Hardik appointed Gujarat Cong working president
The Congress party has appointed Patidar (or Patel community) leader, Hardik Patel, 26, as the working president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, perhaps the first time the 135-year-old party has appointed a person so young to such a key position.
The move is aimed at injecting some fresh blood into the Gujarat Congress that has been out of power for three decades in the state, and which recently saw a wave of defections.
A commerce graduate, Patel hit the headlines in 2015 when he became the face of upper caste dissatisfaction against the BJP government in the state, seeking reservation in educational institutions and jobs for a once-dominant agrarian community.
With no political background, Patel was able to mobilise crowds that challenged then chief minister Anandiben Patel’s rule. The violence and protests that ensued led to sedition charges against him but also established him as a man whose Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) was an entity that major parties had to reckon with. Ahead of the elections in December 2017, Patel officially campaigned for the Congress party; he joined it ahead of the Lok Sabha polls last year.
”30 years we have been in exile (in the state). I want to travel to 12,000 villages in Gujarat to tell people to forget the mistakes that Congress made, to just give us one more chance,” Patel said over phone soon after his appointment. The Congress was in power since Gujarat was formed in 1960, but has failed to come back to power since Madhav Singh Solanki lost to Chimanbhai Patel in 1990.
“We need to reach the people in the state. There are so many issues they have, and we need to highlight how this current government is inefficient,” he added.
A senior Congress leader in Delhi said on condition of anonymity that the appointment was also meant to ensure that Patel wouldn’t walk over to the BJP like Alpesh Thakor, the OBC leader who joined Congress around the same time as Patel; he switched over to the BJP last year.
Other than Thakor, the party has seen a string of exits and crossovers to the BJP. Ahead of the Rajya Sabha polls last month, three legislators quit while five others did so in March.
Patel’s appointment is also part of the Congress’ efforts to address the concerns of the young, a party leader said.
“Hardik isn’t just popular in Gujarat but has nationwide appeal among the young. His priorities are jobs and youth issues and these are in perfect unison with the Congress party’s . This (his appointment) part of the new plans we have for the party,’’ said Rajya Sabha MP, Rajeev Satav who was part of the team that worked on the Gujarat polls.
The BJP was dismissive about the impact of Patel’s appointment. “He has never been a factor in the state,’’ said BJP’s Mukesh Dixit. “The Congress has a paucity of leaders in the state and that’s why they had to go with him. The Patel community is just 16% in the state so how can he make that much of a difference?’’
While the Patels are a minority, they are politically influential. The BJP did win the 2017 elections despite Patel campaigning for Congress, but it was with a significantly reduced margin of 22 seats (it won 99 while the Congress won 77).
Now with the BJP, Thakor was much more muted in his response to his peer’s promotion in his former party. “I can only wish Hardik Patel luck in this new assignment.”