Municipal and panchayat polls in Gujarat: Patidar movement makes voters ‘smart’

While the Surat social media voice clips might not have any bearing on this election, they do indicate that the Patidar agitation has created a voter who is aware of his rights.

Written by Leena Misra | Updated: November 20, 2015 1:00 pm
obc, patidar, patidar protest, patidar obc status, hardik patel, quota agitation, patidar quota agitation, patidar agitation, patidar protest, patidar, india news, ahmedabad news FILE photo of Hardik Patel addresses a gathering in Vadodara. (Source: Express Photo by Bhupendra Rana)

In Surat a set of five audio clips of a phone conversation purportedly between a 19-year old voter and the city’s municipal corporation candidates is being circulated on WhatsApp. This “first time voter” calls himself “Manish” and rings up candidates to test them their basic knowledge about the state, its districts, talukas and villages, the CM, governor, etc., and then he expresses concern “about not wasting his vote”. To the Patidar candidates he promptly says, “No, don’t worry I won’t ask about Patidars.’’

While the Surat social media voice clips might not have any bearing on this election, they do indicate that the Patidar agitation has created a voter who is aware of his rights.

From the Surat sub-jail Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel who is booked for sedition and is unlikely to be out on bail anytime soon, has announced his successors – a team of 11 Patidars who will lead the agitation and the anti-BJP campaign, even as his father ​plays his spokesperson ​since he went to jail.

In the absence of any major infrastructure project for the government to show off, this time the Patidar vote might be a reality check for the BJP in the forthcoming municipal and panchayat polls on November 22 and 29, respectively. For Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, the toughest test is to neutralize the impact of the Patidar unrest, especially in the panchayat elections.

In 2010, Narendra Modi led the campaign and ensured victory for the BJP. He set a precedent for the chief minister’s active involvement in local body elections.

That was also the year when projects under the UPA’s Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) like the Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTS), river front drainage and urban housing projects in Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat and Rajkot had touched people’s lives, and Modi smartly showed them off as his achievements.

Anandiben has launched the Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalambhan Yojana (MYSY) scholarship scheme for students, to pacify the reservation agitation, but it is too early to touch the beneficiaries.
As far as the BJP manifesto goes, it repeats the word “smart” promising smart cities, smart schools, smart learning, smart urban health centres, smart AMTS (the local bus service), smart roads and so on. The word “Swachh” also appears frequently. Which is why Anandiben repeatedly tells the young crowds, “We will give you Wi-Fi and build you a smart city”, and duly credits Modi for them.
The term “smart”, however, continues to remain intangible for the voter–the Patidar show of strength indicated that the voter was smarter.

Within a month of the PAAS agitation building up, the OBCs, STs and SCs had united under a separate banner causing discomfiture in the BJP. In Surat, BJP candidates continue to be waylaid by Patidar women clanking rolling pins on steel plates each time they campaign in Patidar dominated
areas.

Bollywood star and MP from Ahmedabad Paresh Rawal who campaigned in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Vadodara has been making a strong pitch for due recognition for Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel — if people vote BJP. Sardar Patel has been adopted as the icon of the Patidar agitation.

The panchayat polls are likely to be drawn on caste lines while in the municipal corporation elections the issues are likely to be the condition of roads, drainage, sanitation, health and water supply.

Photographs of Modi and Anandiben dot billboards across cities at strategic places – they boast of wi-fi, smart cities, and other projects.

The BJP has coined the slogan “Saunu hit, Bhajap ni jeet” (In everyone’s interest, BJP’s victory) for these elections, and is doing everything it can to woo Muslim voters. However, the Muslims and the Patidars are inscrutable voters: their shrill voices might have thrill-value but they don’t indicate which way they will vote.

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