Ahmedabad: Three young Gujarat leaders who earned their stripes in the Assembly polls held late 2017 are now facing a vastly-changed scenario as the Congress and the BJP take on each other for the state’s 26 Lok Sabha seats.
Patidar quota spearhead Hardik Patel, young OBC MLA Alpesh Thakor and Dalit legislator Jignesh Mewani are not contesting the general elections and their respective roles in the campaign has also changed.
They had managed to sway the masses with their anti-establishment and caste-based narrative in the Gujarat Assembly polls, helping the Congress rise from 54 to 77 seats, and pulling down the ruling BJP to a precarious majority of 99 seats in the 182-member House.
Patel led a widely-patronised quota stir with his Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) while Thakor, as a reaction to the former’s stir, emerged as an Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader.
Mewani, an Aam Aadmi Party worker, meanwhile, managed to funnel public anger over the assault on Dalit youths in Una for skinning a dead cow and emerged as the voice of the community.
The three gravitated towards the Congress, with Thakor managing to win from Radhanpur and Mewani as an Independent with Congress support from Vadgam in the 2017 Assembly polls.
Patel did not take the poll plunge at the time but declared support for the opposition, campaigned extensively against the BJP, and got tickets for his PAAS colleagues like Lalit Vasoya from Dhoraji.
Presently, Thakor is no longer part of the Congress, upset that he and his supporters were not given tickets for the Lok Sabha polls.
Mewani is trying to build a national profile for himself and has spent the last three weeks out of Gujarat, busy campaigning for CPI candidate Kanhaiya Kumar in Begusarai in Bihar and actor-turned-politician Prakash Raj from Bengaluru Central Lok Sabha seat.
Patel joined the Congress in the presence of its chief Rahul Gandhi but a conviction and two-year sentence in a rioting case has put paid to his hopes of contesting the Lok Sabha polls this time.
The change in circumstances for the three young leaders has got the BJP in an aggressive mood with claims that the trio stood exposed on getting covert Congress support for their agitations.
“Hardik was the design of Congress. He has been exposed now after he joined the Congress party. The Patidar community would have defeated Hardik if he had fought polls this time, but the court (verdict) has saved him,” Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said.
BJP spokesperson Prashant Vala claimed Hardik has lost credibility with the Patidar community after speaking about not entering politics and then joining the Congress.
“Hardik had time and again said he would not join politics, but used the quota agitation to enter politics. The Patidar community now knows the truth. We have been saying for years that Hardik was a mask of the Congress,” Vala alleged.
Mewani was a “brother” of Hardik who has also been exposed because of his “extreme anti-development views”, Vala claimed.
He refused to speak much about Thakor and said the BJP was not in touch with the OBC leader.
The Congress, on its part, said Hardik’s entry into the party will bring it advantage while Thakor’s moving out will have no impact.
“The BJP can say anything but Hardik is a star campaigner for the Congress and his joining us will be an advantage for us,” Congress spokesperson Himanshu Patel said.
“On Thakor, I would like to say that one or two persons leaving the party will not affect us as this is an election between two ideologies,” he added.
“Mewani is also with us. The situation might be different for the three leaders now, when compared to 2017, but it will not go against the Congress,” Himanshu Patel said.