Congress Stirs in Gujarat After 15 Long Years
AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: There is visible worry within the BJP as despite the constant ridicule, Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi got a warm and fairly enthusiastic response all across Saurashtra during his first campaign visit to poll going Gujarat. The itinerary followed what local leaders said was a “warm and intimate” strategy, with the Congress leader making several stops and meeting individuals personally.
The effort was to target the Patidars, and thereby help Hardik Patel make the expected dent in this community during the Assembly elections. Patel himself was called in while Rahul Gandhi was touring the state, for talks with the Gujarat BJP leaders. According to his camp the talks were not successful as there was no assurance from the state government on “our primary demand for reservation for the Patidar community in jobs.”
The other demands--- such as withdrawal of cases against Patel and his colleagues, action against those who attacked them during the Patidar stir, financial compensation and government jobs for those injured in the stir and the families of the three killed, and the setting up of a Patidar aayog to oversee the economic welfare of the community---have been broadly accepted. But the talks have not been successful and Hardik Patel continues, at least so far, to campaign for the Congress party that is expected to party with 3- plus Assembly seats for him.
Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani has not been very enthusiastic about working out an alliance with the Congress party for these polls reportedly. However they are in touch and optimistic of his broad support. Talks are on with the OBC leader Alpesh Thakor who with his Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena (GKTS) has been expanding fairly rapidly. Thakor is playing for higher stakes and more seats from the Congress party. He claims to have a strong organisation, with grassroot presence and a polling infrastructure in over 135 of Gujarat’s 182 Assembly constituencies.
For the first time, however, Rahul Gandhi will be focusing on a strong campaign and several visits to Gujarat before and after the elections, of course, are announced, GST. demonetisation, petroleum hike, joblessness are the issues he and the Congress campaign will focus on. For the first time old leaders like Shanker Sinh Vaghela are out of the picture with Rahul Gandhi operating with a younger team, closer to his style and views. Interestingly Gujarat is perhaps the first Assembly where he will be working with his own team, and not hand-me-downs from the party organisation.
The team that has been entrusted with the campaign includes Siddhartha Patel, Jagdish Thakor, Bharatsinh Madhavsinh Solani (PCC president as well), Shaktisinh Gohil amongst others. As the Congress leaders are not tired of saying, “this time we have a golden opportunity to win the elections as the people are angry, and visibly upset. The Modi shine has diminished.”
Yes or no will only be known after the vote, but there is enthusiasm in the Congress ranks matched by worried brows in the state BJP. Most admit that there is a problem because of the downward trend in the economy, but are of the view that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be able to bring back the voters when the campaign starts.