Through the grueling Monday afternoon at the Congress headquarters in Ahmedabad, hordes of television crews and bubbling and balding journalists alike were waiting endlessly for a meeting to get over. Everyone outside was discussing and debating and wondering what that meeting was going to yield. Everyone had almost predicted for sure what would the meeting reveal, but they were still guessing.
For nearly two decades, and even now in Gujarat, it has only been Narendra Modi who could provoke such debates and discussions about his next mystery move. One would certainly have not thought that a 24-year-old lad would do so. But this was different, something that had not happened all these years.
The meeting was between a delegation of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) drafted by the maverick Hardik Patel and Gujarat Congress leaders—at their invitation. Hardik chose to send his lieutenants instead of going himself, as though sending the message that he does not deal with lesser leaders.
They were discussing, yet again, the long-standing demand of Hardik Patel’s PAAS for reservation to the community in government jobs and educational institutions under the OBC category, besides three other demands that emerged during the agitation. One of them was withdrawal of police cases imposed on the Patidars during their two-year-old agitation. The ruling BJP has also agreed to withdraw the cases, but had not agreed to withdrawing the serious charges of sedition on Hardik.
The teeming crowd outside could give onlookers the impression that some national political topshots were engaged in tough negotiations. The parleys were being held between Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki and two former state chiefs Arjun Modhwadia and Siddharth Patel and a PAAS delegation led by Alpesh Kathiria and Dinesh Bhambhania.
The suspense was whether Hardik Patel would declare his vocal support to the Congress, though his agitation has left nothing to imagination about his going all out against the BJP and even pulling jubilant crowds wherever he goes. Gujarat has only one major party besides the BJP, but Patel says “Congress is not our mai-baap” and keeps them on tenterhooks too.
Notwithstanding the open secret that he is in touch with the opposition party, the firebrand leader rides a high horse of morality maintaining that he is an “agent of the people” as he ridicules the BJP for calling him an agent of the Congress.
Days earlier, he was apparently driven to the wall when CCTV footage of his past-midnight meeting with Congress leaders, including allegedly party vice-president Rahul Gandhi, was leaked. Soon afterwards, Hardik on Sunday served a Twitter ultimatum to the opposition to come clean on reservations for the Patidars under the OBC category and other demands by 3 November.
This was when Gandhi would be on his three-day campaign in South Gujarat beginning 1 November. He was also expected to meet the Congress scion publicly but he changed his strategy and held out the Twitter threat that the Patidars would do an “Amit Shah” on Rahul in Surat if there was no clarity on the quota issue.
The PAAS activists had in September last year disrupted a BJP show of strength in Surat forcing BJP president Amit Shah and Chief Minister Vijay Rupani to curtail their speeches and leave the venue in a hurry.
It was following this Twitter threat that the Monday meeting took place. The Congress agreed to fulfill his demands if it comes to power. But on the contentious issue of reservation under the OBC category the Congress said it would examine all constitutional aspects and find out the best solution. The Patidar leaders too, according to Hardik Patel, would consult former judges of the Gujarat High Court and explore avenues.
Hardik told Firstpost, “The Congress party has at least expressed their willingness to give reservation, but the BJP has not. Our demand to the Congress is to convince us on how will you give us reservations under Constitutional limitations.”
“The BJP gave a lollipop 10 per cent quota to economically backward classes (EBC), but even that was rejected by the Gujarat High Court and now the case is with the Supreme Court. In the same way, the Congress' promise of a similar 20 per cent EBC is not convincing,” he added.
He asserted that, “The bottomline is that we want reservation for my community and not at the cost of others, this should be very clear. I don't care how...you move heaven and earth if you need to."He, however, insisted that the reservation should pass judicial scrutiny.
Finally, at the end of the Monday meeting, it was decided to arrive at a final decision by 7 November and that Hardik would not meet Rahul on November 3. On Friday, the maverick leader told reporters in Surat, where he had come to the local court in connection with the sedition case against him, “I have quite a few public meetings lined up, so it is not possible to meet Rahul Gandhi. In any case, wait and watch till November 7.”
Updated Date: Nov 23, 2017 14:30 PM