The entry of the likes of Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor and the absence of the Congress old guard in the assembly will pave the way for a different dynamic.
The people of Gujarat have a laddu in both hands after the election results. On one hand, they have a ruling party in the state whose PM wears his Gujarati identity on his sleeve. On the other, they have a strong opposition that consists of young and energetic leadership with a mass base and experience of people’s movements.
This is what the Congress has been lacking all the while: vigour, energy, direction. Its presence on the streets has been weak, and the Gujarat assembly doesn’t work for long sessions. This left ample scope for political and other types of activism. The void created by an inefficient and almost non-existent opposition was filled in large part by Jignesh Mevani-Hardik Patel-Alpesh Thakor in the last couple of years. The Congress, under Rahul Gandhi’s leadership, wisely joined forces with the trio before the elections, shedding the pretence of being the grand old party of India.
Their future collaboration remains an interesting possibility full of political activity—especially that of Patel and Mevani, who have still remained out of the Congress fold.
Since the Congress has not won the election, it has no obligations to fulfil except to stay relevant. It can afford to keep warm relations politically with Mevani and Patel. Recharged by the results, it might prepare for the 2019 fight utilising Thakor’s hold on OBCs through huge public meetings, which serve as a display of strength.
Mevani is a combination of sharp intellect, fierce oratory, and grassroots activism. Freedom fighter Bhagat Singh and legendary Gujarati poet ‘Mareez’ are closest to his heart. The Congress might use Mevani as the outsider in mobilising not just Dalits, but also the other youth.
Patel has not been very successful in denting the BJP vote share in Gujarat. That might reduce his political weight a little, but he is likely to be there for a longer period because he has shown strong leadership qualities, especially in the second phase of the Patidar movement.
If he continues the rhetoric against BJP’s economic, agricultural, and educational policies without leaving his caste pitch, he can get support in many other states. But he must have realised by now that his caste identity is not enough to defeat the BJP. The formation of a BJP government once again in the state, however, can prove to be a rallying point for those already unhappy with the BJP. They might find common cause with Patel.
The BJP’s double digit figure has its own psychological impact, in terms of the insecurity of losing ground slowly, especially in the assembly. The entry of the likes of Mevani and Thakor, and the absence of the old guard of the Congress in the assembly, will pave the way for a different kind of dynamic and politics.
The Congress, with the help of Mevani and Patel, can infuse a sense of alarm and urgency in the ruling dispensation, and force it to work hard and quick. The BJP will also try to diffuse the movement and the mass appeal of Mevani and Patel in the wake of its victory.
Its over reliance on Modi should also worry the party leaders.
The Congress lost the elections, but has gained new, much-needed, credible opposition allies on the ground, right in the heartland of BJP. It can re-energise itself by following similar a strategy nationally.
Urvish Kothari is a senior columnist and writer based at Ahmedabad.