From the time Narendra Modi eased out the grand old daddy of Gujarat BJP Keshubhai Patel from the party in 2001, the latter has threatened to dent the BJP vote bank, riding on the support of Patels. But till today, the Modi magic in Gujarat has kept the older leader, known as Bapa, only a paper tiger.
But this time around, in the Gujarat Assembly polls, Keshubhai’s Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) is expected to make a dent in BJP votes at least in the Saurashtra region. Its main support base is a combination of Patels and farmers, particularly of Saurashtra region. These farmers, starved of adequate irrigation water for their crops, are cut up with Modi, and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an RSS outfit, has turned against Modi in this election.
After Sonia Gandhi’s successful rally in Rajkot, it was the turn of Keshubhai Patel to address a rally there on Saturday. The State’s election campaign, which had gone into hibernation mode during the long Diwali holiday phase, has now been switched on, with Modi’s campaign going hi-tech with a 3D holographic projection technology splash. This assault will take his election meetings live to several centres.
But returning to Bapa, at the well attended Rajkot rally he launched a bitter attack on Modi and called upon people of Saurashtra to end the Modi government’s “injustice against your region. You must ensure that the BJP doesn’t get a single seat from Saurashtra this time”, he thundered. During Modi’s rule, he added, Saurashtra hadn’t got “a single big industry, Government hospitals, new water pipelines… nothing”.
Keshubhai said Saurashtra’s farmers had been starved of irrigation water by Modi and urged them not to forget that of the “famers who had committed suicide in Gujarat, 60 per cent were from Saurashtra.”
In a chat with Business Line, Kanubhai Patel, who has left the BKS to start his own agri outfit, accused Modi of not understanding the peeda (pain) of Gujarat’s farmers. “Modi has created a myth that thanks to him Gujarat’s farmers have benefitted. Compared to the 23-hour electricity farmers got during Madhavsingh Solanaki’s reign (1980-85), they now get barely 8 hours of electricity.” On the one hand farmers were committing suicide, and on the other, the successful farmers had done well thanks to their own “capital expenditure on digging wells, paying huge electricity bills and working extremely hard to get better yields from their land, and not because of Modi.”
Coming to Patels, who form about 14 per cent of Gujarat’s population, it is a mixed bag for all the parties. It is important to understand the complexities and subtle divides within the Patel community, which is divided into Leua and Kadva. The former, an upper strata group, boasts the likes of Sardar Patel, H.M. Patel and similar icons.
I turn to social scientist Achyut Yagnik to understand the divisions that define this powerful group of Gujaratis. “Keshubahi is a Leua Patel but the Patels from ‘proper’ Gujarat – south and central – are much more educated and sophisticated like Sardar Patel and H.M. Patel. They were in the forefront of the freedom movement in the Congress. For a South Gujarat Patel, a Saurashtra Patel, whether a Leua or Kadva, is uncouth! So there is no question of a united front of Patels, or all the Patels voting for Keshubhai.”
Yagnik estimates Keshubhai denting the BJP vote only in 20-odd constituencies.
Explaining why Patels have turned against Modi, he says that even though primarily a farming community, thanks to cash rich crops, they had enough surplus tax-free income and many of them diversified into small and medium industries.
“But the development model of Modi is focussed on big industrialists and corporate houses, at the cost of the SME sector, where Patels are concentrated. So naturally they are angry with him, and will vote either for GPP or Congress.”
But there will be a further split even in this rank! The children of successful Patels, whether in farming or SME sector, have attained quality higher education and become doctors, engineers and other professionals, living in urban areas. “It is no secret that the educated, urbanised upper middle class is totally with Modi.”
So that is yet another contradiction among Patel loyalties. “It’s possible that the grandfather will vote for Keshubhai or Congress, while the grandson will vote for Modi,” adds Yagnik.
(To be continued)