New Delhi: Did Patidar leader Hardik Patel meet Rahul Gandhi at an Ahmedabad Hotel? There is CCTV footage of Patel entering and leaving the hotel where Rahul had checked in during his day-long trip to Gujarat. Accusing the government of snooping the opposition leaders, Congress election in-charge Ashok Gehlot said Hardik had a meeting with him and not Gandhi.
On the face of it, Hardik doing business with Congress leaders shouldn’t be a big deal. After all, in politics, enemy’s enemy is your friend. Patel is much more than that. Patidar leader spearheading the quota stir was put behind bars by the state government. He is now a sworn enemy of the BJP. But having already burnt its fingers once, Congress is treading with caution this time as it dabbles in Patidar politics.
In 2012, veteran Patel leader and former CM Keshubhai Patel rebelled to form his own party. If a division in Patidar votes could win Congress its first victory in Gujarat in two decades, it would have happened in the last assembly polls.
The Congress game-plan failed the last time around for two reasons. Firstly, Patels since Madhav Singh Solanki’s pulverizing victory in 1984 are well entrenched in the BJP. In fact, the community has been the backbone of BJP’s revival in Gujarat. So any attrition in the ranks and file is limited and temporary.
Secondly, since Patidars are socially and economically well off, they like any other intermediary agrarian community are politically vocal. Their voice thus is disproportionate to their numerical or voting strength.
Though the last caste census in India was conducted in 1931, roughly extrapolated, Other Backward Castes, which is an amorphous group of close to 150 communities in Gujarat, would constitute more than 40% of the electorate. That is more than thrice the Patidar population in the state.
That explains why Congress is overtly wooing this silent yet numerically dominant community in the western state and is making no bones about it. Alpesh Thakor was readily accepted by the party and Rahul Gandhi travelled to attend an OBC rally organized by Thakor in Ahmedabad.
Having publically aligned with OBC caste groups, it is but obvious now that both Congress and Hardik would not want to be seen courting each other to take on the BJP.
Patels were up in arms against the state government demanding reservations. This could have been done in two ways — either increase the quantum of quota or include Patels in the OBC list. The first option was legally untenable since it would have violated 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court. The second one would tantamount to Patels competing for a quota pie which has been exclusively reserved for the OBCs.
In fact, the rise of Alpesh Thakor as an OBC leader was seen as a challenge to any effective dilution in the reservation benefits for the community.
The social incompatibility of the two communities vying for the same quota pie makes it politically imprudent for the Congress to take along both OBCs and Patels. Moreover, coming out in open support of the Congress may dent Hardik’s appeal within the community to damage the BJP.
This explains why Congress in Gujarat has welcomed Thakor with open arms.
With Hardik, the association would have to be covert.
In other words, Congress wants Thakor to fetch votes. It is relying in on Hardik to engineer attrition in BJP’s core vote base.