NEW DELHI: The Congress is apparently having a rethink on its strategy to rope in Hardik Patel ahead of the Assembly election in Gujarat to counter the BJP even as party managers continue to engage with the Patidar leader. While the talks between the Congress and Hardik are apparently stuck over the Patel quota issue, party leaders indicated that the rethink was prompted primarily by the growing skepticism over the Patidar leader’s ability to pull in votes.
According to Congress sources, feedbacks reaching the party headquarters show that only the poor among the Patels are supporting Hardik while the rich ones may still go with the BJP.
“Hardik has gained influence only because of a single issue, i.e., reservation for the Patel community. He is not a full-time politician. He might be gravitating towards supporting the Congress only because he hates the BJP,” said a senior AICC leader.
Senior Congress functionaries who are closely monitoring the Gujarat developments said the party had to take a hard look at whether Hardik would be able to swing the crucial Patel votes in its favour or was merely using his so-called clout in the community to strike a hard bargain.
Sources said while on one hand Hardik has been attacking the BJP publically, his supporters have been trying to cut a deal with the party.
“Hardik became a leader at a young age. He lacks maturity. We need to be careful in dealing with him,” a senior Congress functionary told The Sunday Standard. Another factor that has made the Congress wary is that accepting Hardik’s demand on reservation for Patels in job and education may antagonise other communities such as OBCs and Dalits. Gujarat OBC leader Alpesh Thakor recently joined the party, which is also wooing Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani.
Despite the rethink, however, the Congress continues its efforts to enlist Hardik’s support. After he made his support to the Congress conditional last week, state leaders of the party held a meeting with Patidar leaders to assess the demand for quota. As no clarity emerged during the talks, another meeting will be held next week before Hardik meets Rahul Gandhi.
Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki and state leaders Siddharth Patel and Arjun Modhwadia are discussing the issue with Hardik’s team. Sources said the Congress was also seeking legal opinion on Hardik’s demand as taking the reservation limit beyond 50 per cent would violate a Supreme Court order.
The Congress has so far refrained from agreeing to an OBC quota for Patels, saying it would instead offer them 20 per cent reservation under the economically backward category. “We had brought a Bill for the same in the Gujarat Assembly but the BJP rejected it. The BJP could have helped as it is in power at the Centre also,” Solanki said.