NEW DELHI: The crowds are surging for 24 year old Patidar leader Hardik Patel across Gujarat. The youth are flocking to him, as is his community with the response all across the state enthusiastic and vocal. And to leave little room for doubt about his electoral plans Patel today welcomed the arrival of Congress leader Rahul Gandhi to Gujarat with a tweet.

This took speculation of a possible Patel-Congress alliance to another level altogether, with even Congress leaders in Delhi confirming that the talks between the two for the forthcoming Gujarat polls were at an “advanced” stage. And that the party was more than willing to part with 25-30 Assembly seats for the Pattidar leader who himself will not be contesting the elections.

BJP chief Amit Shah responded to this bonhomie by launching a frontal attack on Rahul Gandhi at the meeting of the party natioanal executive. He was also reacting to Rahul Gandhi’s speech at Berekely, and spoke again of the Congress party’s dynasty politics. However, Shah was unable to silence the political buzz that has been growing since Hardik Patel’s tweet, seen by many political observers here as an endorsement of the Congress in Gujarat.

Rahul Gandhi has arrived in Gujarat for a three day campaign for the polls. He is kicking off the Congress election campaign from Saurashtra that is home o 58 seats, and also the Patidar community that is coming out increasingly behind Hardik Patel. His tour includesDwarka, Jamnagar, Morbi, Rajkot and Surendranagar — all areas that witnessed large-scale Patidar strikes under the leadership of Hardik Patel.The Congress vice president will also visit Morbi, worst hit by the earlier Patidar stir.The strategy is clearly to consolidate this vote with the Congress and Hardik Patel set to form a loose alliance for the elections.

The state government has not given permission for the planned open jeep campaign and so Rahul Gandhi will be moving in a bus. There is visible excitement in the Congress camp with spokesperson Shaktisinh Goyal telling reporters, “This is for the first time in nearly three decades that a tall Congress leader is campaigning non-stop for three days. In 1991, the late prime minister Rajiv Gandhi stayed in Gujarat for two days for campaigning.” Sources said that the yatra will take the Congress leader through constituencies of the 14 MLAs who defected to the BJP earlier in a bid to neutralise them.

The Congress will not be projecting a local face as the Chief Minister for these elections. That will emerge later, sources said adding that the BJP too will be focusing entirely on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as their star campaigner.

Opposition leaders such as Janata Dal(U)’s Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal chief Lalu Prasad Yadav and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee are expected to campaign for the Congress and its allies after the Election Commission announces the polls. This announcement is expected any week now.

The Congress campaign will focus on demonetisation, GST, Petroleum Prices, keeping the debate economic, and according to leaders here, and hard hitting to capitalise on what the party assesses as ‘anger’ against the ruling dispensation. This will be backed by an aggressive social media campaign that has already started with Rahul Gandhi’s visit today with senior leaders and the spokespersons joining in what sources claimed would be a “Twitter storm”.

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  • Amit Shah addresses 2,000 leaders of BJP in Delh

  • Rahul Gandhi wrong to say dynastic politics is Indian culture: Shah

  • That is a Congress tradition, says Shah, attacks Congress for graft too

Rahul Gandhi has it all wrong - dynasty or family connections in launching careers is "a tradition of the Congress and not of India", NDTV has learnt BJP chief Amit Shah said today, responding to the Congress Vice President's controversial remarks at Berkeley in California last month.

Mr Gandhi, whose family is the pivotal force of the Congress, told students "this is how India works" when he was asked about dynasty politics. He also cited a list of Indians who have inherited their family's legacy to contend that he should not be singled out for benefiting from his last name. Among those offered as evidence by Mr Gandhi: the Ambanis, Abhishek Bachchan and several politicians like MK Stalin and Akhilesh Yadav.

Mr Shah's rebuttal was offered in his opening remarks at a huge conclave of the BJP in Delhi attended by 2,000 leaders including 13 Chief Ministers and the party's state and national law-makers.

Mr Gandhi at the Berkeley session also accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government of eroding secularism and promoting intolerance. The BJP chief, who is the Prime Minister's closest aide, responded today that while Mr Gandhi has no problem criticizing the Indian government in a foreign country, the BJP's record speaks for itself. "Look at the huge corruption while the Congress was in power," Mr Shah said, referring to the many swindles in sectors ranging from coal to telecom that erupted with the collusion of government officials when the previous Congress-led government was in power. "There has not been one charge or corruption against the BJP in the last three years," Mr Shah said.

His other comments emphasized the BJP's plans to expand its foothold in the northeast and the south.