NEW DELHI: After a few days’ radio silence, on Saturday OBC Congress leader from Gujarat Alpesh Thakor laid to rest – for the time being – speculations that he would be joining the BJP. “I can stay without power but not without respect,” Thakor told the press, confirming that negotiations with the Congress leadership in Delhi preceded his announcement.

“I do not deny that I was unhappy with the Congress and with some people’s way of functioning… However, I don’t need to struggle within the party anymore,” said the 43-year-old who represents Radhanpur in the Gujarat assembly, which he helped the Congress wrest from the BJP in 2017 by some 15,000 votes.

Thakor’s public vacillation comes even as Hardik Patel, 25-year-old Patidar leader, formally joined the Congress party, telling a public gathering he did so because party president Rahul Gandhi is “honest” and “does not behave like a dictator”.

Thakor who was a star election campaigner for the Congress during the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections, rose to prominence in the state after his organisations the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena (Army) and the OBC, SC, ST Ekta (Unity) Manch tried to counter the Patidar Andolan led by Hardik Patel, and subsequently demanded more reservation for other OBCs in Gujarat.

Together with Hardik Patel and Dalit leader and MLA Jignesh Mevani, Thakor was considered instrumental in the Congress party’s much improved performance in the BJP’s bastion of Gujarat.

Thakor also made headlines last year when migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were attacked in Gujarat, the trigger being the alleged rape of a minor girl from the Thakor community by a migrant worker Bihari worker. Thakor was accused of fuelling the violence.

Early last February Thakor declared that his community was being ignored by Congress leaders in Gujarat, and that Thakors weren’t getting enough from the party ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. He also said the Congress was being run by “weak leaders”, an apparent shot at Gujarat Congress president Amit Chavda.

Sources close to Thakor told The Citizen that he hadn’t received a go-ahead from the party to contest from the Patan Lok Sabha seat in Gujarat, which is a Thakor stronghold. Also that the OBC leader was unhappy with the working of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee and its leaders, who he believes are not giving him much importance.

They claimed that Thakor was angling for a confirmed Lok Sabha seat from the Congress as well as a couple of other “favours” for his community ahead of the general election.

The BJP meanwhile has reportedly been showing keen interest in winning Thakor over to the party. A Congress functionary from Gujarat told The Citizen that Thakor was being approached by the BJP for months now, with lucrative offers including a Lok Sabha seat and a ministerial position.

“They have been trying to win over Alpesh for some months now with several offers for him, his organizations and his aides. It is comparatively difficult for us to match them owing to the social equilibrium we have to maintain within the party,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Thakor is aware that if he were to join the BJP, any dent in votes due to Patidars’ voting for the Congress might be compensated with OBC votes for the BJP.

The Congress has however lost two Gujarat MLAs to the BJP in the past month: Jawahar Chavda from Manavadar and Asha Patel from Unjha in Mehsana. Last week former Congress MLA and Patidar leader Surat Dhiru Gajera also resigned from the party along with his supporters.

Troubles seem unending for the Congress in the state, and losing Thakor would have been a blow even with Hardik Patel’s recent induction into the party.