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Gujarat Polls: Hardik Patel Remains a Thorn in the Flesh for the BJP


NEW DELHI: Hardik Patel, who emerged from a violent Patidar movement for reservation, seems to have sobered dramatically. His stint in jail and then in exile in Rajasthan has brought new maturity to his politics, but not shaken his verve and determination to wrest Gujarat out of the hands of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP.

Patel has been working quietly on the ground, building alliances, meeting people and keeping the issue of reservation for the Patels of Gujarat alive. He has been supportive of other movements led by younger leaders across Gujarat and other states, with a good working relationship with Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani. In fact Patidars formed part of the audience of a recent yatra taken out by Mevani on the first anniversary of the Una atrocities against Dalits, while Patel himself stayed out of the spotlights.

In an excellent interview with an online portal Newsclick Patel has made some interesting and important points, that keep him ensconced in the framework of the Hindu samaj as he puts it, but lifts him to embrace all religions and sects as equal. As he repeats in the interview, “In Class 1 we are taught Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christians are all brothers, and that is what I have believed since then.”

Not really perhaps, as earlier Patel was very much an activist with the right wing outfits in Gujarat but emerged as a leader out of the patidar movement. As he says in the interview, it was a spontaenous movement, it came on to the streets, and he was there too but after a powerful speech the community embraced him. “I am not the leader of this movement,” he says, “destiny has placed me here.”

Patel has not been chastened by the attack on him, the imprisonment and then the exile. The social media on which he is active, detailing his every public activity, makes it clear that he remains strongly opposed to PM Modi and is “determined” to bring down the BJP government in Gujarat through an alliance of new forces. Elaborating on this in the interview Patel says, that first the rakshaks has to be vanquished in his own territory (Gujarat)” and out of this itself the “blueprint” for the national elections will emerge.

The concerns that he was too right wing himself are being dispelled slowly by this Patidars understanding that he will have no bedfellows if he remains in a framework where there is no opposition really to the current regime. He has thus been building alliances, including with Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar before his recent decision to be with the BJP. Patel has been in touch with Aam Aadmi Party, and with local Congress leaders as well. He makes it clear through it all, as in the interview, that he is not against the BJP and has never said a word against Shyama Prasad Mukherjee or former Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

This makes him a little suspect in the eyes of the progressive forces who are not yet confident that Patel will walk the course. “Till the elections yes, but what then?” is the question being asked not just by the Opposition parties but also the new leaders emerging in differnet states, including Gujarat and Delhi. Patel, however, has tried to assure them that he is not going anywhere, that he is part of the same ethos and sees the importance of working with the Dalits, Muslims, Adivasis and all deprived sections of society. This despite the fact that the Patels he is fighting for are amongst the most privileged and monied community in Gujarat.

There is little of this, however, in his public posts but the other leaders who have met him detect a shift that is also noticeable in the Newsclick interview. He says that the Patels will be part of all struggles against injustice. And goes on to add that he was amongst those bitterly opposed to reservation, but understood at a meeting in Kanpur in 2014 that this was necessary for the uplift of the scheduled castes and tribes as they were the targets of social inequality and injustice. Since then he has become a votary of reservations, even though it is for a community in Gujarat that doesnt need it. Patel has been saying in all public meetings that this is unust, as the patidars have got the benefits of reservation in at least 12 states, except Gujarat.

There is thus, a basic distance between the new leaders like Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar and Patel even though both sides are appreciative of the commonalities as well. The antagonism towards the current regime that Patel often describes as ‘rakshak’ in his direct language, and the others as communal, regressive and divisive as well as a more rustic, direct approach to politics binds them. They are all without the baggage of corruption that has stifled the leadership of the recognised political parties, and have not still developed a desire for air conditioned comfort, spending their time in the field.

In Gujarat there is a loose cooperation. It now remains to be seen whether this will work towards a more organised relationship, as Patel but not Mevani seems to suggest, before the elections in the state. Another difference is that while Hardik Patel is not at all averse to seeking political support for his campaigns from the Opposition, Mevani is far more reticent and unwilling to link with the political parties on this issue. But both share a quiet determination that Patel expresses in the interview by saying that he will follow the Constitution and the law, but will not hesitate to counter the state if it turns violent.

At a time when the Congress is crumbling on the eve of the elections in Gujarat, perhaps it might be interesting to keep an eye on the younger leaders of the state who command outasize followings.