From left: Hardik Patel, who led the Patidar agitation in Gujarat; Alpesh Thakor, a prominent OBC leader in the state; and Jignesh Mevani, who is leading the charge against Dalit atrocities in the state. Photo: Mint
From left: Hardik Patel, who led the Patidar agitation in Gujarat; Alpesh Thakor, a prominent OBC leader in the state; and Jignesh Mevani, who is leading the charge against Dalit atrocities in the state. Photo: Mint

Gujarat elections: Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani, Alpesh Thakor key to Congress’s poll strategy

BJP, meanwhile, is pinning hopes on NCP, Shankersinh Vaghela's Jan Vikalp and AAP to cut into Congress's vote share in Gujarat elections

Ahmedabad: The upcoming Gujarat elections may well turn out to be a contest between three youth leaders and a trio of hopeful outliers. If the Congress is moving closer to weave an election strategy where it can rope in the three youth leaders of Gujarat in its attempt to defeat the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling BJP is pinning its hopes on three non-BJP, non-Congress parties that are contesting the polls in a bipolar political landscape.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Jan Vikalp and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) that have announced their plans to contest the upcoming state elections in December are likely to help the BJP by cutting into anti-BJP votes, according to political experts.

Key to the Congress strategy are three young leaders.

The first is Alpesh Thakor from the powerful other backward classes (OBC) community, who joined the Congress in the presence of party vice-president Rahul Gandhi at a rally in Gandhinagar on Monday.

The second, Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, tweeted on Tuesday that he would meet Rahul Gandhi during his next visit to Gujarat and that the entire country would take notice of it.

The third is the powerful Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, who tweeted on Tuesday that he had met All India Congress Committee (AICC) general secretary Ashok Gehlot on Monday and that “very soon you all will get the big end BJP’s misrule everyone will have to come together".

The three youth leaders have come out against the state government on various issues—from demands for caste reservation to protests against atrocities on Dalits —and have said in the past that they would work to defeat the BJP in the assembly elections which are to be held on 9 and 14 December.

OBC, Patels and Dalits make about 60% of Gujarat’s population and their votes are crucial for any party to win the elections.

Meanwhile, the BJP is reworking its poll strategy under the leadership of party president Amit Shah who is currently in the state, said two party officials in know of the development. The party is also finalizing its first list of candidates, they added.

The NCP, which had an alliance with the Congress in 2012, is contesting the elections on its own this time, focusing on the Saurashtra region that sends as many as 52 legislators to the 182-member assembly. The two MLAs of NCP had voted for BJP candidates in the Rajya Sabha polls held in Gujarat in August, defying a party whip to vote for the Congress party candidate.

In addition, ex-Congress leader and former chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela who was expelled from the party with a few others after they voted for the BJP in the Rajya Sabha elections, has joined the Jan Vikalp party in a bid to offer a new political alternative.

“The voters of NCP are mainly from Patel community while Vaghela’s Jan Vikalp will draw OBC and Kshatriya (caste) voters. The new entrant AAP is wooing urban and Patel voters. They are all likely to ultimately help BJP by cutting anti-BJP votes which would have otherwise gone to Congress," said a BJP official, who did not wish to be named.

The BJP is hopeful that these three new entrants will help recreate the political landscape of 2012 when former chief minister Keshubhai Patel-led Gujarat Parivartan Party —floated to fight the BJP —ended up helping the ruling party by eating into the anti-BJP votes, particularly in Saurashtra.

Gujarat’s political narrative has been bipolar with the Congress and BJP as the two main contenders in the last two decades and attempts to build a third front have floundered.

“These parties who are trying to open a new front in Gujarat will cut anti-BJP votes although it is too early to gauge their impact. Parties like NCP and Jan Vikalp, however ,don’t have strength that can decisively change the results. I think their outcome would be similar to GPP’s performance in 2012. AAP does not have any strong leaders in Gujarat and it is a party that is yet to emerge here. It could cut some anti-BJP votes in urban areas," said Ghanshyam Shah, a retired Jawaharlal Nehru University professor and a Gujarat-based political analyst.