In the 2017 Gujarat assembly poll, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani whipped up political headwinds in the path of the BJP juggernaut. Hardik led the agitation for a quota for Patidars, Thakor rallied the OBCs, and Mevani galvanized the Dalits. But now Hardik and Thakor are seeking the people’s mandate as BJP candidates while Mevani, an independent back then, will fight on the Congress ticket. The eventful journey of the three is retraced by TOI’s Meghdoot Sharon.
Hardik Patel : High-Voltage Drama For Quota, Then Volte-Face
Hardik, now 29, entered public life as a crusader for the Patidar community. He has come a long way since, traversing from one end of the political spectrum to the other in three years. He joined the Congress in 2019 after leading a high-voltage reservation stir for the Patidar community. He is now the BJP candidate from Viramgam, his hometown.
Back in 2016, he roused legions of Patidar youths to take to the streets as his organization, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, spearheaded the shrill demand for reservation. He did not contest in the 2017 poll as he had not turned 25, but helped the Congress run a spirited campaign, targeting PM Narendra Modi; Amit Shah; Anandiben Patel; and the then CM and deputy CM, Vijay Rupani and Nitin Patel.
The ‘Vikas Gando Thayo Chhe’ campaign was harnessed by Hardik to question the BJP’s development narrative. In the end, the Congress registered one of its best electoral performances in decades, clinching 77 seats. Hardik was named the Congress’s state working president in 2020.
Having spent a major chunk of his public life attacking the BJP, Hardik is currently having to expend much energy on improving his acceptability in the BJP. His induction into the saffron party in June was a low-key affair. It appears the BJP cadre has not forgotten his salvos against party titans such as Modi and Shah.
He is facing two cases of sedition, one each in Ahmedabad and Surat. He was sentenced to two years’ imprisonment in 2018 for a rioting and arson case in Visnagar, where the office of health minister Rushikesh Patel was ransacked during the Patidar agitation. Earlier this year, the SC stayed his conviction. Hardik faces about two dozen cases registered under Section 188 of the IPC, which pertains to violation of notification. Two such cases against him — one each at Ramol and Bopal in Ahmedabad — have been withdrawn.
Alpesh Thakor: Back From Political Wilderness
Five years ago, while campaigning for the 2017 assembly election as a Congress candidate, Thakor ignited a controversy by stating PM Modi consumed mushrooms worth Rs 4 lakh daily to maintain his ‘fair complexion’. But Thakor’s political complexion has radically changed since then. In 2022, he is the BJP candidate from Gandhinagar South.
In the run-up to the 2017 assembly poll, Thakor, now 47, fronted people’s movement against the flow of liquor into dry Gujarat. He formed Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena, drawing in OBC youth. As Hardik’s PAAS gained prominence with the demand for Patidars to be included within the OBC category, Thakor launched the OSS (OBC, SC, ST) Ekta Manch to counter Hardik’s drive. Thakor wanted to ensure that the OBC quota did not shrink for his community.
Thakor joined the Congress before the 2017 election and was inducted into the party by Rahul Gandhi himself amid fanfare. Thakor was fielded from the Radhanpur seat which he won. He quit the Congress before the 2019 general election and was fielded by the BJP from the same seat in the bypoll. His defeat in that poll consigned him to political oblivion for the next three years.
During canvassing these days, Thakor says he was brought up in the constituency he is representing and has a connect with voters. His nomination, however, has upset supporters of the sitting MLA Shabhuji Thakor who was dropped.
Jignesh Mevani: The Dalit Face Of Congress
The only leader from the trio who has remained steadfastly against the BJP is 41-year-old Jignesh Mevani. He came to national notice after leading statewide protests by the Dalit community in response to the July 2016 Una atrocity.
In 2017, he won the Vadgam seat as an independent candidate with the Congress’s support and has loyally backed the party through the past five years.
When Mevani was arrested by Assam Police earlier this year for an allegedly objectionable tweet and later for allegedly assaulting a police officer, the Congress — at national and state levels — held protests and provided him legal support. He was named one of the working presidents of the state Congress unit earlier this year after he joined the party.
Mevani has established himself as an influential Dalit leader not only in Gujarat, but also on the national stage. He is a key member of the Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch and the Congress party is banking on his firebrand politics to keep its SC vote bank intact.
In the upcoming poll, Mevani is pitted against Manibhai Vaghela in Vadgam.
Vaghela was the Congress MLA from that constituency in 2012. In 2017, the Congress dumped Vaghela to support Mevani. Vaghela recently joined the BJP and is likely to give stiff competition to Mevani.
Several cases have been registered against Mevani. He has been convicted in two cases and is presently out on bail. Earlier, in May, a Mehsana court sentenced him and nine others to three months’ imprisonment for an ‘Azadi March’ which was led by him in 2017. In September, Mevani and 18 others were convicted and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment in connection with an FIR registered against them after they staged protests over naming a building in Gujarat University after B R Ambedkar. Mevani also has two cases against him in Assam and one in Karnataka. A case was also registered against him for allegedly obstructing a train at Kalupur station in January 2017.