After some tough posturing, Patidar leader Hardik Patel on Thursday blinked and said that he would support the Congress in the coming Assembly polls in Gujarat.
He said that he will support the Congress as the party is “openly supporting Patidars.”
For days the 24-year-old quota activist has held out from publicly backing the state’s main Opposition party, demanding that it explain how it plans to meet the Patel or Patidar community’s demand for reservation in government jobs and colleges if it comes to power in Gujarat.
Though the Congress hasn’t met his demand on reservation yet, Mr Patel said that he has been telling members of his community that they have to vote the BJP out of power.
Mr Patel, who cancelled his scheduled meeting with Mr Gandhi, has been having backroom discussions with Congress leaders over the last several days. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is on a three-day election tour of Gujarat.
Questioned as to whether this means he will seek votes for the Congress, the Patidar leader said: “People are intelligent. When I tell them to vote the BJP out, they know who to vote for.’’
Rejecting allegations of a sell-out, he said those objecting are not real Patels, but have been propped up by the BJP. He accused the state’s ruling BJP — the Patels’ party of choice for years — of betraying the community by not acceding to its quota demand.
At least six Patel organisations have accused Hardik of turning their reservation stir political for personal gains, and say it’s not certain that he will be able to deliver a big chunk of Patel support for the Congress.
The Patidar leader is known for changing his stand and Congress sources say that he could still change his mind under pressure. Senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal could visit Gujarat next week to negotiate with Mr Patel, possibly to find a legal way out on the reservation issue, they added.
Under the existing reservation plan, OBCs, who are about 40 per cent of Gujarat’s population, have 27 per cent reservation. In addition to this, Scheduled Castes have seven per cent reservation and Scheduled Tribes 15 per cent. This means that Gujarat already has 49 per cent reservation, one per cent less than the maximum reservation the Supreme Court allows.
The Congress is wooing young leaders like Mr Patel and Alpesh Thakore who represent communities that have been agitating against the BJP government in Gujarat. Dalit leader Jignesh Patel has declined the party’s offer to join it.
Elections to the Gujarat Assembly will be held on December 9 and December 14, and results will be announced on December 18. The BJP has been in power in the state for the last 22 years and has this time it has set a target of winning 150 of the state’s 182 Assembly seats. The Congress is hoping that anti-incumbency sentiment will help it sweep the state.
Meanwhile, Mr Gandhi, continued to play the soft Hindutva card during his visit to the state. He visited a temple in Surat on Thursday, and when questioned about his frequent visits to temples in Gujarat, he said, “Kya mujhe mandir jaana mana hai (Am I not allowed to visit temples?)”.
On his three tours so far in Gujarat, Mr Gandhi has visited a series of temples, including the Dwarkadheesh and Chotila temples in Saurashtra. Critics allege that Mr Gandhi is indulging in “soft Hindutva” in a state seared by communal riots in 2002.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also in Gujarat.