Hardik Patel naming new quota leader a sign of his larger political ambition?
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Hardik Patel naming new quota leader a sign of his larger political ambition?

Patidar quota crusader Hardik Patel on Sunday declared his close aide Alpesh Kathiriya as the new face of the agitation for OBC status, fuelling speculation that he may now enter full-time politics.

india Updated: Dec 10, 2018 13:19 IST
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Hardik Patel,Patidar quota,Alpesh Kathiriya
Political pundits feel Hardik Patel has been nurturing the ambition of becoming a political leader from the very beginning and he could have sensed that now the timing is right to take the plunge.(AP/File Photo)

Patidar quota crusader Hardik Patel on Sunday declared his close aide Alpesh Kathiriya as the new face of the agitation for OBC status, fuelling speculation that he may now enter full-time politics.

A grand welcome given to Surat resident Kathiriya (25) upon his release from jail after three months in a sedition and attempt to murder case also indicated that he is getting popular in his Patel community at a time when Hardik has drawn flak for purportedly turning agitation into a movement against the BJP government.

“So far, I was the face of the agitation. Now, I declare Kathiriya our leader,” said firebrand Hardik, who has been for months dismissing talks of throwing his hat into the political ring ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Political pundits feel Hardik has been nurturing the ambition of becoming a political leader from the very beginning and he could have sensed that now the timing is right to take the plunge.

“There is no doubt that he wants to become a Member of Parliament. This is the right time to make his political debut as the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner. He has also sensed that he is no longer as popular and acceptable as he used to be in the past. He is required to take the next step before he loses the plot,” said political analyst Hari Desai.

But Hardik is keeping his cards close to his chest. “He can go anywhere. He may join the Congress or the NCP. Even the BJP is not ruled out,” Desai added.

Soft spoken and law graduate Kathiriya not only has a strong hold over Surat, which has a large population of Patidars, but is also accepted among the warring community factions.

Founders of the quota agitation, who have one by one distanced themselves from Hardik after he started warming up to opposition party leaders, have open heartedly come out in support of Kathiriya.

“Kathiriya, who has always followed the law and maintained dignity despite being a young leader of the agitation, is the right choice as the leader,” said Varun Patel, a former aide of Hardik. Varun had joined the BJP in the run-up to the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections when Hardik declared support to the Congress.

Hardik has been maintaining a distance from religious groups and powerful Patidar businessmen after continuous inclination towards the Congress. The influential Patidar community, which constitutes 12 per cent of the over total 6 crore Gujaratis, has been a loyal supporter of the BJP for the past two decades.

With Patidar youths demanding OBC status and Hardik declaring support to the Congress, the BJP suffered heavy losses in last two elections — 2015 local body polls and 2017 assembly elections.

Hardik’s former aides, including mentor Lalji Patel, who heads the Sardar Patel Group, Dinesh Bambhania and others have supported a three-day Sankalp Yatra, which began in Surat by receiving Kathiriya from Lajpor jail.

It was a similar kind of welcome and procession that Hardik was given when he was released from the same jail after nine months in January 2017.

Like Hardik, Alpesh is a founding member of Patidar Ananmat Andolan Samiti, which came into existence in July 2015 with the demand of reservation benefits for Patels or Patidars in government jobs and college admissions.

Kathiriya was also a co-accused in the sedition case, which landed Hardik and his five former aides in jail in October 2015.

Kathiriya was arrested in August 2018, two days before Hardik announced an indefinite fast to revive the agitation that has lost steam. The fast, however, drew lukewarm response and Hardik had to end it inconclusively when the Vijay Rupani government showed no signs of succumbing to his pressure.

First Published: Dec 10, 2018 08:04 IST