Will support Congress in Gujarat, says Patidar leader Hardik Patel
Patidar leader Hardik Patel told Hindustan Times he was assured by senior Congress leaders of support for the community’s demand for OBC status – guaranteeing quotas in jobs and education.GujaratElection2017 Updated: Oct 27, 2017 08:29 IST
Patidar leader Hardik Patel said on Thursday that he would support the Congress in the Gujarat assembly elections, providing a shot in the arm for the opposition party aiming to wrest power from the Bharatiya Janata Party which has ruled the state for 22 years.
The 24-year-old Patel told Hindustan Times he was assured by senior Congress leaders of support for the community’s demand for Other Backward Classes (OBC) status – guaranteeing quotas in jobs and education.
In an exclusive interview, Patel, who leads the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), said he was scheduled to meet Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi during the latter’s Gujarat visit between November 1 and 3.
“I am sure (that) in that meeting he will promise OBC status if the Congress is voted to power in Gujarat. After that, the PAAS will declare its support to the Congress for the upcoming assembly elections,” Patel said.
OBCs comprise 146 castes and make up around 40% of the state’s population.
They 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.
When asked how he was certain the Congress would back the Patidar demand for OBC status, Patel named the party’s Gujarat in-charge Ashok Gehlot among senior leaders who had promised him the same.
Gehlot would only tell Hindustan Times that the Congress would announce its policies and programmes in the manifesto but state unit chief Bharatsinh Solanki asserted that the party last year announced its commitment to 20% reservation for “upper classes”. “Once our government is formed, we will pass a resolution in the state assembly and then take it to Parliament,” Solanki added.
Extending quotas to the Patidars might be difficult. Last year, the BJP-ruled state government had given 10% reservation for the poor among non-reserved castes – a move aimed at placating the Patidars – but the Gujarat high court struck down the provision. The judiciary had said that the move violated the Supreme Court’s cap of 50% on reservation.
“The Congress promise is an election ploy because it is not possible constitutionally,” said BJP spokesperson Jaynarayan Vyas. “PAAS has disintegrated. It cannot be said the entire community will support the Congress.’’
But Patel appeared confident and said he was assured the Congress would do it constitutionally. “If the Congress complies with the directions or conditions on the basis of which the high court quashed the status given to Patidars, then there is no problem,” said senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde.
Hardik’s support will boost the Congress which is trying to stitch together a coalition to take on the BJP in the prime minister’s home turf. Earlier this week, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor – an opponent of the Patidar quota demand – joined the Congress at a mega rally by Gandhi.
But Hardik, who is too young to fight elections, ruled out joining the Congress and said none of his PAAS members would fight on the opposition party’s ticket.
The Patidars – a community of farmers, traders and diamond merchants – comprise around 12% of the state’s 60 million-odd population and hold sway in at least 60 of 182 assembly seats.
The Patidars have been a loyal BJP votebank but have seen a downward slide in their economic fortunes with the decline of agriculture and sluggish job growth.
(With inputs from Aurangzeb Naqshbandi in New Delhi).