The refusal by Patidars to end their nine-month-long agitation, despite the Gujarat government announcing 10% reservation for economically backward classes of the general category, has given a ray of hope to the Congress ahead of the 2017 state elections.
Out of power in the home state of PM Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah for the past 21 years, the Congress is drawing up a comprehensive campaign strategy to dethrone the party in the polls scheduled for December next year. Chhabildas Mehta was the last Congress CM from 1994-1995. From 1998, BJP has been in power in the state for the past 18 years, of which Modi ruled for 12.
To start the process, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi are expected to address separate rallies in the state this month. As per the tentative plan, Sonia will address a tribal rally in south or central Gujarat while Rahul is likely to speak at a farmers’ gathering at Saurashtra.
The two leaders will target the BJP governments both in the state and at the Centre for their “failures” to work for the welfare of farmers and tribals. The state unit has already started mobilisation for the rallies. The Congress is buoyed by its impressive performance in the local bodies’ elections in rural areas in December last year when it won 21 of the 31 district panchayats.
The Anandiben Patel government faces heat over its handling of the Patidar quota agitation that political observers see as an attempt to undermine Modi’s Gujarat model on the plank of which he won the 2014 general elections.
The Congress is trying to woo 22-year-old Hardik Patel, leader of the quota agitation, who in February last year claimed that the opposition party will defeat BJP in the 2017 polls. Congress also did well in last month’s elections to the Gandhinagar municipal corporation, winning 16 of the 32 seats with the results throwing up a tie.
The state government’s reservation move has been rejected by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) spearheading the agitation. Hardik described the announcement as a “lollipop” to “misguide” the Patel community. Congress sources also said the party is planning to have a working president as state chief Bharatsinh Solanki has been unwell for some time. The move is to keep the party fighting fit for the upcoming elections.