The Patel community constitutes the largest chunk of voters
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi’s development plank apart, the coming elections in the State will see the Patel community deciding the winner — it constitutes the largest chunk — 16 per cent — of the electorate.
As many as 77 candidates declared by the ruling BJP, the Congress and the former BJP leader, Keshubhai Patel’s Gujarat Parivartan Party for the 87 constituencies that go to the polls in the first phase on December 13 are Patels.
Significantly, 52 of them are from the Leuva Patel community, to which Mr. Keshubhai Patel belongs.
The BJP’s list has 17 candidates from this community, the Congress 14 and Mr. Patel’s party 21. The number of Kadva Patel candidates is eight, seven and 10 respectively.
What is more, the Leuva Patels represent a good chunk of voters in the Saurashtra region, which has the maximum 52 seats in the 182-member House. And Mr. Keshubhai Patel hails from this region, where he is believed to have successfully mobilised his community against the BJP government.
However, says political scientist Achyut Yagnik, to believe that Patels, including the Leuva denomination, will vote en masse against the BJP will be wishful thinking. But with Mr. Keshubhai Patel emerging as the third force, the Leuva Patels have become a power to reckon with. They can influence electoral decisions in as many as 41 of the 182 seats in Saurashtra, Kutch and south Gujarat regions, while the Kadva denomination could be vital in 32 seats in north Gujarat and parts of Saurashtra.
The BJP’s strength in Saurashtra was hit in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections against its performance in the 2007 Assembly polls.
However, this does not guarantee an easy run for the Congress. For, in spite of its unimpressive showing in the parliamentary elections, the BJP led in 106 Assembly segments, against 76 of the Congress.
The BJP’s votes come from the upper castes, including Brahmins, Banias, Jains and Lohanas, Patels, and the Other Backward Classes. The Congress gets its chunk from the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes and Muslims.
Analysts say if both Mr. Keshubhai Patel and the Congress work in tandem, the BJP has a tough fight ahead.