The Congress got a shot in the arm on Saturday after Gujarat OBC leader and Ekta Manch chief Alpesh Thakor said that he would join the party on October 23 at a rally in Gandhinagar in the presence of Rahul Gandhi.
“Rahul Gandhi would be coming to our rally on Oct 23 and I will join the Congress party,” Thakor, who has emerged as the OBC face in Gujarat, said in New Delhi after a meeting with Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi.
With OBCs forming the largest, 40%, vote chunk in Gujarat, the news could not have come at a better time for the Grand Old Party, which would look to wrest the western state from the BJP in the upcoming elections.
“It is time to throw out the BJP in Gujarat. Unemployment is a huge problem with lakhs of youngsters without jobs, more than 74,000 farmers are neck deep in debt, illicit liquor flows freely in the state despite prohibition and education and health sectors are in a total mess,” Thakor said, adding, “Me, Hardik Patel and Jignesh are all going to join hands with the Congress party to defeat the BJP.”
Earlier in the day, state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki invited Patidar quota stir spearhead Hardik Patel, Thakor and dalit leader Jignesh Mevani to join hands with the party to defeat the ruling BJP. Solanki expressed confidence that the party would easily win over 125 seats, out of total 182, with the “support and blessings” of all these leaders and parties. “We stand by our proposal of keeping 49 per cent reservations for OBC, SC/ST intact and passing a resolution in the Assembly once in power to provide for 20 per cent reservations to other communities,” he had said.
Alpesh Thakor rose to prominence in 2016, when he opposed the Patidar reservation stir. In June, he had threatened to sit on an indefinite hunger strike if the Gujarat government did not announce a complete loan waiver for farmers in the state. Thakor, whose father, Khodabhai Patel, was a Congress leader, had also lent his voice against liqour addiction.
Reacting to the Congress invite, Hardik Patel, who has been publicly saying that he was out to defeat the “dictatorial and inhuman” BJP, said, “I am not here to contest elections and my age does not permit it, but other PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) members are free to do so”. “However, the Congress would have to first convince how they would meet our demand for reservations to the Patidars, otherwise it is only an election-oriented promise,” Patel told IANS.
Jignesh Mewani, on the other hand, said, “I am determined to defeat the BJP not only in Gujarat but also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Whether I will contest the polls for Congress or join the party will be jointly decided by Dalit organisations and leaders in the state.”
(With inputs from IANS)