Gujarat polls: Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel seeking ticket allocation is start of Congress' problems

The two youth leaders are now on the same side of the political aisle.

 |  4-minute read |   18-11-2017
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The Congress’s cup of woes may have finally runneth over. Now as the party is in the final phase of shortlisting the names of candidates for the first phase of Gujarat Assembly polls, Hardik Patel’s team and Alpesh Thakor had a bitter argument in Delhi during the negotiation meeting on Friday.

The unwieldy situation at the meeting is just the beginning of a really tightrope that lies ahead for the Congress in managing these two heavyweights. The meeting on Friday evening was about finalising the list of candidates.

While Hardik Patel has maintained that he is not looking to contest any seat himself, it is an open secret of sorts that he is negotiating with the Congress to field several Patidar candidates and will put his might behind them. Alpesh Thakor is holding out the same deal with the Congress, albeit he has formally joined the Congress and Hardik Patel has not.

alpesh-body_111817025259.jpg Hardik’s basic premise of seeking reservation is a deep repugnance of the OBCs, who he claims have dominated the jobs and education seats, leaving out the Patidars in key positions, especially in government posts.

In August 2015, when Hardik first rose to prominence, he had held a rally in Ahmedabad, where lakhs of Patidar youths had poured into the city following his cry seeking reservation for the community under the OBC quota. Violence followed in the city, in which 14 youths lost their lives in police firing. At the time, Hardik and his teammates had made categorical allegations that the police force is dominated by the OBCs, who harbour a dislike for the Patidars and therefore targeted them.

Five years ago, Thakor formed the Kshatriya Thakor Sena - an outfit of young Thakors who form a big chunk of the OBCs - to fight alcoholism. Despite reservation, a major chunk of Thakors are quite backward and suffer from extreme alcohol addiction. According to Alpesh, Thakors alone form about 22 per cent of Gujarat’s electorate. This claim is disputed by both the parties. The OBCs, however, comprises around 52 communities in Gujarat. Around the time that Hardik rose to prominence, Alpesh extended his Kshatriya Thakor Sena to include all OBC communities, SCs and even STs and formed a new outfit called OSS Ekta Manch.

On January 26, 2016, five months after Hardik’s massive show of support, Alpesh organised a similar massive rally in Ahmedabad, which was attended by lakhs. He brought together these various communities initially on the agenda of alcoholism. But in this and following public rallies, he openly opposed the Patidars’ demand for reservation under the OBC quota claiming the community was fairly affluent and could never qualify as "backward".

hardik-body_111817025308.jpg

The genesis of this dislike also lies in the caste hierarchy at village levels, where the Patels are generally land owners and the OBCs are mostly farm labourers and are engaged in other unskilled jobs - essentially the oppressor and oppressed respectively. It was after the January 26 rally that Alpesh came into the limelight and was taken seriously in political circles. Hence, it was not his anti-alcohol activism, but his anti-Patidar rhetoric that got him the attention.

With this backdrop, now analyse the current situation of the Congress. The party has already inducted Alpesh as a full-time leader, who accompanied Rahul Gandhi during his latest three-day Navsarjan Yatra in North Gujarat. Much to the chagrin of long-time Congress leaders, he has been attending Congress’s high-level candidate finalisaiton meetings.

At the same time, Congress leaders are keenly wooing Hardik as well. Even if he doesn’t formally join the Congress, his outside support will draw Patidar votes, or so the Congress sincerely hopes. Patidars have been a very loyal voterbase of the BJP in the past two decades. If the Congress can even divide the Patidar votes, the damage for the BJP would be quite real. Patidars are believed to constitute nearly 18 per cent of Gujarat’s electorate.

Cut to Friday evening, when Hardik and Alpesh are now on the same side of the political aisle, haggling for the same pie, not the OBC quota, but Congress tickets for seats in the 182-seat Assembly. Political observers chuckled at the ungainly showdown that was waiting to happen and is, in fact, only a beginning.

The Gujarat unit of Congress also claims it has worked out a formula through which it can offer reservation to the Patidars under OBC category, without reducing the existing quota, but that is yet to be made public. Not in an enviable position at all, clearly, the Congress wants to have its cake and eat it too.

Also read: Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel can't swing Gujarat polls for Congress

Writer

Jumana Shah Jumana Shah @jumanasamkit

Jumana is deputy editor of India Today in Gujarat. She has done political reporting from the state for nearly 10 years.

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