NEW DELHI: Three young men, who have shown leadership qualities beyond their years. Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor were the major players in this election, checking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s juggernaut by placing obstacles that the big BJP players, and the media are still not willing to recognise.

One, all three started their campaign far before the Congress descended on the scene in any recognisable form. Hardik Patel with his agitation against rising unemployment that so unnerved the BJP that it had him locked up in jail, and then banished to Rajasthan. Thakor with a strong campaign addressing the backward community’s woes of livelihood and injustice. And Mevani who shot into prominence during the huge protest against the stripping of Dalits in Una, and kept up a strong campaign ever since.

Two, in the process the three leaders converged. Hardik Patel moved away from his right wing proximity on to the middle ground by speaking of a united Gujarat, and even earning criticism from the BJP for meeting minority leaders across the state. Jignesh Mevani moved out of just the Dalit ambit, to embrace the Muslims as well with his rhetoric progressive, and unafraid. The bonhomie between all has been apparent, with Mevani being the first to come to Hardik Patel’s defence when the sex video was released to damage him during the campaign.

Three, Thakor joined the Congress and won the elections. Mevani, after considerable thought decided in the last stages to fight as an Independent candidate from Vadgam, and won what was a tough battle. And Hardik Patel too young to contest himself, carried out an energetic campaign appealing to the Patidars to vote out the BJP. He did not ask for votes for the Congress, but made it clear that this had to be the alternative for those wanting reservation for the community.

Four, the three cut into the campaign of the BJP decisively, challenging PM Modi in his own state. This rhetoric established a) the BJP and PM Modi were not invincible; and b) Gujarat asmita rested with an united people and not with a particular individual or a political party. Besides they kept warning the people against attempts to divide them on communal lines that remained a constant refrain in their campaign. Hardik Patel also issued warnings about PM Modi’s personalised campaign, saying that the people should realise these elections were about issues and not personalities.

Five, all three showed exemplary courage and maturity despite being targeted by the BJP. Patel was sent to jail earlier, Mevani was attacked a few times including during the elections in his constituency and yet there was no hesitation in speaking out, against divisiveness and hate even if this meant taking on the Prime Minister.

It is clear that the Congress will continue its alliance with all three, as the 2019 elections approach. The very fact that Rahul Gandhi went to Mevani’s constituency, despite the resistance from the local Congress that had been made to vacate Vadgam for the Independent leader, demonstrates this. Mevani, however, has kept himself sufficiently free to work with all political parties at the national level although clearly new bonds have been forged between him and the Congress president.

Hardik Patel is also being dealt with directly by Rahul Gandhi who changed the candidates following an orchestrated show of petulance by Patel’s supporters about “wrong” Patidar candidates being selected by the Congress. They had damaged Congress property as a warning during the campaign, but the situation was quickly salvaged. Thakor is with the Congress party formally.

The BJP was unable to check these three from within Gujarat, despite trying to mount a communal attack against Mevani by projecting him as anti-Hindu; and insisting that Patel was working for the Congress party. Posters against them and a vicious whisper campaign was unable to damage their credibility as the results clearly show.

All three leaders can be expected to be seen in the forthcoming Assembly elections in other states, and will be working closely with the Congress party in the run up to the general elections.