Ahead of the Gujarat assembly elections, due later this year, the opposition Congress which is facing a power drought in the BJP-ruled state for over two decades is betting big on crucial Patidar vote bank to tilt the scales in its favour, party leaders said. The Congress is also looking forward to increase its tally of tribal seats, they said.
Senior party leader and Gujarat election in-charge Ashok Gehlot separately met local leaders representing Patidar, tribal and dalit communities and sought their views on the strategy to be adopted to contest upcoming polls. In a series of meetings held at circuit house in Ahmedabad, the leaders also discussed various ways that can be used to bring Patidar community members under the Congress’ fold, party leaders said.
Patidars, considered as loyal voters of the BJP, have been demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions under OBC quota, and held violent agitations for their demand in 2015. Prahlad Ptel, a Congress MLA from Vijapur constituency, said that to woo Patidar voters in the state, the party should consider giving tickets to leaders from the community on at least 33 per cent seats. Gujarat has 182 seats.
The MLA said he had made a similar suggestion to Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during the recent meetings.
“If Congress wants to form government, it will have to offer tickets to members of Patidar community on 33 per cent seats. Ashok Gehlotji is positive about this suggestion. I had said the same thing to Rahulji. I told him that Patidar candidates should be given tickets on 55 seats,” Patel told reporters after his meeting with Gehlot. He claimed Rahul has also taken his suggestion to give more representation to Patidars positively.
Tushar Chaudhary, a former Congress MP and a tribal leader from south Gujarat, also called on Gehlot and assured him of loyalty of tribal voters to the Congress in upcoming elections. “Congress won 16 tribal-majority seats in 2012, six more than BJP. In the past too, Congress continued to win more seats. Traditionally, tribals have remained loyal to the party and will continue to do so despite the BJP’s efforts to lure them with false promises. We have to increase the tally (of tribal seats),” Chaudhary said.
Some local dalit leaders also raised a pitch seeking more representation for the community leaders at local level, a move they said will send a positive signal to the community. Congress had won 60 seats in 2012 assembly elections.
Patidar community members have been at loggerheads with the state government since they held state-wide agitations under Hardik Patel, for their inclusion in OBC category. Congress is looking forward to create a political space for itself in prime minister Narendra Modi’s home state by trying to win Patidars.