By Siddharth Sharma
New Delhi [India], April 1 (ANI): Congress is likely to appoint industrialist Naresh Patel, an influential Patidar community leader, as its chief ministerial face in the run-up to the assembly polls later this year, party sources said.
Congress is drawing up a "big strategy" for the Gujarat assembly elections which are crucial for the party after its drubbing in elections to five states. The party has been out of power in Gujarat for almost 28 years and is keen to shore up its prospects in Gujarat.
Congress sources said the party leadership is evolving a strategy for the polls and Naresh Patel could soon join the Congress.
Election strategist Prashant Kishor is part of the plan for projecting Naresh Patel as chief ministerial candidate, sources said.
Naresh Patel is a Leuva Patidar leader and chairman of Khodaldham Trust, which runs the Khodaldham Mata Temple, the kuldevi of Leuva Patels.
He is also apparently being wooed by the Aam Aadmi Party. Congress sources said Patel has met the top Congress leadership and may join the Congress during Rahul Gandhi's visit to Gujarat in April.
The sources said Naresh Patel may be made head of the party's election campaign committee initially and may be projected as a chief ministerial candidate as the election nears, sources added.
Naresh Patel is also known among the Patidar community for his social work and is considered to have influence among other communities also.
There is speculation that Prashant Kishor may join the Congress soon.
Asked about it, Congress leader Shakti Singh Gohil had said at a press conference that everyone is told "the time of marriage, not at the time of seeing the girl".
Sources said Kishor wants Naresh Patel to lead the Congress campaign in Gujarat while Naresh Patel also wants the campaign to be under Kishor's supervision.
Congress has conducted an internal survey and the results are favourable towards Naresh Patel, sources said.
Congress had given a tough fight to the BJP in the last Gujarat assembly polls. Sources said the survey revealed that the party can again be in a position to give very close contest to BJP with suitable changes.
But there are other factors at play as well with Aam Aadmi Party keen to make big inroads in Gujarat after its victory in Punjab polls. Naresh Patel is a new face politically and has not contested any election. There is the risk of the old guard getting upset at any preference given to a new leader and the party has dealt with a similar problem in Punjab.
Gujarat Congress chief Jagdish Thakor belongs to the OBC Community and Leader of Opposition Sukhram Rathwa is from Scheduled Tribes. The Congress has support among the Dalit community also. The Congress hopes that social equations will work in its favour in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its election strategy will succeed.
The Patidar community has an influence on a sizeable number of seats in Gujarat. Congress is seen to have an edge in Saurashtra due to the agitation of the Patidar community ahead of the last assembly polls.
In the last election to the 182-member Gujarat Assembly, the BJP won 99 seats with 49 per cent votes and the Congress 77 seats with 41.4 per cent votes. However, in the last four-and-a-half years, more than a dozen MLAs have left Congress. (ANI)
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