The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat is planning a massive exercise to woo back members of the land-owning Patidar or Patel community ahead of Assembly elections in the state later this year. However, neither its master strategist Amit Shah nor the state’s last Patidar Chief Minister Anandiben Patel are likely to be part of this effort.

Patidars, the BJP’s traditional vote base in this western state, have been seething with anger against the party ever since the police used force to control their agitation for reservations in government jobs and public higher educational institutions two years ago.

The three-week-long exercise – considered a last-ditch effort before the elections – will begin with the BJP meeting select Patidar leaders on September 26 in Gandhinagar. The party will then hold two yatras in October, each of which will be led by Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and Gujarat BJP president Jitubhai Vaghani, both Patidar leaders.

While the first yatra will begin on October 1 from Karamsad, the birthplace of Sardar Patel, the second will start on October 2 from Porbandar, the birthplace of Mahatma Gandhi. After criss-crossing Patidar localities in the state, the two yatras will culminate in a rally on October 15.

BJP woos Patidars

Nitin Patel will lead the BJP at the September 26 meeting with Patidar leaders, where Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and Jitubhai Vaghani will also be present.

While Hardik Patel, the young Patidar leader who spearheaded an agitation demanding reservations for the community under the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti that pushed Gujarat to the brink in 2015, has not been invited for the meeting, over 100 leaders belonging to a large number of religious and social organisations of Patidars are expected to attend it.

According to a senior BJP leader, neither Amit Shah nor Anandiben will take part in the meeting. “While Amit Shah’s absence is a deliberate move as the party is not quite sure how Patidars will react to his presence, we are trying hard to persuade Anandiben to attend the meeting,” he said.

The last time the BJP tried to showcase its Patidar support base was in September 2016, in Surat. At that event, Shah had to cut short his speech as hundreds of angry Patidars kicked up a ruckus, with some of them throwing chairs in the direction of the dais, forcing the police to use lathis and tear gas to quell the mob.

At this meeting, Patidar protesters compared Shah to General Dyer, the British Army officer responsible for the 1919 Jalianwala Bagh massacre in Amritsar.

In March, Shah faced the wrath of Patidars again, when people believed to be from the community threw eggs at his cavalcade when the BJP president was travelling from Ahmedabad to Somnath.

Anandiben unhappy?

According to BJP insiders, Anandiben Patel has also decided to stay away from the September 26 meeting.

It is hardly a secret that the former Gujarat chief minister is yet to come to terms with her sudden removal from office over a year ago, when the party leadership replaced her with Amit Shah loyalist Vijay Rupani.

Tuesday’s meeting is considered significant as its success would have great bearing on the fate of the BJP’s two yatras in October.