The Patidar quota agitation may be one of the central themes for parties in this election, but not necessarily for voters of non-Patel communities. Many voters from numerically strong communities — Kolis, Durbars, Bharwad, Ahirs and others — have indicated that the agitation will have no effect on their traditional voting choices.
This came across in interactions with voters in constituencies from Dhandhuka (Ahmedabad) to Bhavnagar Rural, Mahuva and Talaja (Bhavnagar); Rajula (Amreli); Una, Kodinar and Talala (Gir Somnath); Manavadar and Visavadar (Junagadh); Jetpur and Gondal (Rajkot). This was in spite of occasional criticism for the BJP government and its MLAs. The few who did say they would change their choice, in fact, appeared to be guided by the candidates in their seats.
This tendency, if widespread, would go against the BJP’s hopes that the Patidar assertion may result in counter polarisation among other communities.
Members of the Koli community, the largest chunk of the 40% OBC community, seemed inclined to go with their previous choice in most places visited by this reporter. Kolis constituted over 24% of Gujarat’s population according to the 1931 caste census; Patidars constituted under 15%.
“I will vote for the Congress as I did last time,” said A S Makwana in Una, sipping morning tea at the town corner shop. Both the Congress and the BJP have fielded a Koli candidate in Una, which shot into prominence nationally following atrocities on Dalits by cow vigilantes. Makwana said he might have considered voting BJP if they had fielded another Koli, one hailing from the town itself.
Sitting with Makwana are others of the Koli community, such as Bharat Solanki, who declare they would vote for the BJP as they did last time. On the way from Vavuri village in Gir Somnath to Junagadh, The Indian Express came across a few Kolis who did say they would move from the BJP to the Congress. While being OBCs themselves, none of these Koli voters The Indian Express spoke to mentioned the OBC quota demand by Patidars led by Hardik Patel. The few who claimed they would change their choice, in fact, said this was because of low prices for their cotton and groundnut produce.
OBC Ratharia Rajputs, pastoralist sphepherds Bharwads and Ahirs across Bhavnagar, Gir Somnath and Junagadh, too, did not refer to the Patidar agitation when they spoke of their preference. Nor did upper-caste Rajputs, who call themselves Durbars and are not entitled to a caste quota. So, Bharat Chudasma, a Rajput of Dholera region where farmers have agitated against land acquisition for a special investment region, expresses his apprehensions about the acquisition but still affirms his preference for the BJP.
A number of Durbar community members who run autorickshaws from a stand outside an engineering college in Bhavnagar Rural, on the other hand, declare their preference for the Congress. From both these camps, it emerges that they voted for the same option last election too.
Ahirs are not a dominant community but have a sizeable presence across Gir Somnath and Junagadh and some other districts. While most indicated they would stick to their earlier preferences, a few BJP voters said they would go with the Congress — because the party has fielded more Ahir candidates than the BJP.
“The Congress has fielded 8 Ahir candidates, the BJP 2. Otherwise, Modiji is good for Gujarat and the country,” said Vinu Bhai, an Ahir in his mid-30s, in Datrana of Junagadh. Bharwads, such as Oghad Bhai of Rajabra village in Talaja of Bhavnagar, populate the arid regions of Saurashtra. “I had voted for the BJP and will vote for them again,” he said.