BJP looking beyond Patels, Amit Shah shifting focus to OBCs

Patels unrelenting, BJP looks for support elsewhere

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BJP looking beyond Patels, Amit Shah shifting focus to OBCs
Amit Shah and Hardik Patel

After Tuesday's meeting between representatives of the Patel community and the Gujarat government remained inconclusive, the question now is how far will the BJP-led government go to woo the community that has been at loggerheads with the government over their demand for quota.

Going by the signals that the party's central leadership has been sending to state leaders, the saffron front may not be as worried as the Patels would like them to be about losing their support, for its focus is shifting steadily to Other Backward Classes (OBCs).

Reliable sources in the party said its national president Amit Shah asked the leaders who attended Tuesday's meeting not to worry much on the Patel issue and that the party should focus on OBCs and other communities. On Wednesday, Shah, who has been in the state for poll preparations for the past two days, held a meeting with the leaders of various OBC communities.

Patels have been a loyal vote bank of the BJP and have played a key role in the party's ascendancy to power in the state for over two decades. However, the stir demanding reservation in higher education and government jobs for Patels, and the violence that followed have created fissures in the relation which is unlikely to have healed with the announcement of the Commission to look into their demands related to reservation.

The equation between the BJP and the Patel community took another strained turn on Tuesday as they refused to budge from their resolve to continue the quota agitation against the state government. Political observers say the BJP's stand is justified as the party has, in the past, offered many sops to placate the Patels, but the community has had no change of heart.

After the meeting with the state leadership, Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener Hardik Patel, said, "We are not satisfied with the meeting. Our agitation will continue."

His colleague Dinesh Bambhaniya was more livid. "We would not ask our people to vote for the Congress, but we will tell them they should not vote for the BJP which took the lives of our people," he said.

While Congress and its vice-president Rahul Gandhi have been making efforts to draw from the BJP's disadvantaged position with the Patels, many in the ruling party feel the party should utilise the remaining crucial months to get OBCs and other communities on its side.

A senior BJP leader who was present at the meeting with the Patels as well as Shah's meeting with party workers said, "Amit Shah had said in an earlier address, after winning the Rajya Sabha polls, that OBC will be the main focus of elections in Gujarat. Shah also said the party should not worry much about the Patels as the community itself is divided over their choice of parties. Of course, there are several constituencies where Patidars will have a decisive role."

Former chief minister and senior BJP leader Anandiben Patel had also told DNA that the community would have to face loss, if Patidars continued agitation.

An OBC community leader from the BJP in Mehsana district said on condition of anonymity, "Today, the situation is such that if the BJP fields a contestant from the Patel community in Mehsana, he/she will lose. The BJP had won five out of seven seats in the previous polls with the support of the Patel community. This time, they will not vote for us, unless party leaders chalks out some strategy that will appease the community."

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