With historic mandate, BJP regains support of 'Patidars' in Gujarat
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to win back the support of the Patidar community, powering its historic win over 156 of the total 182 Gujarat Assembly seats in the 2022 polls on Thursday. The community voted against the BJP in the 2017 Assembly elections, conducted amid an agitation demanding Other Backward Classes (OBC) status for the social group and the reservation it entails.
Why does this story matter?
- Patidars—commonly identified by the surname Patel—are an influential social group in Gujarat, reportedly accounting for 18% of the state's population and dominating around 40 Assembly seats.
- The 2017 elections saw 44 Patidar MLAs clinching victory.
- In this election, the BJP gave tickets to 41 Patidar candidates and Congress to 40, while the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) gave a significant number of tickets to them.
BJP wrestled back Patidar-dominated seats from Congress
The BJP won the Patidar-dominated seats of Amreli, Dhoraji, Morbi, Surat, Tankara, and Unjha, among others. Notably, most of these seats were won by Congress in 2017, as the community supported the party to further its cause. The BJP placated the community by bringing in the reservation policy for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), aimed at the "poor" among the forward castes.
BJP's efforts to bring Patidars around
Hardik Patel, who emerged as the leader of the Patidar agitation, was with Congress in the last polls but joined the BJP before this year's elections. He was fielded from the Viramgam seat and he reportedly marked victory with a huge margin. The BJP also replaced Chief Minister Vijay Rupani with incumbent CM Bhupendra Patel, in an effort to bring around the social group.
How did discontent among Patidars grow
In 1981, the Congress government in Gujarat introduced reservations for socially and economically backward castes—later the OBC list—which saw widespread anti-reservation protests that resulted in over one hundred deaths, forcing then CM Madhavsinh Solanki to resign. In 1985, Congress returned to power by winning a record 149 seats—broken by the BJP on Thursday. Following this, the Patidars felt sidelined, which precipitated the community's agitation.
Downward social mobility, shrinking economic opportunities caused Patidar agitation
As the Congress government in 1985 was powered by Kshatriya, Dalit, Adivasi, and Muslim communities, other communities, including the Patidars, reportedly saw downward social mobility. Their next generation struggled with shrinking economic opportunities, exacerbating discontent. Starting in 2015, the Patidars held large-scale demonstrations across the state demanding that they be declared as OBCs and given reservations in educational institutions and government jobs.