Congress seeks to widen anti-BJP Gujarat front, OBC leader joins party

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The Congress on Saturday sent out an open invite to three young men who have rocked Gujarat politics for the last two years - Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakore and Jignesh Mevani.

Jignesh Mewani, on the other hand, said, "I am determined to defeat the BJP not only in Gujarat in December 2017 but also in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019".

Alpesh Thakor, the convenor of the OBC, ST and ST Ekta Manch, will join the Congress on Wednesday in the presence of its vice-president, Rahul Gandhi.

Thakor, accompanied by Congress general secretary incharge of Gujarat Ashok Gehlot and state party chief Bharatsinh Solanki, met Gandhi at his residence in New Delhi this evening.

Hardik Patel, the Patidar leader who spearheaded a prolonged agitation for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions for people of his community, was rather tepid in his response to the Congress' invitation.

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The move comes just weeks ahead of an Assembly election in Gujarat, where OBCs account for 54 per cent of the population. "Our agitation was about getting reservation under the OBC quota, not about uprooting the BJP and bringing the Congress to power".

Earlier in the day, Gujarat Congress president Bharat Solanki had announced that if "Hardik Patel wants to fight the elections then Congress invites him to do so". "Those who come with Congress can contest on their own, with Congress supporting their candidature, or they can also contest under Congress symbol", Solanki had said. "BJP leaders also promised us to provide legal help in case we want to take up the matter with the Supreme Court", he added. Responding to a question of Congress' offer to join hands to fight jointly against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Patel said that he does believe that they should join against BJP but the fight is of the people of Gujarat.

Congress state president Bharatsinh Solanki, meanwhile, also invited members of Aam Aadmi Party, Janata Dal-U and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form a broad political alliance against the ruling BJP for the forthcoming Assembly polls. The recently concluded Rajya Sabha elections which saw Congress leader Ahmed Patel scrape through with the support of the lone JD-U legislator Chottubhai Vasava has led to an opposition re-think in the strategy to combat the ruling BJP in the state. Asked if they were not acting as agents of the BJP, both claimed their fight right from the beginning was for the community and to support whoever backed the Patidars' cause. "I and Varun are of the opinion that the BJP would definitely fulfil our demands", she said.

Another youth Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani is reportedly in touch with top Congress leaders.

Elections in Gujarat will be held later this year.