The spate of attacks in Gujarat against migrant workers from north India — a fresh wave was reported Tuesday — has pushed Congress MLA Alpesh Thakor and his party into a corner, with fingers being pointed at the alleged role played by the Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena (GKTS), an organisation he heads, in instigating the violence.
A video clip purportedly showing Thakor allegedly inciting people in north Gujarat to act against migrants has added fuel to the allegations against the Radhanpur MLA and the GKTS. “I have never asked anyone to drive away or attack migrants. Also, it is an old video,” Thakor said.
But he admitted that “there could be some instances” (of GKTS members being involved in the attacks). “I am not denying it. They will face punishment. However, that does not mean that the entire organisation is
responsible for it. This is a conspiracy to finish me and my organisation. After the fast, I will go to Bihar and instill faith in its people,” he said.
On Tuesday, as BJP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel asked the Congress to take action against its MLA, Thakor claimed that the allegations were part of a “conspiracy to defame” him, and threatened to resign and quit politics.
Thakor is also the Congress’s co-incharge for Bihar. The attacks against migrants broke out after a 19-year-old worker from Bihar was arrested for allegedly abducting and raping a 14-month-old girl in Sabarkantha district on September 28.
“After the rape incident, we did agitate to seek justice for the child. The state government accepted our demands (fast-track courts and compensation). Three days after that, the attacks started, and GKTS workers are being framed… There is no mass exodus of migrants, as is being portrayed. Most of the north Indian migrants go to their villages during this period of the year and come back after Chhath Puja,” Thakor said.
The OBC leader said he had written to the chief ministers of UP and Bihar, assuring them about the safety of workers from their states. He said he has also invited them for an indefinite “Sadbhavna Fast” that he plans to launch Thursday in protest against the “false allegations” against GKTS.
Apart from the BJP, Thakor is facing pressure from within the Congress, with senior leaders acknowledging in private that the party “has been very unhappy with him” over his failure in strengthening the organisation. “The latest controversy has worsened it. He has become a burden for the party,” a senior party leader told The Indian Express.
Officially, however, the party has defended Thakor with Gujarat Congress chief Amit Chavda backing the MLA and accusing the BJP government of failing to provide security to migrants. But Deputy CM Patel was quick to point a finger at Thakor and the GKTS, without naming both.
“Everybody knows what is happening and who is doing it. One can just meet a migrant who is leaving and ask him. You will get all the answers about who is threatening them. Instead of levelling allegations against us, the Congress should take action against their MLA. Now, even some Congress leaders are naming him as the one behind the attacks on migrants,” Patel said.
Thakor, 43, joined the Congress in the run-up to the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections. He had come to prominence in 2015 as an OBC leader opposed to the Patidar quota stir led by Hardik Patel. Thakor later raised various demands, including 85 per cent jobs for Gujaratis in the state’s industries, once even threatening to “lock down” the Nano car manufacturing plant near Sanand.
Thakor claimed the allegations were also an attempt to disrupt the Congress’s attempts to forge a Mahagathbandhan ahead of the 2019 elections. He said that they have come at a “difficult time” for him personally as his son is suffering from dengue and has been admitted to a hospital in Ahmedabad.
Asked about a reported phone call he received from Congress president Rahul Gandhi, sparking speculation of “internal strife”, Thakor said, “Rahul Gandhi had called me to ask about my son’s health. He (Gandhi) has full faith that I would never do something like this.” On Tuesday, in what appeared to be a damage-control exercise, the OBC/ST/SC Ekta Manch, another organisation floated by Thakor, sent its teams to the Ahmedabad railway station to meet migrants and assure them of their safety.