The Congress on Friday finalised the names of candidates on 80 of the total 182 constituencies in Gujarat, and left 20-25 seats for the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) to take a call.
The central election committee (CEC), a panel headed by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to firm up the names of party candidates in state and parliamentary polls, was initially called to decide the contestants on 89 seats that are going to polls in first phase on December 9. But on Friday, it discussed the probable candidates on all the 182 seats.
Sources said that the Congress had asked Hardik Patel to forward the list of his candidates who will be fielded on its symbol by Thursday. But the names did not come till the start of the CEC meeting , a senior Congress functionary said. The panel later took up the names for some of the 93 seats going to polls in the second phase on December 14.
He said Hardik Patel is now expected to send his list in a few days after which the Congress will finalise the names and allot party symbol to them.
Patel leaders in the Congress have been demanding 33% or 60 seats for the members of the Patidar community in a bid to dent the BJP’s core vote bank.
Congress legislator from Vijapur constituency in Mehsana, Prahlad Patel, along with Patidar leaders had met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and party general secretary in- charge of Gujarat Ashok Gehlot in this regard. He later claimed that the Congress vice-president was willing to consider fielding Patidars on at least 50 seats.
After Friday’s meeting, Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki said the first list of party candidates will be announced on November 16, the day Sonia Gandhi is expected to return from her week-long trip to Goa. She left for Goa on Friday evening.
Patels constitute 12% of Gujarat’s 60-million-odd population and are said to influence the poll outcome on about 60 seats.
The Patidars were Congress supporters till 1980 when they shifted their allegiance to the BJP after former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki stitched the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) coalition to shift the balance of power from Patel-Brahmins-Baniyas to OBCs, Dalits and tribals. The strategy helped the Congress to win 141 in 1980 and 149 – the highest so far in any election — in 1985 but alienated the upper castes who moved to the BJP.
The Patidar quota agitation leader Hardik Patel on Wednesday announced that his outfit Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has accepted the quota formula given by the Congress.
The party will make the quota promise to Patidars in its manifesto for the Gujarat polls.
The 24-year-old leader, who has been spearheading the agitation, did not categorically pledge support to the Congress but said the PAAS and the Patidar community would do everything to defeat the BJP at the hustings. To achieve its reservation goal, the BJP must be ousted first, he said.
Addressing journalists in Ahmedabad, Mr. Hardik stressed that he would not join any political party for the next two years. His agitation is social and not political but at the same time, he emphasised that the BJP needed to be defeated in Gujarat first. “I will not join politics and we never sought any ticket for any of our PAAS members. Lalit Vasoya has got Congress ticket because he was already a Congress leader in Dhoraji,” he said, calling the media stories that PAAS demanded Congress ticket as “baseless and BJP propaganda.”
While accepting the Congress formula worked out by the legal expert and Congress leader Kapil Sibal, Mr. Hardik slammed the BJP, accusing it of using money power to break the agitation and also buy some people involved in it. “BJP has earmarked ₹200 crore to buy some volunteers, and sponsor some independent candidates to divide Patidar votes,” he alleged.
He claimed that the BJP had offered him a deal of ₹1,200 crore through a senior bureaucrat but he did not budge from his demand for quota.
In Delhi Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called the Congress and Mr. Hardik as “mutual deception club” and said quota beyond 50% was not legally tenable.