Gujarat elections: Hardik Patel’s PAAS seals deal with Congress on Patel quota

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Ahmedabad: Ending weeks of uncertainty, Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) said on Sunday that the Congress has accepted its demand for quotas in jobs and education. The announcement came just a day after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) took out a massive bike rally of Patels, hoping the influential Patel vote will stay in its fold.

“Had fruitful discussion with PAAS Convenors in a positive environment. We have clarified all their queries, & Meeting has ended on positive note,” Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee president Bharatsinh Solanki said in a tweet, confirming the development.

A PAAS official said the group will make an announcement about the deal on Monday.

“Congress, with Hardik Patel’s support, will have a marginal advantage in the state elections it seems. There will be split in anti-BJP votes and I feel that a majority of Patidars will still continue to vote for BJP,” said Ghanshyam Shah, an Ahmedabad-based political expert.

A BJP official said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s election campaign in Gujarat next week may persuade many of the Patel fence-sitters to move to the BJP. He said that the impact of PAAS will be similar to Gujarat Parivartan Party’s (GPPs’) performance in 2012.

Led by BJP strongman and former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, the GPP, targeted the then chief minister Narendra Modi and his government. The party managed to win just two seats in the assembly election that year while the BJP maintained its winning position, bagging 115 seats.

The BJP is hoping that PAAS leader Hardik Patel supporting the Congress will not impact the party in a major way. A large number of Patels are traders and the party is hopeful that the recent decision by the centre on the goods and services tax (GST) will turn things in their favour. Modi last month reached out to the Swaminarayan sect, whose members are mostly Patels.

The fact that Patels do not vote in a bloc is another factor that the BJP hopes will work in its favour. Apart from Saurashtra, Patels also have a strong presence in northern and central Gujarat.

Equally, the Congress is hopeful that the Patel community will vote for it on the strength of the unrest among some of its members.

Data from 2012 shows that the GPP, despite winning only two seats, managed to grab about 3.66% of the vote share. It did so by cutting the anti-BJP votes that would have otherwise gone to the Congress, according to political expert Shah. The difference in vote share between the BJP and the Congress in 2012 was about 10 percentage points, which means the grand old party could gain immensely if a large number of Patels vote in its favour.

The Congress swept local body elections in December 2015 after a large gathering of Patidars staged a protest in Ahmedabad in August. The party is pinning its hope that it might be able to repeat the feat again in the state elections but with a split in PAAS and BJP’s micro management and poll strategy closely supervised by Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah, it remains a Herculean task for the opposition.

Assembly elections in Gujarat will be held on 9 December and the results will be announced on 18 December.