Within hours of his release from a Surat prison where he was incarcerated for nine months on charges of sedition, young Patidar leader Hardik Patel has received offers to join three BJP rivals: the Congress, AAP and the NCP.
Out on bail from the Lajpore Central Jail on Friday, the 22-year-old was accorded a rousing welcome by his community in Surat, where Nationalist Congress Party leaders, too, rushed to receive him. Leaders of the Aam Aadmi Party caught up with him at Ahmedabad, while the state unit of the Congress made an open appeal.
Hardik shook the BJP government in the state last year by mobilizing the Patidars with a demand of college admissions and government jobs under reservation benefits. With eyes on the 2017 assembly elections, when Patidars--the BJP’s most-trusted vote bank--are angry with the party, Hardik’s emergence has made him a means for other political players to woo the community that constitutes around 12 to 14 per cent of total 6 crore Gujaratis.
Congress state chief Bhartsinh Solanki made an open appeal to the Patidar leader. “Those fighting for a society against evils are always welcome in the Congress,” he said.
AAP leader Ashutosh came to Ahmedabad and met Hardik at midnight when the youngster arrived here from Surat. “In Delhi, AAP is fighting against injustice. Hardik is doing the same in Gujarat,” said the journalist-turned-politician.
NCP legislator Jayant Patel was among the first to garland Hardik upon his release. “Our doors are always open for Hardik,” said party leader Praful Patel, a former union minister.
Hardik has so far maintained he was not planning to join any political party. “Who told you so? Have I said that?” was his response to a media query about his joining hands with political parties.
The leader’s four-month agitation started in July last year, demanding Other Backward Classes status for the Patidars. On October 19, Hardik was booked under sedition charges over alleged remarks on ‘killing cops’.
Known for his firebrand image, Hardik continues to retain his outspoken character. Only, he is now seen consciously maintaining a distance from the media in an apparent bid to avoid controversies.
After a day-long roadshow in Surat, Hardik, who stayed in Ahmedabad overnight, reached his home in nearby Viramgam to a hero’s welcome.
Neighbours, along with his sister Monica and mother Usha, danced to the tune of garba and greeted him on Saturday in the traditional way. He spent two hours with the family, before leaving for a pilgrimage. His destination: Sarangpur Hanuman temple in Botad of Saurashtra peninsula. There, the gates that customarily close at 12.30 pm every day, were specially opened for him.
At Lathidal village, he was weighed by blood, which was then given for donation.
Everywhere in the Patidar-dominated belt of Saurashtra, the members of the community turned in large numbers to welcome their leader, who was little known until last year.
On Sunday, by evening, Hardik was scheduled to visit two temples: Khodaldham of Leuva Patels and Sidsar of the Kadva Patels. He was also to lead roadshows at Gondal, Morbi and Rajkot before going back to his home around midnight.
As per the bail condition by the high court, which had given him 48 hours in the state after release, Hardik is set to move out of Gujarat--on Sunday. His destination is Udaipur, where he is scheduled to stay at Shrinath Society--in a house of former Congress MLA Pushkarlal Patel. The exile in the Rajasthan city would mean Hardik is 250 km away from Ahmedabad and 120 km far from the Gujarat border.