Gujarat Congress leaders push for ‘experienced’ state unit chief

In meet with Rahul Gandhi, signal resistance to Hardik Patel’s bid to be PCC president

Rahul Gandhi with Gujarat Congress leaders in New Delhi. (PTI)

Several senior leaders of the Gujarat Congress are learnt to have told Rahul Gandhi on Friday that they are in favour of an “experienced” leader being appointed as the next state party president to lead the party into Assembly elections next year, signalling that there is resistance to Hardik Patel’s bid to become the GPCC president.

Rahul met 23 Gujarat Congress leaders, his first such interaction with them in a long time. He and Raghu Sharma, newly appointed AICC leader in charge of Gujarat, first met the leaders together and then individually. Sources said that among the names suggested for the post of PCC president were former state Congress presidents Shaktisinh Gohil, Bharatsinh Solanki and former Lok Sabha MP Jagdish Thakor. According to sources, many leaders proposed the names of legislators Virji Thummar and Punjabhai Vansh for the post of Leader of Opposition.

The indication from the party high command was that the leadership change in the state could be announced around Diwali. Sources said the leaders insisted on individual meetings with Rahul when he asked whether they would like to have an open discussion.

Earlier this year, GPCC president Amit Chavda and Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly Paresh Dhanani submitted their resignations following the party’s poor performance in the state’s local body elections. Sources said most of the senior leaders felt the party should be led by an “experienced” leader at this juncture, who can take everyone along and cobble together an alliance with some local parties.

The indication was that the senior leaders have joined hands to block Patel, who is now a working president of the Gujarat Congress, from becoming the GPCC president. Patel, on the other hand, reportedly enjoys the confidence of the central leadership.

Both Patel and Jignesh Mevani, who announced “full support” to the Congress last month, met Rahul separately and left early since they had to attend a function organised by Kanhaiya Kumar, who recently joined the Congress, in Patna.

Rahul, sources said, asked the leaders to work unitedly and organise a “chintan shivir” to galvanise the party and make it ready for the elections. After the one-on-one meetings, Rahul and Sharma went to Rajasthan Bhawan, where he had lunch with all the senior leaders.

Asked whose prospects seemed strongest for the GPCC and Leader of Opposition posts, a leader said: “Who would not want to occupy these posts? While we are not aware of what they said individually to Rahul Gandhi, two-three names emerged in the common discussion. A decision will be taken by the party high command in the next three-four days.”

Among those who met Rahul were: Chavda, Dhanani, Gohil, Patel, Mevani, Arjun Modhwadia, Siddharth Patel, Tushar Chaudhary, Naran Rathwa, Amee Yagnik, Deepak Babaria, Gyasuddin Shaikh, Shailesh Parmar, Virji Thummar and Punjabhai Vansh.

The Gujarat Congress has seen a downward spiral since the 2017 Assembly elections with several MLAs switching to the BJP. It suffered a rout in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections and performed badly in the subsequent Rajya Sabha polls, Assembly bypolls and local body polls.

The Congress had appointed Chavda (45) as GPCC president in early 2018, replacing veteran leader Bharatsinh Solanki.

However, the Congress could not win a single seat in Gujarat in the Lok Sabha elections. In July 2020, Hardik Patel was made the working president, while Chavda remained state party president. Cracks, however, emerged during the 2021 local polls when Patel claimed that he was not given any rally to address by the party.

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