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Gujarat polls: Rahul brings Jignesh Mevani on board. Can Cong manage this coalition?

Akash Bisht | Updated on: 3 November 2017, 22:50 IST

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi met Gujarat Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani in Navasari on Friday to discuss the grand old party's stand on the demands raised by the latter. Soon after meeting the Gandhi scion, the Dalit leader said that 90% of his demands have been met and then joined Congress' Navsarjan Yatra from Navasari along with the Congress vice-president.

This has come as a huge boost for Congress which was hoping to get Mevani's support to tap into the Dalit vote bank that constitutes 7% of the state’s population. Interestingly, the young Dalit leader had submitted a list of 17 demands related to his community. Some of Mevani's most prominent demands include giving five acres of farm land to Dalits, alternate source of livelihood for those involved in skinning of dead cattle and a probe into 2012 Thangadh firing in which three youth from the community were killed.

Mevani had earlier dubbed BJP as “anti-Dalit” after it refused to give in to his demands resulting in the Dalit leader testing waters with the grand old party. The young Dalit leader who rose to prominence after the Una flogging incident had earlier shot down Congress' proposal of joining the party and said that he would never join any party but expressed his willingness of meeting Gandhi and working with the main Opposition party.

Hardik plays hardball

Similar to some of the ambitious demands made by Mevani, particularly that of providing five acres of farmland to Dalits, Patidar leader Hardik Patel too had made a list of demands which have put Congress in a tight spot. Both the leaders had clearly stated that their support to Congress would depend on the party's response to their demands.

Experts feel that by easily giving in to their demands, Congress could be creating a monster which would hold Congress to ransom if they somehow manage to secure majority in the upcoming Assembly elections. According to them, what makes Congress' job trickier is that if it accepts Hardik's demands, it would end up antagonising Alpesh Thakor who is dead against any changes in the existing OBC quota.

Moreover, they feel providing five acres of agricultural land to Dalit families is simply too ambitious and unrealistic. Moreover it might anger landed communities like Patels.

“Hardik's demand of reservation for Patels is neither legally nor socially justified. By taking support of the likes of Hardik and Mevani, Congress is creating a monster which will make their lives miserable if they are voted to power,” said Ahmedabad based political analyst and former JNU professor Ghanshyam Shah.

At present, out of Gujarat's six crore population, OBCs constitute 40% while Patel population stands at 12%. To meet the 50% reservation cap as set by the Supreme Court, the state government has provided 27% quota in jobs and education to OBCs followed by 15% for Scheduled Tribes and 7% for Scheduled Castes (SCs). All put together, the final tally stands at 49%, just 2% below the bar set by the apex court.

In order to attract the Patidar support, the grand old party has promised 20% reservation in jobs and education to the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs) through a constitutional amendment if voted to power. This has sort of mellowed down Hardik who said that he will support Congress for its support for Patidars.

However, another political analyst Prakash Shah is of the opinion that in case Congress gets the majority it will work out some sort of compromise and much would depend how Hardik and Mevani position themselves in such a situation. “Congress is certainly creating a monster that will come to haunt it if voted to power. However, considering the brilliant minds working in the party, they will give enough room to both Hardik and Mevani and a compromise should be reached,” he said.

The Congress is carefully holding negotiations to ensure it doesn't end up antagonising any of the communities it seeks to get votes from. “A promise of reservation to Patidars would enrage the OBCs which could hurt Congress and that is why they are treading carefully not promising anything to anyone. After all for the first time in the last two decades, Congress has some hopes of returning to power,” said Ghanshyam Shah.

Meanwhile, sources have informed that Congress leaders have assured Hardik of roping in constitutional experts and lawyers to find a solution. “Senior Congress leader and eminent lawyer Kapil Sibal has been roped in for the purpose and he is expected to hold dialogue with Hardik in the next few days,” said a Congress leader on the request of anonymity.

Balancing act

The possibility of looking at the Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu model of reservation is not being ruled out. In both the states, the state government have passed bills to raise the reservation ceiling above the one directed by the Supreme Court. In Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu, the reservation for backward communities stands at 54% and 69% respectively.

Meanwhile, both Ghanshyam Shah and Prakash Shah concede that whatever be the outcome of the polls, Congress will certainly emerge stronger and that its massive rallies will certainly translate into votes. According to Prakash Shah, “BJP certainly has an edge because of its organisational prowess and Amit Shah would see to it that he fields as many independent candidates to split anti-BJP votes. He is a smart operator.”

However, he goes on to add that two things are clear from the reports on the ground: “One is that Congress will emerge stronger and that the BJP for the first time in the last two decades looks nervous.” Adding to it, he said, “Narendra Modi's winning formula has been mandir and mandal but now mandal seems to be slipping away from his grip. The formula of Mandal and Mandir has fallen apart and this is a vital blow to BJP's poll chemistry.”

In order to consolidate anti-BJP votes, Congress is also planning to carry out parikrama of seven districts and seek suggestions and feedback of people before coming out with the final draft of its manifesto.

Senior party leader Madhusudan Mistry has been tasked to visit these seven districts and hold discussions with people from all walks of life, particularly farmers, traders and women, and include their demands in the manifesto to ensure it has an all round representation In this high prestige battle for Gujarat, which could also set the precedent for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, each and every counts and Congress seems to be in no mood to not ride on this widespread angst against the BJP.

First published: 3 November 2017, 22:50 IST