In India’s “milk capital”, in the Anand district of Gujarat, ‘Kshatriya pride’ and lack of employment opportunities are proving to be major hurdles for the incumbent BJP.

In the Lok Sabha seat, sitting BJP MP, businessman-turned-politician, Mitesh Patel is facing five-time Congress MLA Amit Chavda, who represents the Kshatriya community.

From a village in the constituency which has banned BJP candidates and workers, Patel is seen quietly, trying to win voters back.

Patel is busy doing rounds in villages dominated by Kshatriyas in Anand. At Adas village, where, a huge banner of the Congress candidate Chavda welcomes visitors, Patel alights from his black-coloured SUV and heads to visit the homes of Kshatriya community members.

Patel is the chairperson and managing director of Laxmi Protein Pvt Ltd, an Anand-based food processing company, that largely deals with pulses sold under the “Laxmi” brand. He also visits temples of the Kshatriya community in the neighbouring village of Gopalpur, where, he is accompanied by the Gujarat police personnel.

‘BJP banned’

Gopalpur sports banners that say BJP workers are banned in the area and the outfit’s leaders are prohibited from canvassing in the village precinct. Patel walks along the narrow and filthy village lanes with folded hands occasionally welcomed by garlands and firecrackers.

Mitesh Patel, BJP candidate and sitting MP from Anand welcomed at Gopalpur village

Mitesh Patel, BJP candidate and sitting MP from Anand welcomed at Gopalpur village

“Jobs and better roads are what the voters have been demanding at places, where I have visited. There are no other poll-related issues here,” Patel told businessline.

Asked how much the Kshatriya-ire will affect his chances of a victory, Patel said: “There have been protests against me. However, these are mostly by the Kshatriyas who support the Congress. The majority of them support the BJP.”

On the ground, the Kshatriya community are a divided lot. Naresh Parmar, a resident of Kshatriya-dominated Adas village, narrates the barrage of issues the community faces, ahead of the polls on May 7.

Union Minister Rupala’s comments

“We, Kshatriyas, have been supporting the BJP for over a decade. However, this time, things are different. While, I am sure to vote for Prime Minister Modi, my wife and seven other family members have decided to vote for the Congress. They say the BJP has hurt their pride”, said Parmar referring to the controversy that erupted after Union Minister Parshottam Rupala’s comments on the Kshatriya community during a Lok Sabha election campaign in Gujarat.

Despite Prime Minister Modi trying to reach out to the community by promising a “museum” for the royal families that ceded their kingdoms, Kshatriya-ire can be felt even in the remotest villages of Anand, a region which has been the nerve centre of milk cooperatives. Anand houses India’s first milk cooperative, Khaira District Cooperative Milk Producers Union, set up in December 1946.

Mani Solanki, 80, a resident of Jivapara village said: “We, Kshatriyas take pride in our history. Our descendants have done a lot for this country; we will not permit politicians to get away after disrespecting us.”

However, there are a few Kshatriyas like Jayanti Gohil of Adas village, who feel that his community should vote for the BJP. “Rupala might have momentarily lost his mind and said something, but it does not mean that we end up voting for some other party,” said Gohil.

Banners warning BJP workers and leaders against canvassing for Lok Sabha elections in Gopalpur village, Anand, Gujarat.

Banners warning BJP workers and leaders against canvassing for Lok Sabha elections in Gopalpur village, Anand, Gujarat.

Even Muslim voters in Anand are eager to see which side Kshatriyas shall favour on the polling day.

Hussain Malik who stepped out of a mosque after offering namaz in Boriavi village said: “Kshatriyas account for 80 per cent of the population in this village; so everyone is keen to know whom they (Kshatriyas) finally side with.”

17.8 lakh voters in Anand

There are about 17.8 lakh voters in Anand Lok Sabha seat, of which nine lakh are males and the remaining females. Congress candidate Chavda, a Kshatriya, projects a clearer picture. Addressing voters of Jivapara village, Chavda said, “There are about 18 lakh voters in our constituency. Of these, 12 lakh are Kshatriyas. The rest, are members of other communities. Despite our numbers, our candidate lost elections in 2014 and 2019, while those with just two lakh votes, (BJP) won.”

Stressing on how Patidars have dominated a region with a large Kshatriya-base, Chavda further noted, “Today, members of our community, do not head any major organisation in Anand. Vipul Patel is the chairman of Amul; the chairman of the district bank is Tejas Patel; the head of district panchayat, is Hasmukh Patel and Lok Sabha MP is Mitesh Patel. This election is crucial for the very existence of the community. There should be someone in these organisations to hand-hold our future generations and provide jobs.”

He appealed to the Kshatriya community to forget mutual differences and vote for the Congress.

Congress leader Bharatsinh Solanki had won the seat for his party in 2004 and 2009. Solanki lost to BJP in the 2014 and 2019 polls.