Aggressive young Gujarat OBC leader Alpesh Thakore on Saturday announced he was joining the Congress, as state Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki urged firebrand Patidar spearhead Hardik Patel and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani to also join the party. The ruling BJP also got a boost as two leaders from Patel's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) shook hands with the party.
Thakore, who has emerged as a strong OBC leader along with Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mewani during the last two years, announced his move in New Delhi after an evening meeting with Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, and Rahul Gandhi.
Soon after, Varun Patel and Reshma Patel, Patidar leaders closely associated with the PAAS movement, joined the BJP, profusely praising the ruling party, which they suddenly found to have considered all their demands.
"We were fighting for the community and not working as agents of any political party or to broker their ambitions," Reshma Patel said. Asked if they were not acting as agents of the BJP, both claimed their fight right from the beginning was for the community and to support whoever backed the Patidars' cause.
Thakore, meanwhile, said he and his supporters would formally join the Congress at a massive rally in Gandhinagar on Monday. Rahul Gandhi will fly down especially for the rally.
"It is time to throw out the BJP in Gujarat. Unemployment is a huge problem with lakhs of youngsters without jobs, more than 74,000 farmers are neck deep in debt, illicit liquor flows freely in the state despite prohibition and education and health sectors are in a total mess," Thakore told reporters in Delhi.
He added, "Me, Hardik Patel and Jignesh are all going to join hands with the Congress party to defeat the BJP."
Reacting to the Congress invite to join and offer party tickets, Hardik Patel, who has been publicly saying that he is out to defeat the "dictatorial and inhuman" BJP and had once appealed to Patidars at large to grant the Congress an opportunity, said, "I am not here to contest elections and my age does not permit it, but other PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) members are free to do so."
"There is no talk of joining the Congress. I have said earlier also that the Congress would have to first convince us how they would meet our demand for reservations to the Patidars, otherwise it is only an election-oriented promise," Patel told IANS.
"Our agitation will continue even if the Congress comes to power if our demands are not met," he said, adding that he had maintained this several times.
PAAS leader Dinesh Bhambhania told a Gujarat TV channel, "A couple of ambitious people joining BJP or leaving the Patidar movement won't have any impact on us."
Jignesh Mewani, on the other hand, said, "I am determined to defeat the BJP not only in Gujarat in December 2017 but also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019. Whether I will contest the polls for Congress or join the party will be jointly decided by Dalit organisations and leaders in the state."
Congress state president Bharatsinh Solanki, meanwhile, also invited members of Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Dal-U and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form a broad political alliance against the ruling BJP for the forthcoming Assembly polls.
"Congress vijay yatra has begun. This yatra is moving towards over 125 seats. We want to invite the important factors in Gujarat these days - Hardik, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani - to come and join Congress in an endeavour to throw out BJP," Solanki told reporters earlier in Ahmedabad.
He said the Congress was open to Hardik Patel contesting elections in the future from its platform. "PAAS workers and leaders are also angry with BJP. We invite Hardik, PAAS workers, leaders and Patidar community to come and join Congress."
"We stand by our proposal of keeping 49 per cent reservations for OBC, SC/ST intact and passing a resolution in the Assembly once in power to provide for 20 per cent reservations to other communities. We will send the resolution to BJP-controlled Parliament and impress upon them to pass our resolution," he said, adding that Congress would resort to agitation if Parliament does not approve its proposal.
Solanki said his party would also approach the Supreme Court to ensure that its proposal for 20 per cent additional reservations is approved.