Gujarat polls: BJP's attack after Hardik Patel-Congress strike quota deal suggests alarm in ruling party

"Who do you think you are? You are a black star, you would be extinguished. You are a fool. You are cheating the Patidars, they will hunt you and finish you. I have seen many like you come and go in my 50 years of political career."

"Fools have given a formula and fools have accepted it. Top Supreme Court lawyers say reservation can’t be given. You are only a graduate. I don’t even know whether you passed or not."

"We have given so many things, withdrew 500 cases, set up a commission for non-reserved communities, set up a committee to inquire into police atrocities, everything."

"We have been appealing to you despite you insulting us, despite you breaking our offices. Do not think that we cannot retort. Because we are in a position, we have to maintain dignity."

This was an unstoppable Deputy Chief Minister of Gujarat Nitin Patel —  panic writ large on his face — going hammers and tongs against the Patidar leader Hardik Patel at a press conference minutes after the 23-year-old announced that the Congress had given a reservation formula that was workable under the Constitution. The Congress has also promised to include the deal on quota in its manifesto for the Gujarat Assembly election.

 Gujarat polls: BJPs attack after Hardik Patel-Congress strike quota deal suggests alarm in ruling party

A file photo of Patidar leader Hardik Patel. AFP

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) now has a good reason to panic, because two key social organisations of the Patidars — Khodaldham Trust and Umiyadham Trust — have stated that the community must get reservations and the agitation by Hardik Patel was for the right cause. These organisations have a huge impact on both denominations of the Patidars — Kadwa and Leuva.

Two key associates of Hardik joined the BJP, while three sex videos, allegedly of Hardik, surfaced in the public domain recently. But none of these have succeeded in eroding the support base of the Patidar leader. In fact, the crowds seen at his rallies has become bigger even after those videos.

The issues Hardik raises at his public meetings find an instant connect, particularly among the Patidars in the rural and semi-urban areas of Gujarat.

For instance, on Tuesday night at a rally in a village near Ahmedabad, Hardik said rising unemployment, increasing cost of education, lack of adequate health facilities and dwindling infrastructure in rural areas are all instances of an anti-people government, which is on a privatisation overdrive. “They ask me why do we need reservations? There are no jobs. What would you do after your child completes studies. Send them to Ford or Nano? Even outsiders are given a chance there. Not us.”

The firebrand leader has two USPs — his age prevents him from contesting any election and he has ensured that he does not join the Congress. But Hardik's sustained agitation has fired the imagination of an entire generation of rural and semi-urban youngsters, especially among those in his core team, who are seeking political careers.

This also explains why the Congress was forced to change four of its candidates to keep Hardik's Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) in good humour when the party announced its second list of 13 candidates on Monday. Congress replaced its candidates in key seats of Junagadh, Bharuch, Kamrej and Varachha Road constituencies.

The bone of contention, however, remained the Botad constituency in Saurashtra region where earlier the Congress had decided to field Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) defector Manhar Patel but held it back after protests from the PAAS. Eventually, Dilip Sabwa of PAAS was given the ticket.

There was a veritable stalemate and Hardik, who was to announce support of his PAAS for Congress on Monday after they had reached an understanding on reservations the previous day, but he delayed it till Wednesday.

The impact of Hardik's agitation could be understood in both the key political parties in Gujarat have fielded a good number of Patels in the elections.

The BJP has nominated 35 Patidars in its list of 134 candidates announced so far, while the Congress has given tickets to 24 aspirants from the community in its list of 89 contestants declared till Wednesday. Patels are 14 percent of the population and more than 15 percent of the voters in at least 71 constituencies in Gujarat.

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Updated Date: Nov 24, 2017 14:50:13 IST