In a short span of four years, Hardik Patel, the young Patidar leader from Gujarat has proved that he is much matured and skilful as a leader than what may appear. He was jailed, banished from his home state and is now trying to take on, almost singlehandedly, the mighty BJP in their own backyard proving that he is no pushover.
Hardik came in the limelight when he addressed his first rally in Visnagar, Gujarat on 6 July 2015. He has come a long way since then and has successfully organised several rallies across Gujarat, drawing millions of people through his brilliant oratorial skills. On 25 August 2015, he addressed one of the largest ever rallies in Gujarat where Patidars from all over Gujarat gathered at GMDC ground, Ahmedabad.
Hardik had realized way back in 2015 itself that affirmative policies were benefitting other castes but not Patidars, and formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) which claim itself as an apolitical organisation that aims to get Patidars included in the OBC quota.
Hardik has become the lynchpin of the Patidar agitation in Gujarat for reservation in the jobs. He has also displayed political maturity and shrewdness much beyond his age by being on the right side of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and TMC leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
We cannot undermine Hardik only as a Patidar leader because in Gujarat, the Patels constitute 15 % of the total votes and they can easily affect the outcomes in about 60 of the 182 assembly seats. Hardik few days back joined Congress and is considered quite close to Rahul Gandhi. If Hardik manages to become Congress’ face in Gujarat, he could challenge the BJP, which has been in power in the state for more than two decades.
Hardik was also smart enough to forge a good relationship with the OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani who wield lot of support among groups they belong to. Hardik has also become the voice of the farmer lobby in Gujarat who are quite angry with the polices of BJP. Hardik Patel is quite charismatic as a leader and if he plays his cards well, he could become the young leader the nation should keep a close watch on.
Last year, Hardik went on a 19 day hunger strike in support of two demands – quota for Patidars in jobs and education under the OBC category and the loan waiver for the farmers in Gujarat. Later on, he added a third demand too- the release of his aide Alpesh Katheria, who was earlier arrested on sedition charges. Although, Gujarat BJP Govt didn’t yield to his demands, the long hunger strike firmly established him as a young and dynamic leader among youth of Gujarat.
Speaking during the India Today Conclave 2018 in Mumbai, Hardik Patel said despite having supported Narendra Modi in 2014, when he was BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate, he now vehemently opposes his government. Hardik said, “Yes, I oppose Prime Minister Modi openly but there is a good reason for that. I voted for him when he was running for Prime Minister because I thought he may bring jobs to youth and farmers will benefit too.”
Hardik couldn’t contest the 2017 Assembly elections in Gujarat being under age but that won’t come in his way during the Parliamentary elections to be held on the 23 rd April where he is destined to play a key role in deciding the fate of 26 Lok Sabha seats. Most of the current crop of political leaders in Gujarat seems to have run out of steam and Hardik Patel along with Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani form a formidable triumvirate. It will be interesting to see what future holds for these three young leaders and what effect they will have on Gujarat politics. Having said that, I will put my money on Hardik Patel, the most charismatic and domineering among these three.