With the Congress aggressively wooing the Patel vote bank, Gujarat’s ruling BJP is likely to focus on winning over the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) ahead of next month’s elections in the state, say party leaders. The party will increase the number of tickets given to OBCS from “about 40” to the “maximum” in a bid to win their vote in the elections next month, party insiders said. Elections for the 182-member Gujarat assembly will be held over two phases on December 9 and 14. “The BJP will be giving maximum tickets to the OBCs in the coming elections. The focus is on winning over the OBC communities in the state,” a party leader said. The Patel community, which was a staunch supporter of the BJP, is up in arms against the state government over its quota demand. OBCs have been given 27 per cent reservation in Gujarat. The BJP has rejected the demand that Patels be included in the OBC list and has tried to pacify the community by offering reservation for the economically backward among the upper castes.
The population of the community in the state is around 13 per cent. OBCs, under which 146 castes are included, count for nearly 35 per cent of the population. The main demand of the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has been inclusion of his caste in the OBC list. BJP spokesperson Jagdish Bhavsar said they will take all the communities along in the state polls. “We take all the castes along with us. This is part of our social engineering. The BJP has got votes of all the castes in Gujarat and that is the reason we have won five terms in the state,” he said. “Of course in the past wherever it was necessary we have given tickets to OBC candidates and we will give it this time also,” Bhavsar said. BJP president Amit Shah had some months back hit out at the opposition Congress for stalling the OBC Commission Bill in the Rajya Sabha. He had also said that the next election in Gujarat would be fought on the issues of completion of Narmada dam and the welfare of OBCs and the poor.
According to political analyst Achyut Yagnik, the BJP’s political move is obvious as it is likely to face erosion of part of the Patel vote bank. “The main castes included in the OBCs are pastoralist communities, fishermen communities, small farmers or landless labourers. Traditionally, they were supporters of Congress,” Yagnik said, adding that in the last few years BJP has tried to make inroads in these communities. The BJP, he said, will give more tickets to OBCs in these elections to ensure that most of these communities rally behind the party. “Their target could be to woo communities like Kolis, Thakors and other numerically strong OBC communities to negate the effect of the shift of the Patel vote bank,” he said. Yagnik also said the Patidars will not entirely tilt towards the Congress. The Patidars, he said, had been supporting BJP since 1985 in Gujarat and will not move en-mass towards the Congress. There will be a split, he said. “It is possible that even two members of a family can vote for BJP while two others will vote for Congress,” he said.