In July, Patidars in Gujarat, led by 22-year old Hardik Patel, launched an agitation. They wanted OBC status to be accorded to their community and put the BJP government on a sticky wicket.
Four months later, their aggressive campaign has lost steam. With Hardik – the face of the campaign – and five core members of his Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti(PAAS) in jail, the fate of their movement now hangs in the balance. Last week, Hardik had to announce an 11-member panel to put the campaign back on track.
Meanwhile, the Anandiben Patel government, which was once on the back foot, has regained its confidence.
“Patidars will not get reservation. Nobody can take the benefits away from the communities that are already in the reserved category,” Anandiben said in Amreli on Sunday.
The CM was never this direct on the quota issue as the Patidars were traditionally loyal supporters of the BJP. But PAAS’s open support of the Congress in local body elections showed to the BJP that the community had a point to prove.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, “It is anger against the government that drew us support.”
For two days after Hardik’s detention on August 25, Gujarat was in flames. But on October 18, his arrest on charges of sedition at Rajkot , where he had planned to disrupt the India –South Africa cricket match, saw no repercussions.
Despite a new panel being put in place, the PAAS has gone inactive. Apart from Hardik featuring in Congress posters ahead of the municipal corporations elections held on November 22, there has been no stir.
The latent anger among Patidars over not being entitled to reservation benefits in higher education and government jobs helped Hardik mobilise the community with great success. But shifting focus to “government-sponsored police atrocities” has failed to find many takers.
“The PAAS will be back in action after the results of over 300 local bodies will be out on December 2,” said Atual Patel, one of newly appointed panel members. Like Hardik, all new office bearers write their second name as Patel. But they are little known and are yet to come out and test their leadership.
Former colleagues no longer show enthusiasm in working with Hardik. “The campaign was never led by one person. It is being led by the entire community,” said Lalji Patel, president of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), another Patidar organisation.
The courtroom drama that unravelled in September, in which Hardik was unable to prove his allegations of being abducted, has also gone against his credibility.
The civic body poll results will have a bearing on Hardik’s future. Reviving the stir will be an uphill task if the BJP were to register win in the local bodies elections.