Till June this year, the name Hardik Patel would not have elicited any significant recognition from many quarters of society. Today, the name has major cities of Gujarat flaring up with violence and tension. The 22-year-old BCom graduate, from Mehsana, on Tuesday led one of the largest rallies the state has witnessed in recent times. This soon turned violent with vandalism and stone pelting in Ahmedabad on Tuesday evening.
As the convenor of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), Hardik Patel has been successful in uniting the Patidar (Patels) community in its agitation across the state since the last two months demanding inclusion in the other backward class (OBC) quota.
The rise of Hardik Patel to the helm of what is turning out to be a major challenge for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has left many baffled. Theories abound about how a 22-year-old youth could command such popularity to mobilise a large gathering of 500,000 people at GMDC grounds on Tuesday in Ahmedabad for the Maha Kranti rally. Before Ahmedabad, Patel had led 100-odd rallies in regions like North Gujarat, South Gujarat and Saurashtra including major cities like Surat, Rajkot and Mehsana.
It all began in 2011 when the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) was started by community leaders like Lalji Patel along with Hardik Patel for the protection of Patidars. Soon youths began approaching SPG for issues like inability to get admissions in government colleges despite good scores.
However observers say that Hardik, the son of BJP worker Bharatbhai Patel, loves to wield power and that led him to split from SPG to start PAAS in July 2015. Efforts to unite with SPG in recent rallies, especially in Ahmedabad failed due to ideological differences between Hardik and Lalji. “We do not agree over the means by which our demand has to be met. They intend to go to any extent which we do not agree upon,” Lalji had said earlier.
Rival Patidar community leaders have alleged Hardik would go to any extent to gain popularity and wield power; an allegation fueled by the latter’s gun wielding photographs doing rounds on social media and ‘Patidar Hriday Samrat’ tag being ascribed to him by youths.
Having graduated with less than 50 per cent from Ahmedabad’s Sahajanand College, Hardik had been running his own business of supplying water to commercial establishments with a partner, before he quit the business to join the movement.
While Hardik has been linked with various political parties like BJP, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), the PAAS convenor claims he is apolitical, something the political circles in Gujarat refuse to believe. Political experts and analysts believe the youth leader, whose hour-long speech on Tuesday saw him defending his decision to conduct the rally to the collector’s office, has a strong backing from experienced political figures.
While the two recent rallies of Surat and Ahmedabad may have propelledHardik Patel on a national level (for the first time in his rallies on Tuesday in Ahmedabad, Patel chose to speak in Hindi hinting at his aim at mobilising community members across the country), comparisons are being drawn between Patel’s oratory skills and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s while his ability to mobilise huge crowds has been compared to Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal.
Experts have, however, also termed his speeches and leadership at the rally immature, due to his adamant demand for Gujarat chief minister AnandibenPatel to come down personally at GMDC ground to receive the community’s memorandum, drawing flak from several quarters.
Whether Hardik Patel’s popularity continues to grow from here or die a natural death will depend on what immediate steps the state government takes to quell the situation across Gujarat. Some, however, have termed him a laambi race no ghodo (long race horse).