New Delhi: Almost two weeks after Congress’ young leader in Gujarat, Hardik Patel voiced his discontentment with the state leadership, his next move is still not clear. At the same time on May 5, a Gujarat court sentenced independent MLA Jignesh Mevani, who has been supporting the Congress, to three months in jail in a 2017 case for taking out an azadi march.
Both of these developments, when seen through the lens of how it affects the Congress especially as Gujarat is heading for an Assembly election later in 2022, seem consequential.
Hardik Patel, a young Patidar leader had lent his support to the Congress in the 2017 Assembly elections. Mevani too had become an ally and the Congress had left the Vadgam seat for him.
The election saw the Bharatiya Janata Party’s seat share plummeting as the party won 99, losing 16 from its previous tally of 2012. At the same time the Congress won 16 more seats, giving a tough fight to the BJP and ending with 77 seats. The contributing factors to this gain were considered to be Patel and Mevani.
Patel, who had led the quota stir for the Patidar community in 2015 demanding benefits and status under the Other Backward Class (OBC), was thought to have brought in the community’s votes.
Interestingly, in February 2022, the Gujarat Congress released its “Dwarka Declaration” during its chintan shivir (brainstorming session), which was a blueprint to win 125 seats in the 2022 Assembly elections. During the three-day event, Patel had called for launching an agitation over issues concerning people, especially the youth, to bring about a revolution in order to unseat the AAP.
With a clear-cut idea of how he wanted to go about raising the issues, Patel had said: “If you want to bring about awareness among the youth, win their confidence, agitation is a way to do it. The unemployment rate during the Narendra Modi regime is the highest in the past 45 years. Around 30 years ago, the population of the state was almost half as compared to today’s and yet 5.10 lakh (government) servants were there. At this rate, 11 lakh people should be in government service today. So, presumably, seven lakh posts are vacant. We can mobilise around 21 lakh people over this issue…”.
Political analyst Rasheed Kidwai told India Ahead that Patel, who has removed the Congress reference from his Twitter bio, serves as an example of how idealism and ambition gets frustrated with new, young leaders of Congress. At the same time, he says Congress’ biggest opponents – the BJP and now even the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – have worked out a strategy to poach the big and brightest names.
“Hardik came from a movement. But his value system and world view are different from the Congress…Those who are politically young are far more pragmatic and goal oriented. Earlier Congress would have an orientation programme. Even people like Mani Shankar Aiyar or Rajesh Pilot had to go through it. The present Congress has removed such hurdles,” Kidwai stated. He added that with it comes the problem of not sharing the same ideals.
So, can Patel be stopped from leaving Congress if he believes it has no future? The recent news is that Congress MP Rahul Gandhi has reached out to Patel. Can he stop another leader from leaving its ranks, even as three-time MLA Ashwin Kotwal, from Gujarat’s Khedbrahma Assembly seat, became the most recent party leader to leave. He joined the BJP on May 3.
India Ahead reached out to Patel but are yet to hear from him.
If there’s anyone who can perhaps convince the Gujarat Congress Committee Working President Patel to stay, it would be Gandhi. Patel’s tweet history shows he usually likes to retweet the Gandhi scion’s musings. Also, when in March of 2019, Patel joined the Congress, Rahul Gandhi was present, placing a tricolour scarf on the young leader.
Patel had then made his intentions known to contest from the Jamnagar seat for the Lok Sabha elections. While he didn’t eventually contest the 2019 elections, this year would have probably been the year for entering electoral politics. In the Lok Sabha seat of Jamnagar, there are seven Vidhan Sabha seats. They are Kalavad, a SC reserved seat, Jamnagar, Jamnagar North and South, Jamjodhpur, Khambhaliya, and Dwarka.
According to reports Rahul Gandhi asked Patel to remain in the party, and also asked the party in charge and other leaders to reach out to him to sort out the differences. India Ahead also reached out to Gujarat Congress President, Jagdish Thakor, but are yet to hear from him.
With Patel miffed, Congress stands to lose a leader who would have brought in the Patidar votes, and pave the way for the BJP or even the AAP, which after its win in Punjab is trying to make inroads into Gujarat. AAP is making its voice heard in the state which is the home turf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah. There are rumours that Patel may jump the Congress ship and join the AAP.
While the Gujarat Congress should be working on strategising and creating an army of leaders to push for promises to be heard by the masses, and like Patel said, to inform the people what the BJP has not delivered, it instead has to firefight to ensure that people stay.
In case of Mevani, a Dalit rights leader from Vadgam constituency, losing him to prison or court cases could further push the Congress into the abyss.
The case where Mevani has been ordered to three months in jail, includes nine others. Another Congress leader Kanhaiya Kumar was also one of the accused in the case but was not present during the time of framing of charges. Hence, the court had ordered for a separate trial against him.