The Congress has received a boost ahead of the Gujarat assembly polls, with backward class leader Alpesh Thakor announcing his decision to join the party, after a meeting with Rahul Gandhi.
The announcement came hours after the Congress, which has been out of power in Gujarat for over two decades now, invited Patidar quota stir spearhead Hardik Patel, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, a protagonist of resurgent Dalit politics in the key western state, to join the party.
Thakor, the convenor of the Gujarat OBC Ekta Manch and leader of the local Thakor Sena, has considerable influence among backward classes.
Thakor, accompanied by Congress general secretary incharge of Gujarat Ashok Gehlot and state party chief Bharatsinh Solanki, met Gandhi at his residence in New Delhi yesterday evening. Soon thereafter, Thakor said Rahul Gandhi would attend a rally organised by him on October 23 where "I will join the Congress party".
But Hardik Patel, the Patidar leader who spearheaded a prolonged agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for people of his community, was rather tepid in his response to the Congress's invitation.
"It is a political stunt, coming as it does just before the elections. I cannot contest elections myself because of constitutional provisions, nor do I want. Since an invitation has been extended, our leaders will consider the proposal," he told a TV news channel.
Patel, whose quota stir often turned violent resulting in the death of several people in police action, is 24 years old. The minimum age required for a person to contest an assembly or Lok Sabha election in is 25.
However, in a dramatic turn of events, Hardik Patel's key aides -- Varun Patel and Reshma Patel -- have joined the BJP.
Varun and Reshma were among the prominent faces of the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and remained critical of the ruling BJP during the agitation. They joined the BJP after a meeting with Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and state party chief Jitu Vaghani during its parliamentary board meeting, which was also attended by BJP president Amit Shah.
After joining the BJP, the Patidar leaders told reporters that Hardik has become a "Congress agent" and was trying to use the agitation to overthrow the present state government.
"Our agitation was about getting reservations under the OBC quota, not about uprooting the BJP and bringing the Congress to power. While the BJP always supported the community and accepted a majority of our demands, Congress is only trying to use Patels as a vote bank. We do not want to be part of such malicious conspiracy," Reshma Patel said.
"This agitation was not of Hardik Patel's alone. He is now acting like a Congress agent. I and Varun are of the opinion that the BJP would definitely fulfil our demands," she said.
According to Varun Patel, the Patidar community will never allow the Congress party to take over the reins of Gujarat by inciting Patel youths.
"The BJP government (in the state) held talks with us in the past to resolve various issues. However, the Congress never held such talks, as they were not committed. We have decided to join BJP because we do not want to run the agitation by becoming Congress agents," said Varun Patel.
"The BJP government even promised us to represent the issue of reservation to the OBC Commission. BJP leaders also promised us to provide legal help in case we want to take up the matter with the Supreme Court," he added.
Unfazed by the announcement of his key aides, Hardik Patel said in a tweet he that will continue to fight for the people.
"The centipede will continue to run even if some of his legs break. People are with me, and I will continue to fight for them," he said.