Cong, Patels burn midnight oil over quota

Cong, Patels burn midnight oil over quota

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

The Patels who have traditionally been BJP supporters, have been agitating since 2015, under the leadership of 24-year-old Hardik Patel, seeking quotas in government jobs and educational institutions. Their agitation is also believed to have acted as catalyst for other communities, including OBCs and dalits to unite and launch a stir. This has resulted in the ruling BJP and opposition Congress trying to woo the community leaders.

While the Congress has been able to woo Alpesh Thakore, leading the OBC stir, to its fold, it has also been able to convince dalit youth leader Jignesh Mevani to come out in the open and support Congress. The exercise now is to rope in Hardik Patel, who is believed to have a clout over the politically, socially and economically dominant Patel community.

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

Hardik, who has been facing criticism for having met senior Congress leaders earlier, skipped the meeting on Wednesday. His step is also seen as a move to cut a hard bargain with Congress for his support in elections.

After a three-hour meeting that went on till 2 am on Thursday, PAAS leader Dinesh Bhambhania dubbed the talks cordial. "The Congress, unlike the 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 the proposal put forth by the Congress did not disturb the existing 49% quotas for SC, ST, OBCs and dalits.

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