The journey of Hardik Patel: How he left cricket to captain quota agitation team
A good orator, 24-year-old Hardik was active in student politics during his college days and it didn’t surprise many when he joined the Sardar Patel Group.assembly elections Updated: Nov 20, 2017 12:31 IST
Spending most of his time outside home is not new to Patidar leader Hardik Patel.
Through most of his teenage and early 20s, he would not be home for a single meal. But this never worried his parents. They knew that an open ground in the middle of Gujarat’s Viramgam town, some 60km from Ahmedabad, is where he would be.
Having failed to fulfil a long-nurtured dream of making it big on the cricket pitch, Hardik, then a fresh college graduate, would spend endless hours coaching younger enthusiasts.
Things, however, changed in the summer of 2015 as Hardik plunged along with thousands of his community’s youth into violent protests for quotas in jobs and education — a movement that catapulted him into national spotlight overnight and made him a political leader.
“Earlier too, Hardik would be out of home for most part of the day. But we were never worried for him. Things have, however, changed drastically over the last two years,” said his father Bharatbhai Patel, who has a business of submersible pumps.
A good orator, 24-year-old Hardik was active in student politics during his college days and it didn’t surprise many when he joined the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) — a popular Patidar community organisation — where he was put in charge of social media.
Hardik started spending more and more time organising Patidar youth and rising through the ranks. His time away from home jumped from hours to days after he launched the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and became the face of the Patidar agitation for OBC status in July 2015.
Tens of thousands of Patidar youth took out marches, clashed with police and torched vehicles to press the state and central government to give in to the politically influential community.
Hailing from the Kadva Patel community, a sub-caste of Patidars who are mostly farmers and small businessmen, Hardik led the movement from the front and was charged with sedition. Two years later, he is back in Gujarat with the Congress wooing him ahead of assembly polls in December. His strength stems from his apparent clout in the Patidar community, who form 12% of the state’s population and can influence the outcome in 60-odd seats of the 182-member assembly. The community has traditionally voted for the BJP but is disgruntled this time over the denial of quota benefits.
Amid controversy over an alleged sex clip this week, Hardik could not find time from a hectic campaign drive to visit home.
“His last visit home was on Diwali,” said close aide Dinesh Bambania, who is co-accused in two sedition cases against Hardik. When in January this year Hardik returned to Ahmedabad after spending nine months in Surat jail and six months in exile in Udaipur, he moved out of his Viramgam home to devote more time to public meetings. His lifestyle graduated from a motorbike to a swanky, sponsored chauffeur-driven Toyota Fortuner and iPhone. A brief stay with relatives in Ahmedabad ended when he found a sponsor for a 4BHK flat in the city’s plush Shilaj area, which is located hardly half a kilometre from the residence of former CM Anandiben Patel.
Trezure Enclave-I, inspired by European architecture with huge French windows, was promoted as a unique low-rise scheme with a market price of around ₹1.5 crore. Though the housing society has been ready for possession for quite some time, Hardik and his aides are the only occupants.
“The government did not issue building use permission to this housing scheme when they came to know that I have moved in here,” Hardik had told HT earlier.
Making this his base, the quota crusader has addressed over 325 rallies across Gujarat since January, according to Bambania.
“Homemade bhakri (a Gujarati bread) and tea is my favourite breakfast. I miss it a lot and have to eat whatever I get amid campaign,” Hardik had told HT.
His posh Ahmedabad address is a world away from the modest, closely-knit neighbourhood of Zalawadi Patel Society in Viramgam where dwellers not only share tenement walls but food also. Once described by his friends as carefree, Hardik started treading cautiously after landing in jail in sedition cases wherein his calls transcripts were proved vital evidence.
Most of the time, he keeps his whereabouts and routes discreet and prefers WhatsApp calls and messages. His team, comprising cousins and old friends, relies on walkie-talkies to decide on the routes while travelling. “After release of the video clips, the situation is now so sensitive that a very few people are left whom Hardik can trust,” said Bambania.
But despite the controversy, electioneering and media spotlight, Hardik’s family says they are firmly behind him and would not wish for his life to be any different. “Hardik had not planned to become a leader. It happened naturally. Though we miss him, this was something written in his destiny,” Bharatbhai said.
First Published: Nov 20, 2017 09:30 IST