The Gujarat unit of the Congress has made an internal assessment, which has revealed that the party is “unlikely to benefit from Hardik Patel’s endorsement” of it in the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, say highly-placed sources. Sources within the Gujarat unit of the Congress told The Sunday Guardian that as per the secret report, which has been shared with the high command, Hardik could have successfully split the Patidar votes if he had maintained neutrality, but by moving close to the Congress, he has diluted his impact on the state’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“The Congress is not likely to benefit by playing the Hardik Patel card. The Gujarat Congress’ internal assessment is that if he had kept campaigning against the BJP in an independent capacity, he would have been able to break the consolidation of the Patidars behind the BJP. But now that he has made it obvious that he is with us (Congress), his following among the Patidars is not likely to translate into anti-BJP votes, any longer,” a top party source told this newspaper.
The source said that the Congress high command is “miffed” with the Patidar leader, as the party had not expected him to make his solidarity to it obvious, thus fuelling speculation that he might have been acting on the Congress’ directive all through. The source contended that such speculation on Hardik’s motives, if not handled carefully, might make the Patidars vote en masse for the BJP.
“Hardik might end up benefiting the BJP. Following his overt camaraderie with the Congress, an impression has gone down that he may have had a pact with Rahul Gandhi. This is the input that we have received. We now believe that the impact that he was expected to make on the Patidar electorate would be minimal,” said another source in the Gujarat unit of the Congress.
The sources spoken to claimed that a meeting between Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Hardik “did take place” and that the 24-year-old Patidar icon “assured Rahulji of his support”. But the sources did not confirm the venue or the date of the meeting. On Monday, Gujarat’s regional news channels had, on the basis of CCTV footages of a hotel, the Ummed in Ahmedabad, claimed that Hardik and Rahul Gandhi had met there. Hardik denied such claims and said he only met senior Congress leader and Congress’ Gujarat in-charge, Ashok Gehlot instead. The CCTV clips confirmed that Hardik stayed in the hotel from 11.30 pm of 22 October to at least 4 pm on Monday, 23 October. Rahul Gandhi was seen coming out of the same hotel at 2.23 pm on Monday.
This newspaper has learnt that following the Congress’ Gujarat unit’s internal assessment, the party is rethinking whether Rahul Gandhi should share dais with Hardik. “There has been no decision as of yet, but there is a marked apprehension about Rahulji sharing dais with Hardik or jointly campaigning with him. In any case, the strategy was to let Hardik mobilise the Patidars against the BJP. This needed to be done on a systematic manner. His obvious support has damaged our plans,” Congress sources told this newspaper.
Meanwhile, sources in the BJP said that the incumbent party was anticipating that several Patidar and OBC candidates may opt to stand in key constituencies where it was placed badly. “In constituencies where the Patidars or the OBCs are unhappy with us, the opposition vote may get divided by candidates unhappy with Congress seat selection. They would contest as independents,” a source in the BJP told this newspaper, adding that “the Congress has several factions, as does the movement led by Hardik.”
Gujarat elects 182 legislators in a two phased election on 9 and 14 December.