Sitting inside a dimly-lit room at the house of former Congress MLA Pushkar Dangi in Udaipur, Hardik Patel looks oddly calm as he speaks, clutching an iPhone in his hands. The firebrand leader of Patidars has just turned 23, but there’s no trace of a celebration in the house. Patel’s birthday coincides with a day when Gujarat is simmering in the wake of a series of violent protests by Dalit organisations against atrocities by cow-vigilante groups.
“I have asked all my supporters not to celebrate my birthday for what is happening with our Dalit brothers in Gujarat,” says Patel in Gujarati, condemning the incident of flogging of a Dalit family by cow vigilantes.
In a conversation with HT, Patel spoke about the BJP’s ‘divisive policy’, failure of the Gujarat model and how the ground is slowly slipping under the feet of ‘NRI Prime Minister Narendra Modi’. Excerpts:
Why are residents of Gujarat so angry? Last year there was the Patel agitation. Now it is violent Dalit protests.
It is all because of the primary motive of the BJP. The party aims to divide and rule the state by discriminating between people on the basis of caste and religion. The BJP doesn’t believe in development; it just wants to incite caste-based violence. What is happening with the Dalit community in Gujarat is the result of the anger among people against the government. The BJP has always encouraged violence and the 2002 riots are a testimony to it.
Do you see any parallels between your Patel agitation and the current one by Dalits?
During our agitation, the police went for a merciless crackdown on the people who had taken to the streets, by slapping sedition cases against kids. Many lives were lost in police firing. A similar thing is happening today with Dalits.
Has the BJP-led state government failed? Is the government insensitive towards people’s grievances?
The BJP government has only sold false dreams to the people on the name of development. Today, villages in Gujarat don’t have 24-hour electricity. Yet, the entire people of India are being fooled by creating a halo around the Gujarat model. The public doesn’t care whether it’s a Ram Mandir or the Babri Masjid that will be rebuilt in Ayodhya. Incidents such as the one in Dadri (last year) are purposely fuelled by the BJP to divide people. People need development and the need is not for ‘Make in India’ but ‘Made in India’.
Does Narendra Modi share any responsibility for the failings of the state government?
Selling farmlands to foreign industrialists is not development and under Narendra Modi, Gujarat’s debt increased from Rs 36 crore to 3 lakh-crore. Modi is not the PM of the country; you can call him the NRI prime minister who always remains out of the country. He is like that father who assures his son before exam that he will reward him if he scores good marks in exams, but goes back on his promise every time. This is leading to increased unemployment in unemployment in Gujarat which can have serious consequences like mounting usage of drugs among the youth, similar to what is happening in Punjab and Rajasthan.
What is your view on the movement of cow vigilante groups? Should they be banned?
Everyday we see countless stray cows being beaten and left in bad condition. People are completely ignorant to it. If one wants to become a true ‘gausevak’, then why doesn’t he put them in gaushala for proper care? The ‘dadagiri’ of cow-vigilante groups never reaches the slaugterhouses. It’s is the common people who suffer. It’s tragic that lives are lost because of these self proclaimed cow-protection groups.
Is the BJP good or bad for Gujarat?
In the last two decades, the BJP has been cheating the people by making tall promises but never fulfilling them. I feel that every caste and community in India should be given reservation as per the percentage their population. If that means that the Brahmin population is 3 per cent, then they should get an equal percentage in reservation and same goes for all other castes and religions. Overall in the last two decades, the BJP has failed Gujarat.
Did Modi do no good in Gujarat?
What is development if all one does is to encourage foreign direct investment? How do the state’s people benefit from it if an American company makes a big profit by selling a phone that is not made in India? If the phone is made by an Indian company, then it will be generate revenue and also provide employment to locals.
How will the Patels respond in the Gujarat Assembly elections next year?
All I would like to say is that the BJP is losing the grip over Gujarat and it will meet a similar fate such as last year’s panchayat elections in the state. At the time of that polls, the Patels kept quiet but did their job silently. The result is for everyone to see.