Sedition, rioting and criminal cases unlikely to prevent Hardik Patel joining BJP
The Gujarat Government has already moved to withdraw cases of rioting against Hardik Patel. It seems to have dropped its objections before the court on sedition and 30 criminal cases against him
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Gujarat last week for the 17th time since March. The Home Minister Amit Shah was also in the state; both have been wooing Patidars and tribals and it was widely expected that Hardik Patel, who quit Congress, would join the BJP at one of the meetings. But first the criminal cases against him need to be withdrawn, observers point out.
The irony was not missed in Gujarat when Hardik Patel quit the Congress after accusing it of being a ‘casteist’ party. Patel after all had spearheaded the agitation demanding reservation for his own caste. But that was not his only grouse. Although he was the Congress ‘Working President’ for the past three years, he cribbed that he had no work, that Congress was anti-Gujarati, that Congress had come in the way of integration of Kashmir, that the Congress always criticized the two Gujarati billionaires, Adani and Ambani. The list of his grievances was incredibly long.
Bemused Congress leaders, who claimed they were not caught by surprise, hit back hard. It took him three years to realise he had no work, asked one sarcastically. Others echoed Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani and pointed out that as Working President he was expected to assign work. “Who had given him work in 2015,” fumed a few.
While all signals point to Hardik joining the BJP (he is talking directly to the PMO, he has boasted to friends), he is taking his time, unnerved partly by the reaction on social media. After all he was calling Prime Minister Narendra Modi names till the other day and taking helicopter rides as a Congress leader. But the Gujarat Government withdrawing cases against him is another sign that overtures are being made for his induction in the party, which is on an overdrive to reach out to the Patidars and tribals to make up the losses it might suffer in the urban areas.
Another telltale sign was his accusation that Congress is anti-Gujarat. By always criticizing the two biggest industrialists from the state, Adani and Ambani, Congress had shown its anti-Gujarat stand, he complained. By that token 41.4 per cent of the Gujarati voters who voted for the Congress in the state in 2017 could be singled out as anti-Gujarat, a Congress leader quipped, laughing off the allegation.
Gujarat Congress leaders claim they were aware of what Hardik Patel was up to. His paranoia, they say, had increased after media reports that Khodaldham Trust chairman Naresh Patel could join Congress. Naresh Patel is a highly respected figure among the Leuva Patidars while Hardik belongs to the Kadva sub-caste of the Patidars. Aware of his overtures to the BJP, he was not welcome at the party’s Chintan Shivir at Udaipur either.
Forced to replace a Patidar woman chief minister(Anandiben Patel) in 2016 because of the Patidars’ agitation for reservation, the BJP unsheathed its iron claw and Hardik was sentenced to two years imprisonment in a 2015 case of rioting and arson in Visnagar. He appealed for a stay of the verdict in the High Court.
Meanwhile he was all primed to contest the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Jamnagar and had joined the Congress. The rejection of his appeal came days before the filing of nominations leaving him with hardly any time for the apex court’s intervention.
During the case, the Gujarat Government had made out a strong case against a stay stating that Hardik had criminal antecedents with 17 FIRs including two of sedition cases registered against him. The High Court upheld the argument and Hardik missed the poll bus.
His political ambitions stalled in 2019, Hardik is in no mood to miss the ensuing Vidhan Sabha poll this year. But there is a problem. He is an accused in at least 30 FiRs filed against him between 2015 to 2018 including those of sedition. According to Gujarat Congress chief Jagdish Thakor, Hardik feared jail term in the sedition case and sought ‘refuge’ from ‘someone’ which accounts for the change in his tone and tenor.
The change in the BJP government’s stance is there for all to see. The state was no longer inclined to push hard on ‘his criminal antecedents’ as it did in the High Court. The result was that on April 12, the Supreme Court stayed his conviction in the case pending decision on his appeal. Free to contest elections now, Hardik opened a front against the Congress the day after.
On April 25, the state government moved to withdraw another case of rioting against him and others but the Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate rejected the plea. The government knocked on the doors of the sessions court which permitted withdrawal on May 10. Eight days later Hardik quit the Congress and began ‘swaying’ to the saffron flute.
BJP watchers believe that the agitation which threw up Hardik Patel as the spearhead of an agitation for OBC reservations in 2015, had the blessings of the RSS. No wonder it had led to the Gujarat government granting EBC (Economically Backward Class) reservation for the first time in the country. On April 29,2016 the Gujarat government issued an Ordinance for a 10 per cent EBC quota in the state which would be above the 49 per cent reservation for SCs, STs and OBCs as per the law.
This was, however challenged in the High Court which set it aside. The state government challenged the order in the Supreme Court but the apex court put a stay on the implementation of the Ordinance until the final order so the former allowed it to lapse. Thus Hardik Patel’s return to the BJP will be a return to his roots, say observers.
Not everyone within the BJP is pleased though at his return. Anandiben Patel, whose government went out thanks to the Patidars’ stir, has a sizeable following who will not take kindly to it. Though AAP has also invited him to join it, there are too many of his old colleagues from the agitation who have parked themselves in the fledgeling outfit.
Has Hardik Patel then bitten of more than he can chew? Well, only time will answer that question.