Of the total 1,856 candidates who will be contesting for the six municipal corporation elections on Sunday are 374 independents, many of them Patidars. Even as the BJP has fielded 570 and the Congress 561, there are as many independents as are those from smaller parties.
Many Patidar candidates in Surat and Vadodara have picked rolling pin and flourboard as their symbol. This had become a weapon of protest by Patidar women against the BJP through the agitation and the election campaign when they clanked rolling pins on steel plates to drive them out.
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In Surat, political analysts feel that the independent candidates, along with Bahujan Samaj Party, Navin Bhartiya Navnirman Manch and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel Party (SVPP), are likely to eat into the votes of Congress and BJP candidates in the Patidar-dominated areas of Surat Municipal Corporation. Surat has a large chunk of Patidar voters concentrated in Varachha and Katargam areas.
Piyush Kumar Dhameliya from Ward no. 4 in Surat, an independent Patidar candidate who picked the pin and flourboard symbol, said, “This is for the first time that I am contesting the elections. The reason is that I also want to become a leader and fight for the issues of my community. Hardik was also like us, but he became famous. My support is always with him. I have been working as a diamond polisher for the last ten years.”
Patidar voters are known as a secure vote bank for the BJP. Analysts also note that when former chief minister Keshubhai Patel revolted against the BJP and formed the Gujarat Parivartan Party, Patidars assured him of support, but finally voted for the BJP in the 2012 assembly elections, giving GPP only two seats.
Out of 29 wards in Surat city, 14 wards — adding up to 56 seats — have a dominating Patidar vote presence. These areas had witnessed violence during the quota agitation and many youths were arrested by police from these areas.
Both BJP and Congress have fielded Patidar candidates in major seats. BSP and SVPP have fielded 11 candidates each and Navin Bhartiya Navnirman Manch 9 candidates. Two JD (U) candidates are in the fray in these wards. Apart from this, SMC will see 57 candidates contesting as independents, majority of them Patidars. The other symbols include diamonds, hat, wooden stick, scissors, camera, candle, bat, chess board, bucket and helmet.
Surat City BJP president Purnesh Modi said, “We are sure that our candidates in the municipal elections will come out victorious and we will form the board in the civic organisation. The Patidars are traditional BJP voters and with more independent candidates they will not waste their votes.”
Surat Congress President Hasmukh Desai, who is a Patidar, says, “After a gap of over a decade, we feel that people have come ahead to support the Congress party as they knew that the BJP is only making hollow promises. The Patidars had during earlier elections voted for the BJP, but this time they have seen the police torture youths and women. Their sentiments are attached to Hardik Patel (PAAS convenor) and they will definitely vote for the Congress party and make it victorious.”
In Saurashtra, the State Election Commission (SEC) has allocated symbols like hand-held flash torch, cricket bats and whistles to those who are contesting civic body polls as independents. Girish Maraviya, who is fighting election from Patidar-dominated Ward 11 of Rajkot Municipal Corporation (RMC), has been allocated flash torch as his election symbol. Similarly, Daksha Ghodeshwar, who is also contesting the November 22 poll from the same ward as an Independent, has got cricket bat as her election symbol.
On the other hand, eight independents who are fighting elections from Ward 7 and Ward 8 of Jamnagar Municipal Corporation (JMC) have been assigned whistle as their election symbols. These twin wards of JMC have concentration of Patidar voters. To make most of the Patidar quota stir, Congress has withdrawn its candidates from the twin wards in support of the independents who have jumped in the battle under the banner of SVPP.
In Vadodara, 41 Patidar candidates are in the fray, including independents. Ward 19 has a maximum of 17 candidates, forcing election officers to install two EVM machines to fit the “election symbols”. Ward 12 has the lowest candidates at seven.
Ward 19 has emerged with the lengthiest list of candidates at 17. Returning Officer B K Patel said two EVM machines would be placed to include the symbols of all candidates. The independent symbols include bangles, binoculars, cricket bat, pen emitting sun rays.
An independent candidate from Ward 6, Prabhu Solanki, has a filled thali as his symbol and has based his campaign on “inflation”.
Solanki, who had trouble depicting the symbol for the EVM machines, said, “At one point, I thought it would be difficult to depict a plateful of meal as a symbol. But I wanted to go with it as food is the most basic need for a person’s survival. In all my election meetings in the area, I have assured my voters, especially from the lower-income groups, that I will fight for their right to sustenance. And although pulses are missing from the photo of my symbol due to soaring prices, I will fight to make it available to them.”