New Delhi: The BJP has dismissed him as a former Congressman back in the party, but OBC leader in Gujarat Alpesh Thakor said on Monday that he conducted a survey to decide which political party to join. Mr Thakor is seen as part of a triumvirate that includes Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani, young activists who have challenged the BJP government in Gujarat recently, drawing large crowds at their public rallies ahead of key assembly elections in the state to be held by December this year.
"My advisors told me I had to join politics to make a difference, so I did a survey. It was door to door, it was on social media and 25 lakh people said to me that I must join the Congress. Only one lakh and six thousand people told me to join the BJP," Mr Thakor, 40, told NDTV, while explaining why he decided to go mainstream instead of staying a contrarian voice. Earlier on Monday morning, he joined the Congress at a rally held in Gandhinagar by the party's Vice President, Rahul Gandhi.
Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad dismissed Mr Thakor's influence among the youth and backward castes (OBC) also saying that he and his father are former Congressmen and that the young leader had earlier contested elections as a Congress candidate and lost.
"The BJP always calls anyone who speaks against them, voices the people's angst, an opposition man," retorted Alpesh Thakor, not denying that he has been with the Congress in the past, but also saying, "I ran a non-political campaign on de-addiction, on unemployment, on farmers. For the past seven years, I have just done social work.''
Mr Thakor, 24-year-old Hardik Patel, the face of the Patel or Patidar agitation for reservation in government jobs and colleges, and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani, 36, have supported each other's causes as they have led protests against the state government. BJP sources told NDTV that their collective and individual influence among their communities, all key voter groups, does not worry the state government anymore. The massive Patel agitation, they claimed, is now more or less contained.
The Congress hopes to cash in on those large crowds; Rahul Gandhi had also invited Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani to meet him on Monday in Ahmedabad. While there were conflicting reports on whether Hardik Patel met Mr Gandhi, Jignesh Mevani did not meet the Congress leader and asserted that unlike Alpesh Thakor, he would not join any political party, though he said will work to ensure that the BJP loses the assembly elections.
"Even if Hardik and Jignesh don't join, they will campaign against the BJP,'' said Mr Thakor. He said he brings to the Congress a ready cadre in 14,000 villages of Gujarat and assesses that with his help, the party will win 125 of the state's 182 seats, a big majority.
The BJP, which has been in power in Gujarat for the last two decades, scoffs at the claim. BJP president Amit Shah has set his party a target of winning a gigantic 150 seats.