A war of words has erupted between two eminent Patels – the soft-spoken Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and the Khodaldham Chairman Naresh Patel -over where the Patidars’ political unity should lie.
The Patidars are an influential community that has been demanding OBC status for themselves. A bloody Patidar agitation took place in 2015 in Gujarat, leading to 14 deaths and the ouster of then Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, who ironically was a Patel. Hardik Patel and his friends then emerged as youth icons of the Patidar movement.
With the 2022 Gujarat Assembly elections around the corner, every political party wants to woo the Patels. The BJP, Congress and the newly rejuvenated Aam Aadmi Party are all in the race to lure the Patels towards their respective folds. The Patels, who are largely divided in Leuva and Kadva categories, constitute about 14 per cent of the Gujarat population but are the most influential after the OBC (Other Backward Class) segment.
It must be noted that in the existing political situation, the Congress stands nowhere and the major fight of claiming the Patel loyalty is between the BJP and AAP. While the Gujarat AAP president is a Patel, the BJP for the first time in several decades does not have a Patel/Patidar Chief Minister or the Party president. In the case of the Congress, the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly is a Patel and so is Hardik, besides several other leaders. BJP’s deputy CM Nitinbhai is also a Patel.
Patidar means BJP
Mansukh Mandaviya, the Union Health Minister whom many view as BJP’s chief ministerial candidate in 2022, recently tried to make an active connection with the Patidar community. He said, “Patidar means BJP” at the Atal Behari Vajpayee Hall in Rajkot. Mandaviya meant that the Patels have always got a good deal with the BJP in power. Most Patels gravitated to the BJP in the 80s when the Congress under the leadership of Madhavsinh Solanki openly ridiculed Patels and appeased the OBCs. The Congress theory espoused by Solanki was KHAM which meant Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims. Patels had no place in this.
Later, it was Chimanbhai Patel, with the JDU(G), that merged with Congress. However, most of his proteges, including his deputy chief minister Narhari Amin joined the BJP. Chimanbhai Patel’s son Siddharth continues to remain with the Congress.
After Mandaviya’s statement that ‘Patidar means BJP’, he has come under sharp criticism by another strong Patel leader, Naresh of Khodaldham. So far, Naresh Patel has flirted with all the parties, including the BJP, Congress and AAP, giving no consistent indication of which party he will join, though he is lately leaning towards the AAP.
Some political observers also claim that it could be Naresh Patel versus Mansukh Mandaviya in the 2022 battle. Naresh Patel is loaded with money and has huge Patel clout. Mansukh Mandaviya is 49, a Leuva Patel and a staunch RSS man who was picked up for a Rajya Sabha seat and later the important position of union health minister to send the right signal of how the BJP cares about Patel voters.
Patel’s denial of Mandaviya’s statement has its roots in an unfulfilled need to have a Gujarat chief minister from their community. On June 13,2021 the Patidar community had gathered at Kagvad, the place of Leuva Patidars deity in Rajkot. Here, Patel hinted that the community wants a Patidar to become chief minister next year when assembly elections are due.
The joint meeting between social and religious community leaders of both Leuva and Kadva Patidars had 24 members of six different organisations like Khodaldham Trust (Kagvad), Umiya Mata (Unjha), Samast Patidar Samaj (Surat), Sardardham (Ahmedabad), Vishwa Umiya Foundation (Ahmedabad) and Umiya Mata Sanstha (Sidsar).
Patidars’ resentment with BJP
Naresh Patel claims that the Patidar community is the largest taxpayer community in Gujarat (though Vibes of India could not find any justification for the same) and hence they cannot be ignored like the current BJP has been doing. He had said, “After Keshu bapa (former CM Keshubhai Patel) we all feel that we do not have a leader like him, and this will be discussed. Why can’t we have our representatives in a crucial position in Gujarat government. He of course did not mention that Gujarat deputy chief minister Nitinbhai is a Patel.”
Third front rising in Gujarat?
Gujarat has always been a two-party state – people are either BJP loyalists or Congress loyalists. Despite this, Naresh Patel has his hopes pinned on the third party, AAP. Praising AAP’s Karyanresh Patel he said that given the way the AAP is working in Gujarat, it could well break the two-party system of Gujarat.
AAP has also opposed the Rupani government’s programmes marking five years in office, calling them “unwarranted”. AAP national convenor Arvind Kejriwal and Patidar leader Hardik Patel were also speculated to join hands to challenge BJP on Modi’s home ground, Gujarat. With members such as Isudan Gadhvi, Mahesh Sawani and others, AAP plans to strengthen their hold in the state.