Congress, Patels burn midnight oil to work out quota formula

Congress, Patels burn midnight oil to work out quota formula

Ahmedabad: Congress leaders late on Wednesday night held a meeting with 13 representatives of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and put forth three options to extend reservations to the community in the state.

The Patels, a traditional BJP supporter, led by 24-year-old Hardik Patel have been agitating since 2015 seeking quota in government jobs and educational institutions. Their agitation which claimed the lives of 14 youngsters and jail term to many others has changed the face of politics in the state. Their agitation is also believed to have acted as catalyst for other communities, including OBCs and Dalits, to unite and launch their own agitation. This has prompted both the ruling BJP and opposition Congress to woo community leaders to their fold.

While Congress has been able to woo Alpesh Thakore, leading OBC stir, to its fold, it has been able to convince Dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani to come out in open and support Congress. The exercise is now to rope in Hardik, who is believed to have clout over politically, socially and economically dominant Patel community. While Patels comprise almost 12-14% of electorate, OBCs and Dalits account for almost three-fourths. With Assembly elections due for December 9 and 14, their support could prove crucial for Congress that has been out of power for over 22 years.

The Patel delegation held a meeting with Hardik on Wednesday evening before walking in at Gujarat Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad at around 10.45 pm. The Congress delegation include state party chief Bharatsinh Solanki, with key negotiator being former Union law minister Kapil Sibal, who flew down from Delhi to begin parleys at around 11.15 pm.

Hardik, who has been facing severe criticism from section of his community for having met senior Congress leaders earlier on Wednesday skipped the meeting.

After a three-hour long meeting that went on till 2 am Thursday, PAAS leader Dinesh Bhambhania dubbed the talks as cordial. "Congress, unlike BJP, appears to have worked hard to do a detailed legal and Constitutional research to look for options. They have given us three options that we would now discuss with Hardik and other community leaders before meeting Congress again in a couple of days," Bambhania said.

He said that Congress proposal did not disturb the existing 49% quotas for SC, ST, OBCs and Dalits. With state already having 50% reservations as prescribed by the Supreme Court, Congress is trying hard to show that it has answers to the Patels demands. The Patels had sought quota by being included as part of 27% OBC reservation category. The BJP on its part had earlier offered 10% under economically backward class category. This was rejected by the High Court and the case is now before the Supreme Court. Congress too had earlier offered 20% quota for EBCs in the state.

"We have rejected the Congress' offer of providing reservations under the EBC as it is not constitutionally valid," Bambhania said after the meeting.