As the second phase of polling begins in Gujarat, all the eyes are fixed at the young trio activist-turned-politicians- Jignesh Mevani, Hardik Patel and Alpesh Thakor. Prior to the last state assembly election in 2017, the social movements led by them for their respective communities not only shot them to the political fame, rather it helped Congress to gather formidable 77 seats against BJP’s 99.
All of these three leaders have their individual charisma to mobilise people. Due to their anti-BJP stance, in last assembly election they were dubbed as ‘HAJ’ (Hardik-Jignesh-Alpesh) pitted against the ‘RAM’ (Rupani-Amit-Modi) of BJP. However, in the course of the time, things got changed- there were shifting of the camps, ideology and commitments.
In this context, it is better to look at their current position and the constituencies they are fighting from.
Jignesh Mevani- Dalit face of Congress
Jignesh Mevani who was shot to fame for his movement against Una flogging of Dalits in 2016, fought the assembly elections in 2017 from Vadgam constituency. It is a reserved seat for SCs.
Mevani won the elections as an independent candidate with support of the Congress and defeated Vijaykumar Cakravarti by margin of 19, 696 votes. Jignesh along with former JNUSU president Kanhaiya Kumar joined Congress in 2021.
This year he is contesting from the same seat, however, in a much difficult situation. The Muslim dominated seat Vadgam this time is going to face a quadrangular fight with AIMIM’s Kalpesh Sundhiya, BJP’s Minlal Vanghela and AAP’s Dalpat Bhatia all are on their toes to make some inroads.
Among them the most important contender is Minlal Vaghela who won from Vadgam in 2012 in a Congress ticket. However, in 2017 Congress shifted him to Idar, only to support Jignesh in this constituency. His discontent resulted in crossing the fence and Vaghela joined BJP in 2022 and was fielded by the party to utilise the cracks within Congress.
As per 2011 census, Vadgam has 25.3% Muslim votes and thus AIMIM, could be factor that can affect Jignesh’s prospects in the election. Notably, Jignesh has been confident of the outcome. In an interview with PTI, he said that Gujarat is witnessing a ‘silent revolution’. He has though referred to the remissions of 11 convicts in Bilkis Bano gangrape case during his election campaign, he clarified that Congress doesn’t want to use it as a poll plank. The major focuses of his campaigns have been price rise, paper leak in the examinations, healthcare and other infrastructural issues.
Hardik Patel- the Patidar agitator
Supreme Court’s recent ratification of 10% quotas for the Economically Weaker Section (EWS) of the society while is receiving warm welcome among a section of the society, it is sophistry to forget the spark that led to the fire.
In 2015, Hardik Patel became the youth icon of Patidar community that constitutes almost 14% of the total population of Gujarat through his movement for inclusion of his community within OBC list. Starting in July, the agitations turned violent and went on till September when the state government bent down and announced subsidies and scholarships to general category students.
Following that provision of 10% reservation for the EWS had been evoked, only to be turned down by the Gujarat High Court. However, in 2019, Indian parliament through its 103rd amendment of the constitution legalised the EWS quota.
This movement gave Hardik Patel considerable fame and popularity. Patel supported Congress in 2017 assembly elections and joined the party just ahead of 2019 general elections. Recently, he fell out with Congress and joined BJP in June.
Patel is contesting this time in a BJP ticket from Viramgam, a constituency in his home district Ahmedabad. However, the reports indicate that the people belonging to his own organisation Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) didn’t take his decision to join BJP lightly.
His main contender in the seat is incumbent Congress MLA Lakha Bharwad. AAP has fielded Amarsinh Thakor from the powerful Thakor community that will be another reason for his tension.
Thakor is a subcaste of the Koli community that comprises almost 24% of Gujarat’s population and have strong presence in Viramgam. Thakors were in the forefront against the Patidar agitations. Senior BJP leaders like UP CM Yogi Adityanath and Assam CM Himant Biswa Sarma had campaigned for Hardik. BJP is hopeful about his performance.
Alpesh Thakor- the OBC face of BJP
Politics can bring the stiffest oppositions together to have water from the same canal. When Hardik Patel became the face of Patidars claiming their inclusion into the OBC category, it was Alpesh Thakor who made OBC-ST-SC Ekta Manch to oppose it tooth and nail.
In 2017, he joined Congress and became an MLA from Radhanpur constituency in Patan district. However, things soon fell apart. In 2019 when Hardik joined Congress almost at the same time, he left the party alleging ill-treatment by the state leadership and joined BJP.
BJP though fielded him from the same seat in the by-poll, he lost it to Raghu Desai of Congress. This time, the saffron camp nevertheless has fielded him from Gandhinagar South where he would be contesting the heavyweight Congress leaders Himanshu Patel.
Interestingly, union home minister Amit Shah himself campaigned for Thakor and said that it is the responsibility of sitting BJP MLA Sambhuji Thakor to make him win.
Sambhuji has a huge hold in this constituency as he won it both in 2012 and 2017 defeating Congress candidates Sureshkumar Chaturdas and Govind Hiraji Solanki respectively. This constituency also dominated by Thakors, followed by Patidars and Dalits is central to understand the directions of Gujarat.
These three youth icons though changed their boats and ideologies, their charisma have not been reduced much. The results of December 8 will determine their future political course.