A week is a long time in politics, and five years can be a millennia, if one goes by the trajectory of at least two out of the three main players of the opposition line up in Gujarat in the 2017 polls — Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor — with the third, Jignesh Mevani holding on to the opposition plank this time around, too.
Hardik Patel, who shot to fame as the leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the agitating group demanding reservations for Patidars or the Patel community, often using very colourful language, is now solidly with the BJP, after a stint in the Congress. Mr. Patel is the saffron party’s candidate from the Viramgam seat near Ahmedabad. Alpesh Thakor, who was also with the Congress in the last polls and was part of the triumvirate of the opposition that reduced the BJP to just 99 seats in the last polls, has also moved to the BJP and is the party’s candidate from the Gandhinagar South Assembly constituency.
Just what inspired this 180 degree turn in these opposition mascots? Was it the familiar story of BJP’s creeping acquisition of political talent through aggressive recruitment, or a genuine leap of ideological change?
Mr. Patel objects to his joining the BJP being characterised as a “180 degree turn”. “This is my home. Joining Congress was the 180 degree turn. My father was one of the founding members of the BJP in this district. In fact, I call [Uttar Pradesh governor] Anandiben Patel bua (paternal aunt) and my father used to help her campaign here,” he told The Hindu. “I opposed the BJP-led government because of the agitation and our demands. Now, with the implementation of reservations for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), a direct result of the PAAS’s agitation, I have nothing against the BJP,” he says.
When asked whether his joining the BJP was due to the large number of legal cases against him from the time of the PAAS-led agitation, he responded that cases are still being dealt with, and, “I need to look at my future political career, too.”
“There is no alternative to the BJP in Gujarat, as explained by the fact that Rahul Gandhi is doing a padayatra in south India while polls were underway in Gujarat,” Mr. Patel said.
Mr. Thakor, unlike Mr. Patel, comes from a traditionally Congress-minded family and his community, the Thakors of north Gujarat, have been the bedrock of Congress support in the State and remain so. His move from the Congress to the BJP has been no less dramatic, as his oratory and sharp comments led to the sound defeat of the BJP in north Gujarat in the 2017 polls. Right off the bat, Mr. Thakor says that while he harbours no bitterness against the national leadership of the Congress, infighting in the State unit of the party is what forced him out. “Gujarat Congress does not want new leadership to come forward, and the biggest problem is that none of them know what Congress ideology is or what the party stands for. Whereas, the BJP is ideological, which makes their karyakarta (personnel) fight polls with aggression,” he said. Mr. Thakor lauds Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah for “being in touch with the smallest karyakarta”.
He refuses to feel guilty for having left the Congress. “When people like Ghulam Nabi Azad and other seniors to whom the party gave everything have left, why should I feel guilty? The Congress is clearly held together by the glue of power,” Mr. Thakor said.
The crossing over of these faces of the 2017 polls to the other side has made the 2022 contest that much duller. “That is only a problem for you journalists, not for me,” responds Mr. Patel, claiming the last word on the issue.