Ahmedabad: With an eye on the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress have begun work on a strategy to corner Patel votes in Gujarat.
The state’s ruling BJP has kick-started its work for the Lok Sabha elections by formally setting up a committee of 11 members that consists of leaders from the powerful Patel community, including deputy chief minister Nitin Patel and Union ministers Purushottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya.
“This time, the BJP plans to give tickets to more Patel candidates than in 2014. The party is also working on a strategy to project Patel leaders very prominently. The party faced some setback in 2017 state elections because of the Patel agitation, especially in Saurashtra, which brought our seat tally to less than 100,” said a senior BJP official on condition of anonymity.
The ruling BJP had in 2014 won all the 26 parliamentary seats in Gujarat. As Gujarat is the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP national president Amit Shah, the party hopes to repeat the feat in the 2019 parliamentary polls.
In the 2017 Gujarat elections, the BJP faced its toughest assembly election battle against the Congress in the last two decades where it got 99 seats compared to 115 in 2012.
The BJP is also pinning its hopes on the Statue of Unity project that is likely to be completed by October. The 182-metre statue dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s first home minister, who is regarded as the tallest leader of the Patel community, will help the party woo Patel voters ahead of the 2019 elections.
The Congress, which has managed to win back some Patel votes in the 2017 elections, has set itself a target to win at least half the seats in the 2019 parliamentary elections. The party is hoping to woo Patel votes under the leadership of Amreli MLA and leader of opposition Paresh Dhanani, a powerful Patel leader from Saurashtra.
It has also pinned its hopes on quota stir leader Hardik Patel who had announced his support for the Congress in the 2017 state elections. The 24-year-old Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader had on 26 May addressed a huge public meeting in a village in Surendranagar district called Patidar Nayaya Mahapanchayat. The event was the first major event by the PAAS leader since assembly elections to revive his agitation to demand quotas in education and jobs for the Patels, who form about 14% of the state’s population. .
The Congress, in an attempt to ensure stronger and more effective booth level management, has also begun the process of appointing ‘Jan Mitras’ in each of the 50,000-odd polling booths in the state, according to Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.