Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi (right) and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor during a rally in Gandhinagar, Gujarat
An unexpected turn of events since Sunday has added more colour to the political drama in poll-bound Gujarat. From newly inducted Patidar leaders Nikhil Savani and Narendra Patel quitting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to other backward classes (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor joining the Congress, political equations in the state are changing fast as the Congress is looking to take the fight to the ruling party.
With Thakor by his side, Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi, who has made a habit of taking digs at Prime Minister Narendra Modi in recent days, on Monday called the goods and services tax (GST) “Gabbar Singh Tax”. “Their GST is not the GST, but Gabbar Singh Tax,” he said in Gandhinagar, referring to the latest tax reform rolled out by the Modi government across the country.
Thakor’s addition to the Congress camp is significant as the community constitutes 14 per cent of the state’s population. OBCs as such make up 49 per cent of the population and are by far the most populous community here. Of them, Kolis are around 24 per cent (they are likely to vote for the BJP), while Maldharis 9-10 per cent (they are anti-BJP at present).
It is speculated that Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel met the Congress vice-president on Monday. However, the same could not be confirmed as Hardik himself has denied the meeting. Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki said a meeting between Rahul Gandhi, Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani had been postponed and might take place during Gandhi’s visit to the state in the first week of November.
The Congress is leaving no stone unturned to get the support of Jignesh Mevani and Hardik Patel, after Thakor’s induction into the party. Together, the three young leaders command a significant vote share in the state.
Political analysts like Vidyut Joshi point out the vote share difference between the BJP and the Congress had narrowed down to a mere 9 per cent, and garnering a few per cent more might swing the election results. “The Congress basically needs to gain 4.5 to 5 per cent votes more and that might make all the difference to the results. It is all the more possible now as this is the last leg of campaigning before the elections, and ‘waves’ created now will change the voting behaviour,” Joshi said.
In the 2012 assembly elections, the BJP’s vote share was 47.9 per cent against 38.9 of the Congress.
Hardik Patel’s aide and convenor of the PAAS (north Gujarat) Narendra Patel had alleged in a press conference on Sunday that he was handed over a bag of “token cash” at the BJP state headquarters in Gandhinagar recently and was promised another Rs 90 lakh for switching sides. A recent Patidar break-away, Varun Patel (who has joined the BJP), had mediated his meeting with the BJP state chief Jitubhai Vaghani. Hours after Narendra Patel’s press conference, another Patidar leader who had recently joined the BJP, Nikhil Savani, said he was “dismayed” upon learning that the BJP was offering money to opposition leaders. Savani, being hailed as the BJP’s new Patidar leader, quit the party on Monday saying it did not keep its promise to accept the Patidar community's demands.
The timing of these revelations is noteworthy and thus specualtions are rife in Gujarat political circles that a senior Congress leader might have pulled some strings from Delhi.
As for Mevani and Hardik, both have publicly said they would vote against the BJP. While Mevani's support might go to the BSP or the Congress, depending on seats, the situation is tough for Hardik as many PAAS workers are pro-BJP. Political analysts feel that the Patidar vote this time will be split 60:40 in favour of the BJP. Even then the Congress stands to gain with some additional votes from a community that has historically voted only for the BJP.