Hours after denouncing the Congress “the same as the BJP”, young Gujarat leader Hardik Patel has announced that he will continue to back the party despite a behind-the-scenes dispute over how many candidates he is allowed to field in next month’s election. The Congress, he said, has offered an acceptable solution for how to include Patels as beneficiaries of affirmative action policies. That is his one-point agenda, he said, and it entails “doing my utmost to defeat the BJP”.
Here are the 10 latest developments in this big story ahead of Gujarat elections:
- Hardik Patel has been urging his powerful Patidar caste to support the Congress. But the affiliation ran into trouble this week over the Congress’ reluctance to give his outfit, the PAAS, a substantial number of seats to contest. PAAS, or Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, reportedly wanted 12 seats. So far, they have been given just one.
- Though Hardik Patel says he “does not want even one seat”, he says “the Patel youth must get due representation” – a political euphemism for wanting more candidates.
- The negotiations saw PAAS workers turning violent on Sunday night and vandalized the Congress office in Surat alleging “improper representation”.
- The tussle over seats has also led to fissures between PAAS. Hardik Patel said today that the Congress and he are now on the same page about PAAS candidates, and said he alone should be treated as the organization’s spokesperson.
- The Patel community, 14 per cent of Gujarat’s voters, has backed the BJP for decades. But galvanized by Hardik Patel, who launched a mass campaign two years ago, it now wants to be included in the castes that benefit from affirmative action policies.
- Because the BJP has failed to do so, Hardik Patel has vowed to work with the Congress to oust it from power. He reiterated today that he will not, however, “join any political party for the next two and a half years”, a pledge designed to fend off criticism from within his community and others of selling out to the Congress for political power.
- The Congress has committed to an extensive survey to determine which castes are under-represented and “educationally backward” and therefore merit a guaranteed share of government jobs and state-run colleges, said Hardik Patel at a press conference today.
- Hardik Patel’s demand is for his caste to be included as an Other Backward Classes or OBCs. If the Congress agrees to that, it risks alienating OBCs whose leaders like Jignesh Mevani say their own share of quotas would be reduced. Hardik Patel claims that the Congress will create a “special category” that will assign quotas to Patels without affecting the OBCs’ piece of the pie.
- How important the Patels are: a third of the BJP’s current legislators in Gujarat are from the community. Nine ministers in the outgoing government are also Patels.
- Gujarat will vote on December 9 and 14. Results will be announced on December 18