Congress gets a shot in the arm in Gujarat after Hardik Patel comes on board
After months of dilly-dallying, suspense and drama, the Congress and Patidar leader Hardik Patel struck a deal Wednesday, just in time for the upcoming Gujarat Assembly election. Patel claimed the grand old party has agreed to provide reservations to Patels in jobs and college admissions if voted to power.
Though he did not specifically ask the Patidars to vote the Congress, Patel did say that since the main opposition party is talking about the rights of the community, it should be left to the people to chose who to cast their votes for.
The party will bring in a legislation in the state Assembly on reservations for Patidars, Patel told the media in Ahmedabad. "The Congress has agreed to our demands to give Patidars reservations under Section 31, and provisions of Section 46,” the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader said.
A draft proposal for reservation to Patels has been prepared after consultation between PAAS and the Congress; the formula will not be confined to Patels alone, he said. Also, the existing 49% reservation for scheduled castes and tribes as well as other backward classes will not be tinkered with, Patel said.
This comes as a major boost for the Congress that is hoping to secure a share of the Patel vote that constitutes 12% of the state population and can influence results in the 60 of the 182 seats in the state. The grand old party is hoping that a deal with Hardik will help them end BJP's 22-year rule in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's home turf.
However, it remains to be seen how Congress manages to fulfill its promise considering that the Supreme Court in 1992 had set a ceiling of 50% reservation for all communities. In such a scenario, if the Congress does try to bring in a legislation, the chances of it being challenged in the apex court remain high.
Recently, the Supreme Court rejected the Rajasthan government's plea to provide reservation to Gujjars which would have otherwise raised the reservation ceiling beyond 50%. Under these circumstances, it is unlikely that the apex court will entertain the Congress' plea of providing further reservations to Patels in Gujarat.
Meanwhile, Congress leader and senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, who was negotiating with PAAS on behalf of the party, did not spell out the details of the formula agreed upon.
“As far as the formula is concerned, they (PAAS) will only give you the details. In the next few days, details would also be shared about how it will be done according to the Constitution. However, we are happy that a joint alliance will fight together against BJP and that the people of the state will finally see an end to BJP's 22-year rule,” he said.
When questioned about the 50% ceiling in reservations and the recent rulings of the Supreme Court, Sibal said that it's too early to think about this.
“First we have to fight elections and win. Thereafter, we will have to think how to go about it. We have given a suggestion to them and when we suggest something, there is a lot of thinking behind it. I think this sums it up and let's see what happens,” Sibal added.
Meanwhile, soon after Hardik's press conference, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel addressed the media and accused the Congress of making a fool of the Patidar community on the issue of reservation. The deputy CM accused Hardik of speaking “Congress' language” and that the reservation does not have constitutional validity.
Responding to these accusations, Sibal pointed out that it was the BJP who had been fooling the Patels for the last 22 years. He said, “BJP has been fooling the people of the state for the last 22 years. I want to ask them about who filed sedition case against Hardik Patel after the Patidars began their agitation. They have nothing to do with Constitution, they should not even speak about it.”
When asked about the controversial tweet by actor-turned-politician Paresh Rawal, Sibal said that even the prime minister before 2014 was using such language and that BJP's ministers continue to do so on a daily basis. When reminded that it was the Congress' youth wing's tweet that started it, Sibal yet again accused the prime minister of using such language before the 2014 polls.
“Their leaders have been making such statements which yet again reflected when someone said I will cut fingers. Congress doesn't use such language. Their only aim is to divide people, make controversial statements and show fake dreams and win elections,” Sibal pointed out.