On January 26, a massive convention in Ahmedabad threw the spotlight on Alpesh Thakor, 39, an OBC leader asserting his community’s identity in Gujarat. Although he insisted that the convention was not political — it was against liquor addiction — he has also founded a forum bringing together various OBC, SC and ST groups seeking to protect the reservation they are entitled to.
In a state that is already discussing Hardik Patel’s emergence as a leader of a new political generation, wary political parties have sounded their support for Alpesh’s campaign against liquor. He ended his speech with a declaration that in 2017, his community would decide the next chief minister. Alpesh does have a political connection — his father, Khodabhai Patel, is a Congress leader.
Alpesh hails from Endla village of Ahmedabad district, a few kilometres from Hardik’s Chandan Nagari. Alpesh says his occupation, apart from social work, is real estate and farming.
Five years ago, he formed Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena to rid the community of liquor addiction. It has 6.5 lakh registered members. More recently, he has founded the OSS (OBC, ST, SC) Ekta Manch. He estimates that Thakors form 22 to 24 per cent of Gujarat’s population, while the other communities in his umbrella group would take the total up to 70 per cent.
Two days before Hardik led a massive rally demanding OBC status for Patidars, Alpesh was part of an OBC rally opposing the Patidars’ demand.
“When the Patidar agitation came up, there was a strong feeling of insecurity among Thakors and other OBC, ST, SC communities that their right to reservation might be taken away directly or indirectly. And since our organisation had a cadre-based setup ready, it helped me bring communities together across the state to create a front to oppose the Patidar agitation, which was unfair and contrary to law,” Alpesh said.
He said the Kshatriya-Thakor Sena has committees in 7,000 villages. “We want to form similar committees in 15,000 villages by 2017,” he said. It was Sena cadres who helped organise the conclave against liquor addiction on January 26. His audience comprised 2 lakh members of his community.
Alpesh denies allegiance to any party but not that he has political ambitions. “My political ambition will be ensuring that proper candidates are elected to the assembly. I want to give a new political direction to Gujarat. I do not want to become anything, but want the people to be something,” Alpesh said. “I am neither going to contest elections nor going to join any political party. I will only make sure that marginalised communities vote for people who care for the poor, their needs and their plight.”
At the January 26 conclave, he did not touch on reservation. At the same time, he asked his audience to understand the importance of de-addiction in gaining political influence. Video messages of Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel and Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki were screened, both expressing support to the de-addiction initiative.
“We are supporting him on the issue of de-addiction, who will not?” Solanki told The Indian Express in reply to a question. “On political support, he (Alpesh) has not come out with any specific demand. When he does that, we will see.” The Gujarat Congress has in fact announced that it will bring a private member’s bill for 20 per cent reservation for economically weaker sections.
Gujarat BJP vice president I K Jadeja said the BJP supported Alpesh’s initiative against liquor since it was “social work”. Asked if he considers Alpesh important in state politics, Jadeja said, “He has launched a social campaign and it is not fair to gauge his political importance on that basis.”
“This emergence of youth leaders like Hardik and Alpesh is a manifestation of a leadership crisis in Gujarat after the departure of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah from state politics. Modi and Shah were accepted leaders, but now Gujarat has become a fertile ground for new leadership like Hardik’s or Alpesh’s,” said Ahmedabad-based sociologist Gaurang Jani.
“In Gujarat, we have never seen before the de-addiction issue being used for asserting political influence. There are many OBC communities but in this convention only the Thakor community was on centre stage. There was no mention of reservation and instead there was talk of the welfare of the Thakor community. So,” Jani added, “the focus has changed significantly.”