Congress hopes to counter BJP with Patidar card

Informal talks with people close to Hardik Patel are on to enlist the support of the Patel community, which comprises 20 per cent of the voters
Keen to dislodge the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has been ruling Gujarat for 19 years, the Congress is hopeful of getting Hardik Patel to join it. A popular face of the state-wide Patidar movement, Patel is expected to strengthen the party’s anti-saffron party movement.

Polls to the 182-seat Gujarat Assembly are to be held by the end of the year.

According to sources, informal talks with people close to the leader are on to enlist the support of the Patel community, which comprises 20 per cent of the voters. Besides, the Congress is also trying to work out similar informal pacts with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani and OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, who shot into the limelight recently while espousing the cause of their respective communities. Significantly, the new player, the Aam Aadmi Party, is also trying to bring in these community leaders to gain a foothold in the western state.

Hoping to reassure the tribals, whom the BJP is trying to woo, the Congress has tweaked its strategy for the community, which has backed the Opposition party for decades. Instead of a tribal awareness foot march, the Congress is launching a reach-out programme for the community starting with the first rally at Khedbrahma, near Ambaji temple on Monday. Four more rallies will be held over the coming days. Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi is expected to attend the rallies during the last leg.

Gandhi has already deputed Siddharth Patel, son of former chief minister Chimanbhai Patel, to connect with the Patel community leaders and try to bring as many of them into the fold. In areas where the community leaders owe allegiance to Hardik Patel, the Congress would be open to let the rebel leader play.

The fallout of the Patel unrest is a cause of worry for the BJP too though party chief Amit Shah is bullish on retaining his home state. Miffed over former chief minister Anandiben Patel’s handling of the Patel movement, which turned violent, the BJP had replaced her with Vijay Rupani in 2016.

Congress leaders said, besides the widespread anger against the BJP among the Patels, the other communities too have been at the receiving end of the party for decades. The poor social development indicators, too, are a cause of concern for the BJP despite the image of a developed state enjoyed by Gujarat for long.

After its alliance with the Samajwadi Party failed to stop the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, Gandhi is keen to disrupt the party’s onward march in Gujarat as a defeat in PM Modi and Shah’s home state would send out a strong message nationwide. However, that is easier said than done. The Congress lacks a popular face in the state, needs to curb infighting and launch an aggressive campaign to reverse its fortunes in Gujarat. In comparison, the BJP has already decided to play the polarisation card by naming Hindutva poster boy and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as its star campaigner.



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