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Hardik announces support for Congress after quota promise, BJP dismisses alliance

Hardik Patel’s support marks the success of the Congress’ efforts to stitch together a broad opposition alliance after protests by PAAS and rebels this week marred the release of the first list of candidates.

assembly elections Updated: Nov 23, 2017 07:20 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Hardik Patel,Reservation,Gujarat
Hardik Patel with Dinesh Bhambaniya (L) addresses a press conference in Ahmedabad on Wednesday.(Siddharaj Solanki/HT Photo)

Patidar leader Hardik Patel announced on Wednesday his support for the Congress in next month’s assembly elections in Gujarat, providing a shot in the arm for the opposition party trying to win the western state after more than two decades.

At a press conference in Ahmedabad, Hardik said his outfit Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) accepted the formula proposed by the Congress to provide quotas for Patidars and said he would campaign against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for “unleashing atrocities” on his community.

“We will work against the arrogant BJP government, which killed our brothers and beat up Patidar people,” he said, but ruled out joining active politics for at least the next 2.5 years.

Comprising 12% of Gujarat’s population and with potential influence over 60-odd of the state’s 182 assembly seats, Patels have traditionally voted for the BJP but are angry over being denied quotas in jobs and education. The community launched violent protests for quotas two years ago and has made the BJP jittery about its support for the first time in decades. “At least 65% of the Patidar votes will come to our party,” claimed Gujarat Congress spokesperson Kailash Kumar Gadhvi.

The BJP dismissed the alliance with a visibly angry deputy chief minister Nitin Patel saying, “Fools(PAAS) asked(for reservation), and fools(Congress) made promises’’. Nitin called Hardik a Congress agent and said the opposition party would use him until the elections and then discard him. “His (Hardik’s) mistakes have been forgiven considering him as a son, else so many like him have come and gone.”

Hardik’s support marks the success of the Congress’ efforts to stitch together a broad opposition alliance after protests by PAAS and rebels this week marred the release of the first list of candidates. Other Backward Class (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor, who opposed the Patidar protests, has joined the Congress while Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani has pledged to campaign against the BJP.

Implementing the quota might be difficult. In Gujarat, Other Backward Classes are given 27% quota in jobs and education. The scheduled castes have 7% and the scheduled tribes 15%, making a total of 49%, just under the 50% reservation cap set by the Supreme Court. An earlier formula proposed by the BJP, which gave 10% reservation to extremely backward classes (EBC) was struck down by the Gujarat high court because it violated the upper limit.

Hardik said if voted to power, the Congress had decided to give quotas to Patidars under article 46, protected by article 31C of the Constitution. Article 46 is a part of directive principles of the state policy and exhorts the state to promote the educational and economic interests of weaker sections. Article 31C protects laws made to implement the directive principles even if they violate fundamental rights. Congress leader Kapil Sibal thanked Hardik for his support but refused to give details of the reservation formula.

Union finance minister Arun Jaitley said the Congress and Hardik were deceiving each other and the public. “The Congress-Hardik club is one of mutual deception. Legally and constitutionally that (breaching the 50% cap) is not possible as the law stands today.”

Hardik appeared to have budged on whether reservation would be provided under the OBC or EBC section – a sore point in his negotiations with the BJP earlier this year. “The Congress after coming to power will do the survey required as per the OBC commission. The beneficiary group will be given name accordingly later on,” he said. But his claim of having consulted two top Patidar religious bodies – the Shree Khodaldham and Umiyadham – was dismissed by the outfits.

Garnering Patidar support might also be difficult. Hardik’s PAAS has split in recent weeks and several top leaders have joined the BJP, accusing Hardik of being a “Congress agent”.

“The agitation was to get OBC quota. The BJP government has met all other demands. So what new is the Congress offering that Hardik wants to support it?’’asked his former aide Reshma Patel who joined the BJP last month.

First Published: Nov 22, 2017 22:56 IST