Jagdish Thakor, who emerged as a consensus candidate for the post of president of the Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee, is facing the formidable task of defeating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in next year's assembly elections.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi appointed Thakor as new president of the Gujarat Congress, replacing Amit Chavda, the party announced earlier in the day.
An OBC leader, Thakor, who has good oratory skills, will have to take along all factions in the state unit while taking on the well-organised BJP which has been in power in the state from 1998.
Congress sources said Thakor was a consensus candidate as former state unit chiefs Bharatsinh Solanki and Arujn Modhwadia were also in the race.
The party high command also toyed with the idea of picking young Patidar leader Hardik Patel for the post, but he faced considerable opposition from within the state unit, they said.
Rajya Sabha member Shaktisinh Gohil was asked to take on the responsibility but he declined saying he would like to contribute at the national level, sources said.
"Thakor does not belong to any faction and that was the reason he has been given the responsibility," said a state Congress leader.
Solanki, Modhwadia and Hardik Patel congratulated Thakor after his name was announced and expressed hope that the Congress will defeat the BJP under his leadership in the 2022 elections.
With Thakor's appointment, the party seems to be sticking to its traditional Kshatriya-tribal-Muslim-Dalit vote base.
In the 2017 elections the party had tried to woo the Patels in the wake of the Patidar quota agitation. With the agitation's impact now waning, the Congress seems to have opted for an OBC leader.
Tribal leader Sukhram Rathwa was likely to be appointed as the Leader of Opposition in the assembly, sources said.
Previous state Congress president Amit Chavda and Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani resigned in March 2021 when the party got a drubbing in local bodies polls, but had been asked to continue till replacements were found.
Thakor, currently state Congress vice president, started his political career as a youth leader and rose through the ranks.
The Kshatriya Thakor community to which he belongs has a large presence in north and central Gujarat.
He was the MP from Patan between 2009 and 2014 before losing in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Earlier, he was elected as MLA from Dehgam in 2002 and 2007.
"Thakor is a good orator and firebrand leader, connected to the grassroots. He will lead the party in the assembly elections successfully," state Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.