Of many prominent candidates in the fray in the second phase of the Gujarat polls are three young faces — Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani — who had played a key role in shaping the narrative of the 2017 state Assembly elections. Although even this time they are considered “star candidates” of their parties, the three leaders have largely remained confined to their respective constituencies for what is being called their “battles of prestige”.
In the 2017 polls, they had challenged the ruling BJP as caste leaders, and had been then dubbed as the principal Opposition Congress’s “HAJ” (for Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh) against the BJP’s “RAM” (Rupani-Amit-Modi). However, months before the current polls, Hardik quit the Congress to switch to the BJP, which Alpesh had done in 2019, and Jignesh formally joined the Congress.
Hardik, the face of the Patidar quota agitation, was the most vociferous voice against the BJP in 2017, asking the people to vote for the Congress, which he formally joined ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Days after falling out with the Congress on a bitter note in May this year, Hardik joined the BJP, which has now fielded him from Viramgam, his home town, in Ahmedabad district.
Hardik is however reportedly facing a stiff challenge in his constituency since many local party leaders and workers are discontent at being ignored by the party over someone who took it on earlier. Many of Hardik’s former colleagues in the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) are now also opposing him.
Hardik is pitted against the incumbent Congress MLA, Lakha Bharwad, who is considered a “silent force”. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has fielded Amarsinh Thakor from the seat, which is dominated by the Thakor community. Senior BJP leaders who campaigned for Hardik include Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Assam CM Himant Biswa Sarma.
During his campaigning, Hardik has projected himself as a young candidate whom the locals can approach like their son. He has also promised that he will make all attempts to get Viramgam declared as a district.
Unlike Hardik, this would be the third election for Alpesh Thakor. After emerging as a young OBC leader against the Patidar quota stir in 2015-17, Alpesh joined the Congress in the presence of Rahul Gandhi. He was elected as the Congress MLA from Radhanpur in 2017. In 2019, he cross-voted in favour of a BJP candidate in the Rajya Sabha election, following which he joined the BJP, which nominated him from the same constituency in the bypoll that he lost to the Congress’s Raghu Desai.
In the current election, sources said, Alpesh was again seeking the BJP ticket from Radhanpur. However, following strong opposition from the local party leaders, he was fielded from Gandhinagar South, where he is facing a high-profile Congress candidate Himanshu Patel. A Congress spokesperson and Patidar leader with a strong local base, Himanshu is posing a tough challenge to Alpesh.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah has campaigned for Alpesh, declaring that it was his as well as the sitting BJP MLA Shambhuji Thakor’s responsibility to ensure his victory.
The Congress’s prominent Dalit face Jignesh Mevani also seems to be facing a tough battle while seeking re-election from Vadgam. In 2017, Jignesh won the seat by defeating the BJP’s Vijay Chakravarty by over 19,000 votes. The seat dominated by the Muslim community is considered a Congress bastion, but Jignesh is facing three rival candidates this time, including the AIMIM’s candidate Kalpesh Sundhiya besides the BJP’s Manilal Vaghela and the AAP’s Dalpat Bhatia.
Vaghela was the Congress MLA in 2012 from Vadgam, but the party shifted him to Idar in 2017 to back the then Independent candidate Jignesh. Nursing a grievance, Vaghela eventually joined the BJP in April 2022.
During his campaigning, Jignesh has raised issues like price rise, paper leaks in government recruitment exams, healthcare, and remission of sentence granted by the BJP government to 11 men convicted of gang rape and multiple murders in the Bilkis Bano case.