India should give all citizens reservations or abolish the system completely, Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old spearheading a movement in Gujarat demanding quotas for the Patel community, told HT, adding he wanted to bring about a change in the system through dabangai or aggression.
The only contemporary leader he respected was Raj Thackeray, Hardik said, as thousands of troops patrolled the streets of Gujarat amid an uneasy calm after mob violence left 10 people dead.
"Either enslave everyone under reservations or free everyone. If you cannot remove it because of politics, give it. There are no jobs, no education, no scholarships because those with reservations have taken it all," said Hardik, speaking to HT in a parking lot in Ahmedabad, the epicentre of the protests.
His role models were Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel and Balasaheb Thackeray, whose decisiveness and strength Hardik admired.
"I like Raj's power and oratory. His writ doesn't run too much in Mumbai, but he speaks the truth. I can work with him," he said.
The leader of the Patidari Anamat Andolan Samiti, whose supporters torched police stations, burnt vehicles and pelted stones at security personnel, countered the argument that the community didn't need quotas, saying only 5-10% of the Patels were prosperous.
"Gujarat is like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar only. Go to the villages and you will see the situation. 9,000 farmers have committed suicide in ten years. We are fighting for equality," he said.
A wealthy business community, the Patels account for 12-15% of Gujarat's population and have warned the ruling BJP of adverse electoral consequences if their demand for OBC status isn't met. But experts are worried the bitter protests will galvanise similar demands in other parts of the country, especially Jats in Haryana and Gujjars in Rajasthan.
The 22-year-old has asked his community to stop the supply of milk and vegetables to cities and withdraw money from all banks. "India's economy will collapse."
He said he was ready for talks but chief minister Anandiben Patel had no power - "someone else has all the power," Hardik said, but refused to elaborate.
When asked about if the abolition of reservations would be unfair to Dalits and tribals who had been oppressed for centuries, Patel was quick to hit back. "There has been reservation for 60 years. If there has been no development for them, is it our fault? Other communities cannot lose out and suffer."
Hardik also tore into Prime Minister Narendra Modi and said he thought the PM would develop India and give security but was let down.
"Look, farmers, soldiers and workers are suffering. After he (Modi) went, ceasefire problems have increased with Pakistan. He has brought China to India," Hardik said.
Asked if Modi should have fought with them, Hardik said, "If not fight, fight with your brains at least." And this PM, Patel said, wears a suit. "Should the PM wear a suit? He wears one with his name and then sells it. He should be simple."
Though he claimed the seven-million strong Patel community was firmly behind him, Hardik said he wanted to change the system and wouldn't contest polls - he is ineligible at 22 -- but get others elected and hold the remote.
His political aim was implementing his reservation agenda, 'killing all terrorists who were arrested immediately', and maintaining brotherhood with Muslims.
He laughed away growing comparisons with Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, who rode to power on the back of the massive goodwill generated during the 2012 anti-corruption protests in the Capital.
"I want to change the system through dabangai, aggression. Nothing will change in India through love...AAP doesn't do dabangai."
When asked who was funding the movement given its massive scale, Hardik said, "We are not that poor also. If 70 lakh people give a rupee each, that is 70 lakh rupees."
Did they have support from Patels abroad? "Yes, they are all with us and have told us if there was no reservation, they would not have needed to go outside to work." But he said they had not taken any financial contribution from Patels outside, and rejected the charge that any party was funding him.
Patel gave 60% of the credit for the movement to social media and 40% to hard work. He said they have a 12-member social media team, using Facebook and WhatsApp primarily. They sent out at least two million WhatsApp messages every day about the issue, rally details, programmes in the offing and more.