News Analysis | Gujarat BJP eyes community dividend with Patel poster boy’s induction

Jury still out on Hardik as a swing factor as erstwhile supporters question Patidar quota agitation leader’s politics ahead of shift to the ruling party in Gujarat on June 2

June 01, 2022 01:34 am | Updated 10:13 am IST - Ahmedabad

Hardik Patel resigned from the Congress, where he was working president of the State unit for a year. 

Hardik Patel resigned from the Congress, where he was working president of the State unit for a year.  | Photo Credit: -

The poster boy and face of the 2015 Patidar quota agitation, Hardik Patel, who had challenged the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the run-up to the last Assembly elections in Gujarat, is set to join the party ahead of the next State polls scheduled to be held in December this year.

Mr. Patel will be inducted into the BJP on June 2 by Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and the party’s State unit chief C.R. Paatil, Gujarat BJP spokesperson Yagnesh Dave said.

The 28-year-old leader resigned from the Congress, where he was working president of the State unit for a year. He had joined the Opposition party in the run-up to the 2019 parliamentary polls.

While resigning from the Congress, Mr. Hardik Patel had said that the party’s leadership was “highly communal, anti-Hindu and anti-Gujarati”, in a clear indication that the BJP would be his next destination. He spent nearly nine months in jail as the State’s BJP government had filed two sedition cases against him and his aides following the Patidar agitation in 2015.

Patidar outreach

His joining the BJP in Gujarat ahead of the Assembly polls brings Mr. Hardik Patel and the politics around the quota agitation to a full circle as, from 2015 onwards, he was seen as one of the key faces to take on the BJP in its strongest bastion, Gujarat, while the agitation was one of the toughest challenges for the ruling party in the State.

With his entry, the ruling party, which has been wooing Patidars since September 2021, when it abruptly shunted the then Chief Minister Vijay Rupani and his entire Cabinet and installed political novice Mr. Bhupendra Patel as CM, feels that the community will consolidate behind it in the 2022 State polls.

Since March this year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has attended half-a-dozen events of the Patidar community in person and via videoconferencing as part of the party’s outreach towards the State’s most influential community, which forms the backbone of the BJP’s base in the State.

In Gujarat, Patidars constitute less than 15% of the total population but wield disproportionate hold over the State’s politics and political economy thanks to their grip over businesses, the cooperative sector, small and medium enterprises, private education, and the construction and realty sectors.

In close to 60 out of the 182 Assembly seats in the State, the Patidars are decisive in number and can determine the poll outcome.

‘Fickle politics’

Whether Mr. Hardik Patel will swing any section of the community in favour of the BJP remains unclear as he faces questions from erstwhile supporters who are critical of his fickle politics.

“He will be exposing his true face for the second time when he joins the BJP on June 2. He did it earlier when he joined the Congress in 2019,” said Lalji Patel, a Patidar community leader from north Gujarat. Mr. Lalji Patel runs the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), a local outfit which had played a key role in the 2015 quota agitation, apart from the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS).

According to Mr. Lalji Patel, the agitation was not a platform for people like Mr. Hardik Patel to launch their political careers.

Ever since he resigned from the Congress party on May 19, Mr. Hardik Patel’s former aides have been severely criticising their former colleague for “playing politics in the name of community”.

“He has realised that he does not have any scope to rise in Congress, so he is now joining the BJP to fulfil his political ambition,” Manoj Panara, an important agitation leader from Morbi district, said.

Low-key entry

In the BJP, there seems to be a calculated move to bring him into the party fold and use him to target the Congress and its top leadership. However, whether the ruling party will offer him any important role in the run-up to the polls remains to be seen.

Another factor that seems to weigh on the BJP leadership is the putative entry of Patidar community leader and social activist Naresh Patel into the Congress, and countering it with Mr. Hardik Patel’s entry into the BJP.

“You know the fact that the announcement of his joining the party has been made from Gandhinagar and not from Delhi. Secondly, no Central leader would remain present during his induction,” a BJP leader said, suggesting that Mr. Hardik Patel would not be accorded undue importance in the party set-up.

Moreover, a number of Patidar leaders from the party are privately murmuring that there was no need for the party to bring him as he does not bring any value addition to the party.

Former Gujarat Minister and chairman of IFFCO Dilip Sanghani has said, “The party should not invite people like Hardik, who had tried their best to defame and challenge the BJP through a violent agitation.”

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