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HomeOpinionGujarat’s Jignesh, Hardik, Alpesh left Modi-Shah desperate in 2017. But 2022 is...

Gujarat’s Jignesh, Hardik, Alpesh left Modi-Shah desperate in 2017. But 2022 is different

While Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel are members of the BJP, they can no longer join forces within the party. Jignesh Mevani is a lone ranger in Congress.

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The troika of young leaders—Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor, and Jignesh Mevani— were the faces of the anti-BJP campaign during the last assembly election in Gujarat, in 2017. Their combined might, with Hardik representing Patel power, Alpesh with a sizeable OBC vote bank, and Jignesh with progressive voice, Dalit votes gave BJP a really tough time, all the postures of invincibility notwithstanding.

Rahul Gandhi’s intense campaign and “Vikas gando thayo chhe (Vikas has gone haywire)” catchline added to the overall impact. It made Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his election strategist Amit Shah visibly desperate. Modi left no stone unturned, including taking an inaugural flight of a (now defunct) seaplane, to impress the voters on the last day of the election campaign.

The results showed that the importance given to the troika was not much off the mark. BJP got 99 seats, many of its candidates won with a thin margin. Numerically, the number of BJP seats was in double-digit after almost two decades. Whereas Alpesh fought the election on a Congress ticket and won, Hardik and Jignesh had not joined Congress at that time.

Congress helped Jignesh Mevani (independent) by not fielding its candidate against him in the Vadgam seat in North Gujarat. 1993-born Hardik could not contest because he was a few months away from the minimum eligible age of 25 years.

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Troika in last five years

After keeping a distance for long enough, Hardik joined Congress in March 2019. He eventually became the Working President of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee — quite a rise considering his age. Once bitten, BJP was trying to break the troika apart. There was some closeness between Hardik and Jignesh. But as such, there was not much of a mutual bonding among all three. They were united mostly in opposing the BJP.

BJP succeeded in luring Alpesh Thakor four months after Hardik joined Congress formally. It was the time when Alpesh thought his wishes were not accommodated by the party. As per the reports, he wanted to fight the Lok Sabha election. Alpesh left Congress citing the interests of his people and his community.

Mevani did not join Congress even as Alpesh chose to leave the party. He pondered over his options and finally came into Congress along with Kanhaiya Kumar, in Delhi in September 2021. Hardik Patel was already there as a working president and shared a good rapport with Mevani. But Patel was brought to BJP in May 2022 amid speculations of immense pressure due to hordes of police cases against him. Otherwise, BJP’s fame as a dump yard of leaders was too well known to attract Hardik.

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The lone ranger

Mevani is the strongest among the troika when it comes to ideology and experience of grass root level work. A lawyer himself, he spent years with a veteran human rights lawyer Mukul Sinha, father of Alt News fame Pratik Sinha, and a Gandhian social worker Chunibhai Vaidya. He was least likely to succumb to the lure or the pressure of the BJP. With the 2022 assembly election in Gujarat on the horizon, Mevani is the only member left from the formidable troika of the 2017 elections, who is in the anti-BJP camp.

The Aam Aadmi Party has emerged as a new and aggressive force in the current scenario compared to the last election. Jignesh Mevani was a member of AAP and was close to Arvind Kejriwal once upon a time. He left the party in 2016 in the wake of his emerging persona as a Dalit leader seeking justice for the atrocities, including the infamous Una flogging incident. Formally joining Congress must have been a tough decision for Mevani as it imposed limitations on his firebrand mannerism and expressions.

As BJP has no qualms about indulging in witch hunts, Mevani has got his share of fringe police cases and convictions, one of which was in Assam. The sword of old cases always dangles on him. Joining Congress has not provided him any respite. Though Congress did put up some show of protest when he was taken to Assam in April 2022.

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Troika’s loss and political acquisitions

Congress in Gujarat is neither known for its energetic poll machine, nor for leaders leading from the front. Mevani has access to Rahul Gandhi. But it hardly helps in the matter of electioneering. Rahul Gandhi himself has avoided Gujarat from the route of his Bharat Jodo Yatra which could have been a recharging time for the Gujarat Congress.

Alpesh Thakor and Hardik Patel are not doing great either in the BJP. Hardik wished to be “a humble soldier in the giant work of national service led by the famed PM Narendra Modi” while joining the BJP. His words are taken too literally perhaps. His status as a star campaigner is history, which he hopes will repeat someday. But 2022 is unlikely to be that occasion. He does not hold the key to the much sought-after Patel vote bank. With Owaisi’s AIMIM and Kejriwal’s AAP eager to have their share of the voters disgruntled with the BJP, BJP leadership is unlikely to give Hardik a star-like treatment. Hardik might be more than happy if he could manage a ticket for himself.

Alpesh is better placed comparatively with a chunk of OBC votes. He will always hold some value and leverage as long as he can mobilise crowds even for non-political programs like pledging against addiction. Even though both Alpesh and Hardik are members of the BJP, they can no longer join forces within BJP. Jignesh as a lone ranger has a long way to go to establish himself as a voice that needs to be heard attentively, taken seriously and followed obediently.

Urvish Kothari is a senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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