Ahmedabad: Gujarat's OBC leader Alpesh Thakor decided to join the Congress on Saturday, hours after the Congress sent him and two other youth leaders, Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, a very public, and open-ended invite to join them and fight the Gujarat assembly elections expected in early December.
Mr Thakor's acceptance of the invite is the first good news for the Congress in the Gujarat ever since its state unit chief Shankarsinh Vaghela exited the party along with more than dozen lawmakers a few months back.
On a visit to the state last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had also taunted the Congress for the lawmakers deserting the party.
That jibe makes it worth the while for the Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to fly down to state on Monday to attend a rally organised by Mr Thakor, seen as a show of strength in state capital Gandhinagar, where he said after Mr Gandhi today, he will formally join the Congress.
Hardik Patel, the face of the Patel or Patidar agitation in Gujarat who has seen to be leaning towards the Congress in recent weeks, has turned down Saturday's invite from the Congress, calling it a "political stunt" but made no secret of where he would stand during the assembly elections later this year.
"We will have to unite to fight against the arrogance of BJP," Mr Patel said, according to ANI, pointing that he couldn't contest elections anyways. The leader of the agitation for quotas for the politically-powerful Patel community is all of 24. One has to be at least 25 years to be eligible to contest assembly elections.
"We respect as well as endorse the cause for which Hardik Patel is fighting. I appeal to Hardik to support the Congress during the polls. We are also ready to give him a ticket if he wants to fight elections in the future," Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki said.
In the same breath, Mr Solanki also extended the invitation to Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani, 34, a social activist who played a key role in mobilising protests after the flogging of four Dalits. Jignesh Mevani hasn't RSVPed yet and will take a call after consulting other community organisations.
Mr Thakor, however, is a significant catch for the Congress all by himself.
In July this year, Mr Thakor who leads an organisation for the Other Backward Classes, Dalits and tribals, had led hundreds of farmers who spilled gallons of milk on the highway to demand a farm waiver in Gujarat. In 2016, he had been in the forefront of a campaign against the state's booming illicit liquor market and a year earlier, fronted a campaign for a grand statue of BR Ambedkar in the state.
The Congress hopes support from Hardik Patel closer to the election would reverse the way the state's powerful Patidar community will vote in this year's assembly election - they have for years been staunch supporters of the BJP - and Rahul Gandhi has attempted during his tour to harness the Patel anger against the BJP government for refusing to meet their demand for reservation in government colleges and jobs.