The Congress had given both Hardik Patel and Mr Mevani an open invitation to join the party.
New Delhi: High political drama continued till late on Saturday night surrounding the Gujarat polls. Just as the Congress seemed to have moved a step closer to establish a mega front against the BJP by securing support of the influential leader of the Patidar commuity Hardik Patel, the saffronites struck back by snatching away Mr Patel’s key aides — Varun Patel and Reshma Patel. Both joined the BJP late this evening and went on to describe Hardik Patel as a “Congress agent”. Varun Patel and Reshma Patel were among the prominent faces of the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and remained critical of the ruling BJP during the agitation.
The dramatic turn of events came hours after Hardik Patel declared his support for the Congress. His key aides joined the BJP after a meeting with Gujarat chief minister Vijay Rupani, deputy chief minister Nitin Patel and state party chief Jitu Vaghani during its parliamentary board meeting, which was also attended by BJP president Amit Shah. Immediately after joining the BJP, the Patel aides targeted their former leader and were all praise for the BJP.
“This agitation was not Hardik Patel’s alone. He is now acting like a Congress agent. Varun and I are of the opinion that the BJP would definitely fulfil our demands,” Reshma Patel said.
Earlier in the day, the battle for Gujarat seemed to be tilting in favour of the Congress as the party had managed to stitch up a mega front against the BJP comprising all the three influential community leaders — Hardik Patel of Patedar community, Gujarat’s Dalit face Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor. In fact Mr Thakor had just announced his decision to join then Congress. Hardik Patel’s moving over to the Congress camp had created a flutter in the BJP as the ruling party had been working relentlessly to woo the Patidars and the community’s influential leader. As BJP failed to win over Hardik Patel, it successfully drove a wedge in his camp.
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who held parlyes with top Gujarat party leaders, Ashok Ghelot and Madhav Singh Solanki and Mr Thakor will be in Gujarat on Monday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the best bet for the ruling BJP will also be rushing to Gujarat on Sunday. With the Election Commission taking its own time to announce Gujarat poll dates, the Prime Minister plans to inaugurate and lay the foundation stone for a number of projects in Bhavnagar and Vadodara districts. This will be Mr Modi’s third visit to Gujarat in a month.
In the afternoon, the Congress had given both Hardik Patel and Mr Mevani an open invitation to join the party. The Congress also invited like-minded parties and leaders including Aam Aadmi Party and Chhotu Vasava, a tribal deader and JD (U) MLA close to Sharad Yadav. Mr Vasava had supported Congress in the Rajya Sabha elections held in August. Congress was “hopeful” that AAP could join hands with them before the polls. The party also kept the doors open for the Sharad Pawar-led NCP despite the fact that it had ditched the Congress in the Rajya Sabha polls.
Top Congress leaders Ashok Ghelot, state election-in-charge, and Bharat Singh Solanki, state unit chief, on Saturday reached Delhi to meet the Congress vice-president. Mr Thakor, who accompanied the Gujarat Congress leaders met Mr Gandhi on Saturday evening and announced his decision to join the party.
Mr Solanki also announced the party’s intention to offer Hardik Patel a Congress ticket “if he wants”. Technically, Hardik Patel cannot contest elections as he is underage. Hardik Patel himself said, “I cannot contest polls (He is 24 years old and the necessary age to contest elections is 25) and I will not contest.”
Hardik Patel also announced that he was “against the BJP” and “will extend issue-based support to the Congress”. He said: “If Congress supports our issues, we will support the party to the hilt.” The issues, Hardik Patel has been stressing on include reserrvation for Patidars, farm loan waiver and job creation.
Hardik Patel then said that it’s “not the Congress, but six crore Gujaratis who will fight against the BJP”. Lashing out at the ruling saffronites, Hardik Patel said, “BJP is only fooling and threatening people.” The Patidar community leader said that it was time for a BJP-mukt Gujarat.
For Congress, the proposed front with its caste combination looks impressive on paper. If Hardik Patel manages to pull majority of the 13 per cent of the Patidar community and if Mr Thakor could bring along the majority of the dominant OBC community (nearly 40 per cent) and Mr Mevani could attract a majority of the seven per cent Dalits, the front would comfortably win.
But, then, the mega-front is up against the personality and charisma of Mr Modi, who continues to remain the biggest draw in the state and an icon of “Gujarati pride”.