Hardik Patel | Permanent interests 

The Patidar leader, who campaigned for the Congress in 2017, has left the party

May 22, 2022 03:23 am | Updated 03:23 am IST

At age 22, Hardik Patel, in 2015, challenged the mighty BJP in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf Gujarat by launching an agitation demanding a quota in jobs and education for his community. In doing so, he took on the then Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, a protege and successor of Mr. Modi.

The agitation by Gujarat’s most affluent Patidar community not only exposed the ruptures in the Gujarat model that was marketed globally but also defanged the State government, barely a year after Mr. Modi’s exit in May 2014. The State-wide agitation ended in violence in which 14 members of the Patidar community were killed in police firing. There were clashes between police officers and protesters, government vehicles were torched and public properties damaged.

Mr. Patel, convener of the Patidar Ananmat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), became a hero of Patidars overnight.

As the State recovered from the bruises of the agitation, Mr. Patel and his aides, mostly youngsters who demanded the Patidars to be included in the OBC category or an end to the quota system altogether, were arrested. The police slammed them with sedition cases in Ahmedabad and Surat.

Mr. Patel was granted bail by the High Court after nine months of incarceration with a condition that he would spend six months out of Gujarat. In January 2017, he returned to his home State. But in the meantime, Anandiben Patel, who is from the Patidar community, was replaced by Vijay Rupani, a Jain from Rajkot who was also a protege of Amit Shah. Also, the BJP had successfully split Mr. Patel’s agitation with many of his aides distancing themselves from their leader.

But that didn’t stop Mr. Patel from chasing his ambitions. In the run-up to the 2017 assembly polls, he grew closer to the Congress. He attended massive public rallies asking the voters, especially the Patidar community, to vote against the BJP. The BJP managed to retain Gujarat, but with a reduced majority. It won 99 of the 182 seats, its lowest tally since 1995.

“What he did in 2017 was sort of a betrayal and what he is doing now is the same,” said Varun Patel, a close aide, who had parted ways with him in 2017 and had joined the BJP. In 2019, in the run-up to the parliamentary polls, he formally joined the Congress. But his entry failed to have any impact on the results as the BJP swept all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in the State. A year later, Mr. Patel was appointed as the working president of the Gujarat Congress Committee.

Upcoming election

As the State stares at another assembly election in six months, the young Patidar leader is in news again as he quit the Congress. Speculation is rife that he is most likely to join the BJP in the coming days.

“We have to remember that the BJP and the Prime Minister enacted a law to give a 10 per cent quota to the economically weaker sections of upper castes; they have also taken other measures to help people belonging to upper castes but are financially weak,” Mr. Patel told reporters a day after resigning from the Congress. “His ambition has no limits. He used the entire community to become a hero and now he will join the BJP to fulfill his ambition. He shows no commitment or no ideology,” said Congress legislator Lalit Vasoya, who was one of the key players of the Patidar agitation in 2015.

However, after leaving the Congress, Mr. Patel slammed the party for “not allowing” any powerful Patidar leader to rise in Gujarat. He cited the cases of late CM Chimanbhai Patel, who was removed from the party in the early 1970s, Narhari Amin, who left the Congress in 2012 after he was denied a ticket and late Vithal Radadia, who left the party and joined the BJP.

But the Congress shot back. “He did not like that a person from the OBC community was made the party president in Gujarat [Jagdish Thakor]; a tribal leader was made leader of the opposition [Sukhram Rathva] in the State assembly; and a Dalit legislator, Jignesh Mevani, became an important figure in the Congress set-up,” said Raghu Sharma, the AICC-in-charge of Gujarat.

While Mr. Patel is looking for a fresh political start, it will be prudent of him to remember that being a successful agitation leader is no guarantee that you will become a successful political figure, particularly in a State where caste and communal equations have always played a key role in politics.

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