Hardik Patel, who spearheads the Patel stir for reservation in education and jobs in Gujarat, will be out of jail after nine months as the state’s high court granted him bail on Monday in a case of rioting.
The court’s reprieve in the Visnagar rioting case, which was the last legal hurdle for his release, came nine days before his 23rd birthday. He is likely to walk out of Surat’s Lajpore Jail on July 14.
But he will have to stay away from his home state for six months, honouring the conditional bail given by the high court on July 8 in two sedition cases registered against him in Surat and Ahmedabad. Besides, he was barred from entering Mehsana for another three months.
He faced nine cases, filed in eight police stations, ranging from rioting to sedition after he led huge protests last year to put pressure on the government to accept the demand for inclusion of Patels or Patidars in the “other backward class” reservation category.
The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader’s mega rally in Ahmedabad on August 25, 2015, triggered widespread violence in which 10 people were killed and public property worth crores of rupees was damaged across Gujarat. He was arrested in October.
His family and neighbours in Viramgam, about 11km from Ahmedabad, burst crackers and distributed sweets after the court order on Monday.
“I had faith in Maa Bahucharaji and the judiciary,” said mother Ushaben. Sister Monica gushed: “Next month is Raksha Bandhan. I have already received the gift.”
Father Bharatbhai Patel, a small-time trader and former BJP worker, said his son will not be allowed in the state for six months as the Gujarat government is afraid of him and the Patidars.
His organisation has planned a grand welcome, taking Hardik in an open vehicle to the Patel-dominated Varracha area of Surat en route to his home. Gujarat Police will shadow him during his two days in the state and leave him outside the border.
The bail triggered speculation that the ruling BJP was trying to bring him into the party’s fold, a move that could put an end to the Patel quota stir.
The Gujarat government had until now opposed all his bail applications, but softened its stand when stricter bail conditions for Hardik, than those for his aides who also face sedition charges, were suggested.
“During the six months, the ground will be prepared to include Hardik in the BJP to stop any more agitation by the Patidars as the state will be going to polls in 2017,” a BJP source said.
“The Patidars are divided. It was not hard to force industrialists to withdraw from the agitation. The government weakened Hardik’s core team by not opposing bail pleas of his aides when they gave undertakings that they won’t be part of any protest or violent incident,” he said.
But the opposition Congress called the bail a slap for the government.
“The Gujarat government failed in suppressing the voice of the youth and a community,” state Congress president Siddharth Patel said.
The BJP is wary of the politically and financially influential Patel community, which has been a staunch supporter of the party for three decades until Hardik’s rallies swiftly changed loyalties. Chief minister Anandiben Patel’s government floundered in containing the stir and the BJP tasted its worst defeat in rural elections in November 2015.
The Patel community constitutes around 12% of the 30 million people living in Gujarat.
The stir lost its sting after Hardik and his aides were put in jail. But he has told the court that he will continue the agitation in a peaceful manner. “In his undertaking to the court, he said he will not indulge in any unlawful activity,” lawyer Zubin Bhadra said.