With Rahul & Hardik’s support, firebrand Patidar Paresh Dhanani could be Gujarat’s new LoP
Having registered its highest tally in Gujarat since 1985, Congress has a tough task in hand in choosing who would be its Leader of the Opposition (LoP) and chief whip in the state assembly. What has made the job trickier for Congress is that its senior most leaders – Siddharth Patel, Shaktisinh Gohil, Arjun Modhwadia and Tushar Chaudhary – have all lost the elections.
In the absence of these stalwarts, it is being speculated that a young leader could be given the charge to lead the party in the newly elected state assembly. If the Congress high command is indeed thinking of
appointing a young leader than the obvious choice could be the firebrand Patidar leader from Amreli, Paresh Dhanani.
Considered close to Congress President Rahul Gandhi, 41-year-old Dhanani has proved his mettle by winning the Amreli assembly seat in Saurashtra for the second consecutive time.
Dhanani shot into fame in the 2002 Assembly elections when he defeated BJP heavyweight Parshottam Rupala in the middle of a Modi wave. He was only 26 years-old then. Thereafter, Dhanani lost the elections in 2007 by a narrow margin only to reclaim it in 2012 and 2017. Even in 2012, he defeated a BJP heavyweight Dilip Sanghani.
What could also work in Dhanani's favour is how he is being credited for decimating the BJP in Amreli district where the party won all the five Assembly seats. It would also help the Congress give prominence to the Saurashtra region, where it has done well in this election.
Rejuvenated after its recent show in Gujarat where the party won 80 seats, Congress is expected to infuse young blood in the state leadership which also reflected in how it successfully wooed three young leaders – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor – on its side.
The Grand Old Party is expected to keep wooing the young voters who seem to be disillusioned with BJP and Dhanani being a Pattidar could help the party in keeping the Patel voters in its fold. With Hardik firmly backing the Congress, Dhanani's appointment as Leader of the Opposition could send a strong message to the community.
Moreover, Dhanani is also the party's working president and was also being considered to be the party's choice for LoP after Shankersinh Vaghela quit. A Leuva Patel, Dhanani, was also being considered as the
party's chief ministerial candidate and he had the support of Hardik Patel.
Not only this, several Congress leaders, who this correspondent spoke to in the run up to the elections, heaped praises on Dhanani and how he has emerged as a vociferous voice in the party both inside and outside the Assembly. His aggression reflected in how he was even suspended from the House by the Speaker.
It is not yet clear what sort of understanding does Dhanani have with Thakor and Mevani as they would be crucial to how Congress performs in Gujarat in the future. These three young leaders are expected to give BJP a tough time on the floor of the Assembly by raising issues pertaining to governance which will
also set the agenda for 2019.
However, if Congress intends to use an experienced hand to run its affairs in the state Assembly, it could turn to veteran tribal leader Mohan Rathwa, who won the Chhota Udaipur by a narrow margin of 1093 votes. The 72-year-old Rathwa is Congress' senior most leader to be elected. He has won for the 10th time and had become the Leader of the Opposition after Vaghela’s rebellion earlier this year.
Among others names that are doing the rounds include former MP and MLA Kuvarji Bavaliya who won the Jasdan despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi's aggressive campaign there. The Congress’ Koli face, Bavaliya too was named as the party's working president prior to the elections considering his clout
in the Saurashtra region. Other probable names include party's current chief whip Shailesh Parmar, Ashwni Kotwal and senior tribal leader Anil Joshiyara.
Meanwhile, Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki has informed the media that the decision to appoint the LoP would be taken after consultation with the legislators. A team of observers is likely to be
sent to hold discussions with the party's legislators.
Also, the decision could be taken after Rahul's visit to Gujarat. The newly elected party president is expected to hold a three-day conclave beginning 22 December in Mehsana and the announcement could come on the last day of his visit. He is also expected to address newly elected MLAs, which according to Solanki could happen in Ahmedabad.
Moreover, sources have informed that the party's central leadership is not keen on replacing Solanki who could continue to function as the state unit president till 2019. Throughout his election campaign in
Gujarat, Rahul was accompanied by Solanki, along with former Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot, the party’s in-charge for Gujarat.
Much would depend as to who Congress chooses to lead its charge in the state assembly considering the party finally has the numbers to take on the government. Also, it has other firebrand leaders like Thakor and Mevani in its rank which should bolster its attacking prowess and it remains to be seen how the LoP can use their aggression to corner the BJP.
Overall, Congress should choose a leader who should take the young and old together and help the party in setting the agenda for the 2019 General Elections.