After spirited fight in 2017, Congress’s Gujarat campaign for 2022 faces several hiccups

NEW DELHI: In 2017, the Rahul Gandhi-led Congress put up a spirited fight in Gujarat and won 77 seats in the BJP bastion and restricted the saffron party from crossing the 100-seat mark for the first time since 1995.

However, as elections in Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s home state inch closer, the Congress campaign doesn’t seem to be picking up from where it had left.

The dilemma of late stalwart Ahmed Patel’s son Faisal Patel, the discomfort of Patidar face Hardik Patel and the moving on of influential MLA Indranil Rajgopal all point towards the challenges that Congress faces in a state that has generally given BJP an edge.

Hardik Patel’s grievance

If the Congress gave an improved performance in Gujarat in 2017, then three young leaders – Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani – played a key role in creating a narrative beneficial to the party. Of the three, Thakor is with BJP now and Mevani is an independent.

Patel went on the become one of the most recognisable Congress faces from the powerful Patidar community.

Yet, five years later, rather than try to build on the party’s past performance, Patel seems to be having a difficult time in Congress.

The Gujarat Congress working president on Thursday alleged that leaders of his party’s state unit were harassing him.

“I am being harassed so much that I feel bad about it. Gujarat Congress leaders want that I should leave the party,” Patel told PTI Bhasha in a telephone interview. “I am pained because I have represented the situation to Rahul Gandhi many times, but no action has been taken by him against Gujarat Congress leaders,” he said.

Congress’s plan to rope in chairman of the Khodaldham Temple Trust Naresh Patel, a prominent Patidar, ahead of the 2022 state polls has apparently angered Hardik Patel, who believes that his clout as a Patidar leader will be diminished if Naresh Patel joins Congress, the newsagency said.

“You used Hardik in 2017, you want to use Naresh bhai in 2022 and in 2027 you will use another Patidar leader. Why don’t you support and strengthen Hardik?” he asked. “They should take Naresh bhai, but will they treat him the way they treat me?” he asked.

Hardik also said he had no plan to leave Congress.

Faisal Patel’s dilemma

Hardik Patel is not the only Congress leader to express dissatisfaction. Faisal Patel, son of Ahmed Patel, one of Sonia Gandhi’s closest aides, also has aired his frustration.

Faisal had created a flutter when he said that he was “keeping his options open” as there was no encouragement from the top leadership and that he was “tired of waiting”.

He hinted that he could even quit public life.

ID 1511592822624845826Faisal [email protected] mfaisalpatelKeeping my options open’ could mean I’m thinking of quitting public life forever. Tired of working and helping the… PM – Apr 6, 202234412

Faisal Patel is considered one of the Congress party’s options from the Bharuch seat where his party wields influence.

The opulent legislator

Hardik and Faisal Patel may have aired their grievances but there are other leaders who have decided to move out of the party fold.

Former Congress MLA Indranil Rajguru joined Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) along with two party councillors. Rajguru, who was once the richest MLA in Gujarat, had won the Rajkot (East) constituency in the 2012 assembly election.

In 2017, he decided to leave his safe seat and take on chief minister Vijay Rupani from Rajkot (West) only to bite the dust.

“I am joining AAP because it has emerged as the best option to serve the people in a better way. Moreover, I feel that only AAP has the strength to uproot BJP in Gujarat,” he said.

The AAP threat

A major challenge before Congress in recent state polls has been that not only does it need to take on BJP’s well-oiled electoral machine, it also has to fend off the Arvind Kejriwal-led AAP.

In the assembly polls earlier this year, AAP not only snatched Punjab from Congress but also won two seats in Goa. The rise of AAP, even in pockets, has the potential to dent Congress’s chances, especially if it eats into the anti-incumbency vote.

So, with assembly polls a few months away in Gujarat, will Rahul Gandhi be able to muster the same energy he demonstrated last time or will Congress put in another lacklustre performance? How the party deals with the challenges and conflicts within and keeps its cadre enthused hold the key.

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