Hardik Patel back in Gujarat with a crowd behind him: Is BJP game for the challenge?

Back from an exile after six months, Patel icon Hardik Patel, has started an outreach toward his community. Away from the state, back in action he had to make a point. And he did that with the show of strength when he entered Gujarat on Tuesday with a cavalcade of cars and public transport which later culminated into a rally at Himmatnagar.

The place of the rally was chosen keeping in mind that Patel had to restart from a place which is a Patel stronghold. Himmatnagar in North Gujarat therefore became the ideal choice for his supporters who were trying to run the show in his absence. The Paas (Paatidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) has been struggling to keep its flock together in the absence of Hardik and the state government too tried to reach out to the members and trying to sort out the existing demands of the Samiti. The BJP did manage to break the ice but failed to reach any kind of conclusion. The party did identify deputy chief minister Nitin Patel to negotiate with the agitating leader in Hardik’s absence but it did not work in the favour of BJP.

Hardik Patel. AFP

Hardik Patel. AFP

Now that Hardik is back from the High Court instructed exile, Hardik and his community members do seem hopeful that in an election year, the BJP might look into their demands but the BJP seemed to be unfazed with the return of Hardik. State BJP spokesperson, Bharat Pandya said, "BJP is not going to be affected in any way with the return of the youth leader.’’ The people of the Patel community have been with the BJP and will continue to be with the party because they support the party’s ideology and leaders. "So if here are attempts of renewed agitations for quota there will be no takers,’’ said Pandya.

Hardik on the other hand has been stressing on the fact that the demand for quota for Patels will continue to be there and if need be there will be a renewed agitation statewide as had happened previous year. "The BJP might continue to live in denial but our demands will continue and the BJP cannot ignore us,’’ said Patel to a crowd in his rally in Himmatnagar.

"BJP cannot ignore the Patels in an election year, how they iron out the differences remains to be seen,’’ said political analyst Vishnu Pandya. He said that they have tried to placate the Patels by appointing a Patel deputy chief minister, but they have to strategize to counter the uprise which had embarrassed not only the state party leadership but the national leadership as well.

The mishandling of the Patel agitation had led to the ouster of former and first woman chief minister of the state —Anandiben Patel. "The BJP should be effective enough of not wanting to face an embarrassment again,’’ observed Pandya.

By granting permission to Hardik to hold a rally, the BJP has given the signal that it does not want to go on warpath and agitate the Patels any further. BJP has already lost a few local elections, post the Patidaar agitation. The Patel community comprises a little above 18 percent of the total population of the state and are primarily into farming and diamond polishing industry. It also has influence in the international community.

"Hardik first has to chalk out a strategy to ensure that it does not fizzle out. He has to rethink because though he has been in touch with his supporters but they have been out of action or have not been able to generate any curiosity in his absence," pointed out Pandya.

BJP is clear that it does not want to deal with this with an iron hand, but at the same time it wants to ensure that any kind of uprise from any community in an election year will just add on the troubles of the party which is battling to retain position in a post-Modi era. The state government is already faced with a Dalit movement and demands by OBCs.

Published Date: Jan 18, 2017 20:58 PM | Updated Date: Jan 18, 2017 20:58 PM

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