A little over a year after the Patidar agitation manifested as anger against the BJP in Mehsana, that covers the native villages of both Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Vadnagar) and BJP chief Amit Shah (Mansa), there is little sign of it in the district. The overwhelming signal is that voting in Mehsana Lok Sabha seat would be all about Modi.
The quota stir had originated from Mehsana, and it was the epicentre of protests on the issue. During the December 2017 Assembly elections, BJP leaders had been prevented entry in a number of Patidar-dominated places. Now, both the Congress and BJP candidates acknowledge it is no longer an issue.
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The BJP has dropped its sitting MP Jayshreeben Patel to bring in Shardaben Patel (71), the wife of late minister Anil Patel. In her campaign, Shardaben says, “You do not have to vote for me, but for Narendrabhai, our beloved son of the soil.” BJP supporters have been telling voters, “We want the braveheart of Mehsana and not the nephew of Italy (implying Rahul Gandhi) as PM.”
The Congress candidate is also a septuagenarian, Ambalal Patel, 73, a former state bureaucrat. She says she is highlighting the Congress’s “pro-poor manifesto”.
About the absence of the Patidar issue, Ambalal claims that while youths are still “discontented”, she doesn’t want to do “community-oriented politics”.
The Patidars form the biggest chunk of Mehsana’s 16 lakh-odd voters, followed by the Thakors (OBCs), Dalits and Muslims.
Suresh Thakre, a prominent Patidar quota agitator from Mehsana, claims there is an “invisible” anger and it will show on polling day on April 23. He adds they are lying low to “avoid being singled out by the BJP government”.
This invisible anger may reflect in another election, being held simultaneously with Mehsana. In the 2017 Assembly polls, the Patidar anger had resulted in the victory of the Congress’s Asha Patel from Unjha, defeating BJP five-time MLA Narayan Patel. In February, Asha quit as Congress MLA to join the BJP and is now seeking re-election as a BJP candidate in a by-poll.
“Ashaben betrayed our trust… For the Lok Sabha, we will vote for the BJP. But I am not sure about the by-poll,” a local says.
However, Kalpesh Patel from Unha asserts the BJP will win both Mehsana and Unjha. “The Patidar issue is over after Modi saheb declared 10% reservation for EWS.”
Adds Visaji Thakor of Vadnagar town, “For us, nothing is more important than Narendrabhai becoming PM for a second time.”