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AHMEDABAD: Will the chief of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Hardik Patel, prove to be another Keshubhai Patel? Keshubhai, the veteran BJP leader, quit the party and launched the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) during the 2012 assembly elections and cornered a significant share of votes from Patels who were disenchanted with the BJP.
In the 2012 assembly polls, 3.63% of total votes cast was secured by the GPP. These votes could easily have gone to the opposition Congress, but the GPP drew these votes and helped the BJP retain some seats in Patidar hotbeds in the state, especially Saurashtra. The GPP could win only two seats, but dented the Congress’s prospects on a dozen-odd seats.
The ultimatum given by Hardik to the Congress over the OBC quota has put the party in a fix. With OBC leader Alpesh Thakor strongly opposing the inclusion of Patidars in the OBC list, it appears impossible for the Congress to give Patidars the quota assurance. In such a situation, if Hardik drifts towards a third party, most probably the NCP, the Congress’s poll prospects will be damaged, giving the BJP an advantage. This would be a repetition of the GPP slicing Patel votes from the Congress tally.
The number of votes the GPP obtained on seats such as Mandvi, Bechraji, Rajkot (rural), Kalavad, Gondal, and Keshod — all Patidar-dominated constituencies — was more than the margins by which the BJP secured these seats.
If Hardik and his supporters distance themselves from the Congress, the party’s hard work over the past two years to harness votes of Patidars disillusioned with the ruling BJP might go in vain. The potential alliance of PAAS with the NCP, which PAAS leaders do not rule out at this juncture, could once again prevent the Congress from bagging Patidar votes, on the strength of which the Congress was hoping to topple the BJP, 22 years since it was voted out of power in Gujarat.
In 2012, GPP fielded candidates on 164 seats. While it managed to win only two — Keshubhai in Visavadar and Nalin Kotadiya in Dhari — the GPP remained the third largest party in the state with its 3.63% vote share, after the BJP (47.9%) and the Congress (38.9%). This in a way helped the BJP maintain the vote gap of 9% with the Congress.
Dinesh Shukla, a former reader in political science at Gujarat University believes that Hardik has few options after showing a clear anti-BJP tendency and a soft corner for the Congress. “But if Hardik does not associate with the Congress and chooses the AAP, the NCP, or even fields independent candidates under the PAAS banner, it will directly benefit the BJP,” Shukla said.
“Former CM Keshubhai Patel committed the same mistake by creating the third option and diverting anti-BJP Patidar votes against the BJP but not in favour of the Congress. The BJP has been using this vote-division strategy in all elections,” Shukla said.