While the Congress had benefited from Patel’s agitation seeking reservation for Patidars in 2017, his community’s support to the party dwindled after he joined the Congress in 2019.
The Congress lost the 2017 Gujarat elections, falling just short of nine seats in the 182-member Assembly, and was then being seen as having the potential to dethrone the BJP, which has been in power in the state for over two decades .
But, the Congress now has a tough task ahead to take on the ruling BJP, say political experts.
Patel, who had joined the Congress in 2019, resigned from the party last week.
However, state Congress leaders say his move will not affect the party’s prospects.
“See the comments on social media…all are against Hardik’s move to leave the Congress. He has lost his credibility,” state Congress president Jagdish Thakore claimed while talking to PTI.
But, political analyst Dilip Gohil said the Congress’s position is already weak this time as there is no such atmosphere like the Patidar quota agitation had created before the 2017 elections, which helped the party increase its tally in the state.
“In fact, data says most of the Patidars did not vote for the Congress in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and subsequent panchayat and civic polls, which the BJP won in a grand manner,” he said.
“So practically, on the ground, Hardik’s move to leave the Congress will have no effect. He was a favourite of the media during the quota agitation, hence his move to quit the Congress made news. But, he is more of a ‘television tiger’ now, like leaders used to be termed as ‘paper tigers’ during the print media boom,” Gohil claimed.
He said the Congress is facing other challenges also, like the emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the state, and failing to create a momentum so far in the campaign for the forthcoming state Assembly polls.
“The Congress was to bring in Prashant Kishor as a strategist and new leaders like Naresh Patel, but it has not happened so far. Even an extremely Leftist leader like Jignesh Mevani will harm the Congress, instead of helping it as his views are not likely to be appreciated in the industrialised and right wing-dominated Gujarat,” he claimed.
Earlier, Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, products of the caste-based agitations in Gujarat in 2015, had tried to create an anti-BJP atmosphere in the state before the 2017 polls.
After the quota agitation, Thakor emerged as a key leader opposing the inclusion of Patidars in Other Backward Class (OBC) quota list.
Independent MLA Mevani, who is from the Dalit community, is currently backing the Congress.
Hardik Patel’s fellow quota agitation leader Lalji Patel claimed Hardik had made a mistake by joining the Congress three years ago.
“Hardik had promised that he would not join politics when he was leading the quota agitation. But, he made a huge mistake by joining that party. The Patidar community members criticised quota agitation leaders as they thought we used the protest to make our way into politics,” Lalji Patel said.
“If Hardik joins the BJP now, he will be committing another big mistake as he will be rejected by people,” he claimed.