and former State Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel rebelled against the party and floated his own party, the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP). The large crowds now being drawn by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel has again focussed attention on this community, and whether it will, finally, desert the BJP in toto, in parts, or not at all.
The composition of the crowd at Hardik Patel’s rallies shows that it is mostly made up of youngsters, leading to the surmise that while the older Patels, who still have some memory of the Congress’ Kshatriya Harijan Adivasi Muslim (KHAM) combination that kept Patidars out of the system, may stick to the BJP, youngsters may choose the Congress.
In such a scenario, according to psephologist Abhay Kumar, the role of OBCs (Other Backward Class) other than Kshatriyas (who are a Congress base) becomes crucial. “Ordinarily, it has been found that once the sell by date of a particular combination is over, political parties find it difficult to attract new voters. Like in the case of both Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav, the Muslim-Yadav combination can only go so far. Same case exists with the Congress and KHAM, so a question mark over whether Patidars will vote en bloc for a party that institutionalised KHAM is still moot. But even if there is a dent in the Patel vote in favour of the Congress, the OBCs, specifically the Kolis who comprise, along with Thakores [earlier counted as same in the 1931 Census], around 22%-24% of voters, and become crucial ,” he said.