Congress president Rahul Gandhi will be launching the party’s campaign in Gujarat on April 15 from Asrana, near Rajula, in the Patidar-dominated Amreli district of the Saurashtra region where the party won most of its seats in the 2017 Assembly election.
The Congress chief is expected to address political rallies for three days in the state.
In 2017, the party managed a good show in the region largely owing to the mobilisation of Patidar votes by Hardik Patel, who brought his community’s people together in the quest for reservation in government jobs and admissions in higher educational institutions.
At the time, the ruling BJP found itself on the back foot as it could not fulfill the demands of the Patidars in a manner that satisfied them. As a result, a split occurred in the Patidar community, which until then had been the backbone of the BJP, having played a vital role in bringing the party back to power in the state in 2002 as well as keeping it in power since for two-and-a-half decades. The Patidars even supported the BJP government despite its stalwart Keshubhai Patel having been unceremoniously removed from chief ministership in 2001 by Narendra Modi, who hailed from a community with no significant share in the state’s population and no mass base. And this was a;; thanks to veteran BJP leader L K Advani, who threw his weight behind Modi after the BJP lost two Assembly seats in the 2001 bypoll after the January 2001 Bhuj earthquake.
The 2015 Patidar quota agitation by Hardik came as a blessing in disguise for the then ailing Congress to revive its fortunes.
Now, having made substantial inroads into the Patidar community, the Congress is working hard to further consolidate its support base in this important segment of voters by launching its parliamentary election campaign in the state from the Patidar heartland.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too is also launching his political rally in the state from Junagadh in Saurashtra region as the BJP is trying to mobilise OBC (Other Backward Classes) communities such as the Kolis and Ahirs, following the exodus of Patidar voters from the side of the ruling party. In the past one year, the BJP inducted several influential Congress Koli leaders into the party and also gave them plum portfolios in the government, like in the case of Kunvarji Bavaliya.
Speaking to The Indian Express, state Congress president Amit Chavda said that the party had requested Rahul Gandhi to also address rallies in south, central and north Gujarat regions on April 18 and 19 or any of the two days between April 18 and 21, as polling is scheduled for April 23 in the state and all campaigning must end at 5 pm on April 21.
In the run-up to the Assembly elections in 2017, Rahul Gandhi had visited more than two dozen temples in Gujarat, and this is said to have blunted the BJP’s Hindutva edge. However, this time party leaders are not sure if the Congress president will visit temples. The Congress managed to increase its tally from 59 MLAs in 2012 to 77 in 2017, shattering the dream of BJP president Amit Shah to win more than 150 Assembly seat