Among the two youth community leaders, Hardik Patel (Patidar) and Alpesh Thakor (OBC), Hardik seems to have more of a hold among his community across Kheda, Arvalli, Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Patan and Sabarkantha districts in North Gujarat, which go to polls on December 14.
Alpesh, who has joined the Congress, doesn’t seem to have swung many supporters to the party even in Radhanpur Assembly constituency of Patan district, where he is contesting.
“Alpesh is new to politics. I have no reason to follow him,” says Rambhai Thakor, in his late 30s, who runs an animal feed shop at Radhanpur says. A few of his customers, also Thakor, from nearby Maghapur-Ramnangar village, nod, saying their votes remain with the BJP despite Alpesh being in the race.
Bharat Parmar, a Thakor in his mid-30s, at Rudan village of Mehmedabad Assembly segment in Kheda, calls himself a loyal BJP man. “We are not guided by Alpesh. In fact, he should not have joined politics. By joining politics he has betrayed the community,” Parmar says.
“The BJP has brought development to our village,” adds Ganpat Bhai, who is in his early 40s and belongs to Muliyad village of Thasra Assembly segment of Kheda. As for Alpesh, he says, “I have only heard about him, nothing more.”
In fact, this trend of voters sticking to parties of their choice repeats across parties and segments here. And Alpesh’s presence doesn’t appear to have made a difference.
Lal Sinh Thakor, the owner of a general store at Karauli village of Modasa Assembly constituency in Arvalli, says he will vote for the Congress again, but not because Alpesh joined it. Lal Sinh is angry with the BJP government over the incomplete Narmada canal work. “Our land was taken for the canal. Neither did we get adequate compensation nor have we seen water in the canal,” says Lal Sinh, who is in his mid-30s.
In contrast, members of the Patidar community who have switched loyalties to the Congress cite Hardik’s agitation and the BJP’s reaction to it as the sole reason behind it. Naresh Patel, who is in his mid-40s and runs a shop at the Mehsana bypass, asserts that he had voted for the BJP all these years but not this time. “More than our demand for reservation, the police atrocities against youths of the Patidar agitation is behind our reason to change our preference to the Congress,” Naresh says.
“The BJP has become too arrogant. The way they treated our demands and our democratic agitation, they need to be taught a lesson,” says Nilesh Patel, who is in his late 30s and operates in the cotton and tobacco agricultural produce market yard at Unava in Unjha Assembly segment of Mehsana district.
Dhirubhai Patel of Lingra village in the United Assembly segment of Anand district, and friends, however, say they will stick to the BJP. About quota, he says, “Let’s be clear, reservation for Patidars is not possible under the current regulations. No party can grant it.”