A cluster of SUVs parked outside a four-storey house gives away the presence of a VIP inside. There are more giveaways once one steps inside: A motley group of people are busy chatting in Gujarati, otherwise an oddity in the heart of Mewar.
Patel reservation stir leader Hardik Patel has made the house in the outskirts of Udaipur his home after being ordered by the court to stay outside Gujarat for the next six months. He chose the house of an ex-Congress MLA as his address in exile and several of his die-hard followers have come to stay here with him.
“I am the first person to be booked under the sedition law in Gujarat since 1944,” proclaims Nilesh Arvadiya. A ceramic trader in Saurashtra, he is one among the closest associates of Hardik and has decided to stay with him for his entire period of exile.
Hardik is inside freshening up for a visit to the police station – a daily requirement as ordered by the court – while passersby outside throw furtive glances at the house made famous by its new inhabitant.
His followers say Hardik will not be missing home during his stay in Rajasthan. “We are all part of Gujarat and are here for Hardik. How can he miss his home if he is surrounded by friends who care for him?” explains an aide Naresh Dankhara.
Those who have come with Hardik say the house in Udaipur was carefully chosen. The house in the city’s outskirts was preferred since BJP workers could have constantly troubled Hardik by holding dharnas and demonstrations if he had chosen to stay in the main city.
That the neighbourhood is dominated by members of the Patidar community sealed the decision for Hardik. His team wished for local support and residents are reciprocating by readily helping visitors with direction to his house.
His followers fall silent the moment Hardik stepped out into the living room, looking every bit at home at his new address.
“Will I be able to see the news you will publish in the Android application?” he asked HT. Once assured, he launched into a diatribe against the BJP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is NRI Modi - more abroad than in the country; the BJP is out to divide the country; that the BJP-led Gujarat government has failed. His list of grievances is long.
He has one complaint regarding his exile though: That he misses the food cooked at his home, particularly ‘Bajre ki Roti’.
His interview is cut short when a police team arrives to escort him to the collectorate on being summoned by the superintendent of police.
But before he gets into a waiting car to be driven off, he pontificates one last time, “When we return to Gujarat, either the ruling party will change, or Gujarat will change.”
He also sounds an ominous warning. “We are non-violent people but if we are harassed and tortured by the authorities again and again, things will get out of hand. After all, we don’t believe in Gandhiji’s saying that if someone slaps you in one cheek, you should turn the other too,” he warned.
His cavalcade hits the road. Though sent in exile after a prolonged stay in jail on being charged with sedition, Hardik believes his journey as a Patel leader is far from over.