By Brajendra Nath Singh
Patidars, whose movement for job reservation has created a stir in Gujarat in the last few years, are a divided lot with youth in the rural areas appearing to be providing strong support to their leader Hardik Patil, while those in urban areas may not be that enthusiastic about him.
Travelling through Patidar-dominated areas in Mehsana, Amreli, Vadodara and Surat, a visiting IANS correspondent found the reaction mixed in the community -- divided between supporters and opponents of Hardik Patel, the 24-year-old youth leader who has created a storm in the state.
Youngsters in rural areas appear to be hard-core supporters of Hardik Patel while in urban pockets, the community seems to be divided between the BJP and Hardik-led Paatidar Anaamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) fighting for reservation for the affluent and landed Patels.
Deepak Bhai Patel, who runs a medical shop in the Mehsana Assembly constituency in Mehsana district, the bastion of the Patidar community and a BJP citadel, said that the community needs reservations because those who come from families with small landholdings are in a poor condition and need justice.
When reminded about the constitutional cap of 50 per cent on reservations, he said: "Kuch na kuch rasta niklega (Some way will be found). If they don't find a way, they will suffer as elections will again come."
Mehsana is the home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel represents it in the Assembly. Patel is locked in a tough contest against Congress candidate Jivabhai Patel, a former MP.
A Patidar youth in Surat, Amit Patel, said: "Anamat mile na mile, bhai, bhai ko hi favour karega (We may or may not get reservations but a brother will only favour his brother)."
However, there are youths like Parvej Patel and Chirag Patel, who are not bothered about reservations.
Parvej Patel, a Chartered Accountant in Vadodara, said: "Patidars here are affluent. Most of them are in business and they don't care about education. Their priority is business. So where does reservation matter to them?"
Chirag Patel, a businessman in Surat, said: "We want security and the BJP provides that. Due to GST, we faced a lot of trouble, but they are taking corrective measures too. It will benefit us and the country as well in the long term."
Despite anger and displeasure with the BJP, there are many like Parvej and Chirag who vow to vote for the saffron party to keep the Congress out of power, as they feel they would be insecure if the BJP loses.
There are many assembly constituencies in Mehsana, Surat and Amreli which have been witnessing a pitched battle between the BJP and the Patidars.
Patidars are categorised under various sub-castes dominated by Leuva and Kadva, who claim their ancestry to the sons of Lord Ram: Luv and Kush. Leuva Patels claim that they are the descendants of Luv, Lord Ram's elder son, and Kadvas of Kush, the younger son.
Since Hardik Patel is a Kadva Patel, he has been successful in mobilising them. He has formed committees of youth Patidars in many of the villages.
Worried by the Hardik factor, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to woo the OBCs.
In Saurashtra, North and South Gujarat, the Patidars hold the key in many of the seats and an overwhelming majority of them had been supporters of the BJP in previous elections, but this time many from the community have joined hands with Hardik, which is likely to benefit the Congress.
A discussion at a tea stall in the Sardar circle area of Amreli in Saurashtra presented a typical scene that is prevalent in the state.
The discussion took an ugly turn when journalists sought to know the mood of the Patidars. Pareek Sohaliya, a B.Com student, claimed that Paresh Dhanani, the Congress candidate, will win as he has the support of the Patidars.
"A lot of development work has been initiated by Paresh Bhai. He has defeated BJP ministers like Purshottam Rupala and Dilip Bhai Sanghani. This time, the BJP candidate will lose his deposit," Sohaliya, a Patidar, said.
But Balji Bhai, also a Patidar, countered his claim. "Come with me. I will show you the development of Amreli. The underground gutter project has not yet been completed. Roads are pot-holed and due to this, the people of the area suffer."
Asked about the Hardik Patel factor, Balji Bhai said, he is not worth a dime. "To win the elections, the Congress has adopted the three monkeys of Gandhiji (Gandhiji ke teen bandar). Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh."
The BJP has fielded Bhavku Bhai Undhad, a Patidar and a former Congressmen who joined the saffron party before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He represented Lathi constituency in the outgoing assembly. Sanghani, the former agriculture minister, is contesting from adjoining Dhari constituency. Rupala is a minister in the Narendra Modi government.