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Hardik Patel gets support from Congress and allies, Patidars give his fast a miss

The Patidar leader began an indefinite fast demanding reservation for the community in jobs and education on August 25.

india Updated: Sep 02, 2018 00:04 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Hardik Patel,Patidars,Patidar community
A doctor checks the health of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel on the 7th day of his indefinite hunger strike, in Ahmedabad on August 31.(PTI Photo)

As an indefinite fast by Hardik Patel, leader of the campaign for government job and college seat quotas for Gujarat’s Patidar community, entered its fifth day on Wednesday, support from political parties continued to pour in at his Ahmedabad residence.

The hunger strike, however, is yet to strike a chord with the masses – particularly with his own Patidar community and farmers. The missing support from these communities assumes significance because Patel is espousing their causes: reservation benefits for the Patidars and a loan waiver for farmers.

A huge turnout of around 200,000 on August 25, 2015 at a rally called by Patel in Ahmedabad had shaken the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) state government and catapulted the then 22-year-old to the political centerstage. Exactly three years later, when he sat on his indefinite fast, he had the company of just around 100 supporters.

That hasn’t prevented a host of Congress legislators and leaders from its allies like Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) from visiting the firebrand leader in the past four days.

Pictures emerging from his house, lcated on the highway connecting Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar – which he has turned into the venue for the hunger strike after he failed to get permission to hold it in the twin cities – are only helping the BJP to project Patel as a “Congress agent”.

“Hardik cannot repeat what happened in August 2015. His decision of an indefinite fast in unlikely to yield any results. It is no longer seen as an agitation. What is happening now is a show where all the three involved parties- Hardik, the Congress and the BJP- are just trying to play around an emotive issue of reservation’’, said political analyst Hari Desai.

Purvin Patel, a businessman from Gandhinagar, moblised funds and workers to make food and parking arrangement for the massive 2015 rally. He is a member of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), which in 2011 began an agitation for Other Backward Classes (OBC) status for the Patidars. Hardik Patel was SPG’s Viramgam president before forming his own outfit, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti(PAAS).

This time around, the SPG and its members have not come out in support of his hunger strike.

“In 2015, it was a voluntary response for a social movement by Patidars, who had been struggling to get OBC status for some years. We still very much want OBC status but, at the same time, we want to keep the agitation non-political. It is clear that we need to fight a legal battle to get the status,” said Purvin Patel, when asked why he and other Patidars did not back Hardik Patel this time.

In two crucial elections that took place in Gujarat after the 2015 rally-- polls to local bodies in November the same year and the assembly in December 2017 -- PAAS declared its support for the Congress. The BJP, which for over two decades has enjoyed the unflinching support of Patidars, suffered losses in both the elections although it kept power at the state level. A community of farmers and industrialists, Patidars, who make up over 12% of Gujarat’s 60 million population, have been a crucial vote base for the BJP.

A week before the hunger strike, Hardik Patel announced that several thousand Patidars and farmers would join him. When the administration denied him permission to hold the hunger strike in open grounds, Hardik Patel said supporters will observe a fast in their respective cities and villages.

For the first time on Wednesday, his social media team released photos to show that in places like Mehsana , Surat and Surashtra, his supporters had been observing a symbolic hunger strike. ``Due to police clampdown, my supporters could not reach here. Besides, I have been put under a sort of house arrest by deploying policemen in large number outside my home,’’ Hardik Patel said.

He blamed the administration for the lukewarm response. “Over 60,000 persons tried to reach. But only 1,124 could reach here. Is any new section being added to the constitution under which the police can decide who can visit me at home and who cannot?’’, Hardik said, claiming that 16,000 people were detained on the first day of the fast.

The police denied his charges and said only 258 persons had been detained. Additional director general of police R B Brahmbhatt said, “Policemen have been deployed to maintain law and order considering the fact that the 2015 rally had turned into violent protests, killing 14 youths. And, contrary to the claim that thousands of supporters were detained, only 258 persons have been detained”.

The Congress’s top leaders on Tuesday made a representation to the state Human Right Commission. “ Hardik has not been allowed to fast in any public place. His supporters are not allowed to reach him. This is violation of right to protest”, said Congress MLA Lalit Vasoya.

Hardik Patel’s campaign is no longer an agitation for quotas,said deputy chief minister Nitin Patel.”Efforts are being made to divide the community ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Hardik is just a Congress agent,” he said.

First Published: Sep 02, 2018 00:04 IST