Hours after Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki invited the three “Young Turks” of state politics, Patidar leader Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor, and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani, to contest the Assembly polls on the Congress symbol, Thakor met Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi and announced his decision to join the party.
Thakor indicated that Hardik, face of the massive Patidar agitation that shook Gujarat last year, and Mevani, too, would work with the Congress to defeat the BJP. The Congress is also in talks with the rebel JD(U) MLA Chhotu Vasava to forge an alliance.
After his meeting with Rahul — at which Solanki, AICC general secretary in charge of Gujarat Ashok Gehlot, and veteran Gujarat leader and political secretary to Congress president Ahmed Patel were also present — Thakor said the Congress vice-president would attend his rally in Ahmedabad on Monday, after which he would join the party.
“Day after tomorrow, October 23, Rahul Gandhi will attend our rally in Ahmedabad, and on the 23rd I will join the Congress. And in Gujarat, a government of the poor, backward and unemployed will be formed,” Thakor said.
“The (Gujarat) model which was highlighted to form the government at the Centre… you go and ask in Gujarat, where there are more than 7 lakh unemployed youths, where 74,000 farmers are indebted, where there is a ban on liquor but 10,000 to 15,000 people die every year because of alcohol, where the government education system has collapsed…,” he said.
“Abki baar Gujarat ke andar teen yuva jo jude hain, Congress ke saath jud rahe hain hum log, uske andar Gujarat ke gareebon, pichhdon aur Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani aur Alpesh Thakor… hum gareeb aur pichhdon ki awaaz hain, anyay, atyachaar ke (khilaf) awaaz hain… usko Congress party ne suna hain,” Thakor said.
“There will be attempts to scare us, at some places, we will be put in jail, but we are fighting for the truth. We will take forward the ideology of Babasaheb Ambedkar, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar saheb.”
All candidates of the Congress were now his, Thakor said. “I am going to join a big family… In that family we will work to ensure the victory of the 182 candidates.”
Earlier in the day, Solanki had claimed the Congress would win more than 125 seats in the Gujarat House. The state Congress president had driven to the state party office from his home in Borsad in Anand district to announce the invitation to Hardik, Thakor and Mevani on bhai dooj day, a holiday all over Gujarat.
Along with offering tickets to the three youth leaders, Solanki had also said that the “demands of Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor are reasonable, and the Congress supports them”.
Hardik has been demanding reservation in government jobs and higher educational institutions for the Patidar community.
“Both leaders, I hope, will give a positive response,” Solanki said. Asked if he had spoken with Hardik and Thakor, or sent them proposals, he said, “We are making the announcement only after we have talked to them.” He added: “I also invite Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani to join the Congress party’s vijay yatra (victory march).”
Following Solanki’s announcement, Mevani, convener of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch (RDAM), said he was yet to decide whether he would contest the elections. Hardik said on Twitter that he did not want to contest. In any case, he is not yet 25, and therefore, remains ineligible. Thakor was incommunicado all day before his meeting with Rahul in the evening.
BJP spokesperson Harshad Patel mocked the Congress outreach to the three youth leaders: “The leaderless Congress can’t fight on its own, and hence wants the support of others.”
Solanki said: “I appeal to the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, other PAAS activists and the Patidar samaj to extend their support to the Congress. I invite Hardik Patel to fight polls on the Congress symbol.” Hardik, Solanki said, had been “very positive towards the Congress”.
Thakor, the convener of the OBC, SC and ST Ekta Manch, had been “fighting for prohibition, farmers issues and equality in society, and he, too, is invited to contest the polls on the Congress symbol and be a part of the Congress vijay yatra for Gujarat’s navsarjan (renaissance)”, the state Congress chief said.
In the afternoon, Hardik tweeted: “Mujhe chunav nahin ladna aur chunav ladne mein hamaara swarth bhi nahin hai. Hame adhikaar chahiye aur nyay, hum ahankar ke saamne lad rahe hain. Jeet hamaari hogi. (I do not want to contest elections, and it is not my objective either. I want our rights and justice. We are fighting arrogance. Victory will be ours.)”
Mevani said it was obvious that political parties would approach him, but he was yet to decide whether he would contest and, if he did, on whose ticket.
“My andolan is not to become an MP or MLA. But it does not mean that I will not contest elections. I may or may not contest this year. I am yet to decide. Which symbol I will contest for will be decided by the Dalit community and its leaders. As for the invitation from Bharatji (Solanki), I have not been told anything personally. The (Congress) party has announced, but we have not interacted on this matter. As I said, the party I will contest elections from will be decided by the Dalit community. But even if I do not contest the polls, my struggle against the BJP will continue because my primary objective is the annihilation of caste and defeat of the Sangh Parivar and BJP,” Mevani said.
Both Mevani and Thakor are over 25, and, therefore, eligible to contest. Following his meeting with Rahul, Thakor, asked whether he would contest the elections, said, “That the party will decide. Whatever decision the party takes… but yes, we will fight for the poor, backward and unemployed, and strive to form a government which is honest and truthful and which protects the Constitution.”
Speaking at the Express Adda in Ahmedabad last month, Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani had dared Hardik, Thakor and Mevani to contest elections to get the real measure of their popularity. To a question on how he viewed the emergence of the three youth leaders, the Chief Minister had said, “Are they going to form a political party and fight elections? Only when they do, if they do, will it be clear whose popularity is how much.”
Solanki also showered praise on the lone JD(U) MLA in Gujarat, Chhotubhai Vasava, for supporting Congress nominee Ahmed Patel during the Rajya Sabha elections in August. The Congress, Solanki said, would have a seat-sharing arrnagement with the JD(U) in the Assembly polls, but gave no details.
Solanki also said the Congress’s doors were “not closed” for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). This was a change from the stance he had taken after two NCP MLAs voted against Patel in the RS election.
“I have read in the newspapers that NCP wants an electroral alliance with the Congress. We will reconsider the issue now. Our doors are not closed for NCP,” he said on Saturday. The Congress had seat-sharing arrangements with the NCP in 2007 and 2012, but had said after the Rajya Sabha polls that there would be no alliance for the 2017 elections.
Solanki also said that Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Dr Kanubhai Kalsaria had met Rahul Gandhi recently, and “Dr Kalsaria and several AAP leaders may soon join the Congress”.