AHMEDABAD: The Congress in Gujarat, which has a target to win as many as 14 out of 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat, is pinning its hopes on the three youth leaders Alpesh Thakor, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani to take on the BJP in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah.
Thakor, a Congress MLA from Radhanpur, is set to contest from Patan constituency in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections while Patel is likely to contest from Amreli Lok Sabha seat, said a senior Congress leader in the know of the party’s strategy. Mevani, is an independent MLA from Vadgam is set to contest from Kutch or Ahmedabad West seat as an independent, according to the leader.
Mevani could not be reached on his phone however a close aide of the leader said that plans are afoot for the Dalit leader to contest in the upcoming elections.
Patel, who turned 25 last year and is now eligible to contest elections, has held meetings with Congress MLA from Amreli Paresh Dhanani who is also the leader of Opposition in the state assembly.
“I will do whatever is necessary to raise issues of farmers and youth. I haven’t on whether to contest or from where to contest," Patel said over the phone.
Another Congress official said that the Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Patel is looking to contest elections as an independent and would get outside support from the Congress who would not field any candidate from the Amreli constituency. Earlier there were plans that Patel would fight from Mehsana but a court order bars him from entering Mehsana.
As per the Congress’ assessment it can win about Lok Sabha 8 to 11 seats going by the party’s performance in the 2015 local elections and 2017 state elections.
The three youth leaders had helped Congress in the 2017 state elections by raising issues of employment and farm distress.
“We aim to win one seat more than the ruling BJP in Gujarat," said Manish Doshi, Congress spokesperson. Refusing to comment on the party’s plans for any specific candidate, Doshi said the party is supporting the three youth leaders in their fight against BJP.
Earlier this week, Congress president Rahul Gandhi approved the formation of various committees to handle the party's poll campaign for Gujarat's 26 Lok Sabha seats.
Congress in charge for Gujarat, Rajeev Satav, has been made the chairman of the coordination committee having 36 members which includes state party chief Amit Chavda and senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel.
Interestingly, first-time MLA Thakor, who belongs to the powerful other backward classes (OBC) community, has been given place in all the seven party committees for Gujarat.
“The Congress is also looking to join hands with NCP in Gujarat but it all depends on how the alliance between the two parties is decided at the national level," said the second Congress official.
Former Gujarat chief minister Shankersinh Vaghela recently joined the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) at Gandhinagar in presence of party chief Sharad Pawar. He has been made the NCP's national general secretary. Vaghela has for a long time led the Gujarat Congress and has also served as leader of Opposition for the party before quitting it in 2017.
For the 2017 Gujarat elections, the Congress formed a rainbow coalition of the three youth leaders comprising Patel, Thakor and Dalit leader Mevani. While Thakor joined the Congress, Mevani fought as an independent from Vadgam with Congress support. Hardik Patel did not officially join the Congress but he asked his supporters to defeat the ruling party by voting for the Congress.
Congress did not succeed in defeating the BJP, however the ruling party faced one of its toughest electoral challenges in Gujarat in the last two decades. The Congress party managed to win 79 seats in the 2017 state assembly elections, up from 61 in 2012.
The BJP, which won all 26 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha elections is meanwhile leaving no stone unturned to repeat the feat. In a blow to the state Congress, as many as two Congress MLAs have left the party and joined BJP in Gujarat. They blamed infighting to be a major reason for leaving the grand old party.