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Hardik Patel may be bargaining with Gujarat Congress; BJP already putting out feelers

The Gujarat BJP chief said, without naming Hardik Patel, that it was natural for even Congress leaders to get attracted to PM Narendra Modi's leadership

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While a large section of political observers believe Hardik Patel is criticising the functioning of Gujarat Congress only to get a better deal from the opposition party that is looking for a different Patidar face for its campaign, the BJP is not averse to embracing the Patel sensation that could not quite win the INC the election of Gujarat in 2017. He is now saying his options are “open” and lavishly praising the ruling BJP for its “terrific decision-taking” leadership too.

Hardik Patel told Divya Bhaskar in an interview published today that the BJP’s decisions such as the abrogation of Article 370 in and Kashmir and the building of Ram Temple in Ayodhya were great and that he was “a proud Hindu” too.

But then, seeing him as low-hanging fruit, the AAP is trying to pull him to its fold as well. “Hardik Patel has come up as a leader on his own. He has expressed displeasure with the Congress leadership. We require leaders like Hardik in AAP Gujarat,” the AAP’s state unit leader Gopal Italia told reporters on 15 April.

Hardik Patel had alluded to his position in Gujarat Congress recently as a “groom who has undergone vasectomy right after marriage” and had attacked the state leadership for not including him in decision-making. Following his comments, AAP Gujarat president Gopal Italia had sent a public invitation to Hardik to join his party. Hardik had then reiterated that he would not leave the INC.

Asked pointedly whether he would defect to the BJP, Hardik Patel said, “I am very clear on my stance that I will be doing what I can to take Gujarat forward. Many people link me with (Arvind) Kejriwal. The Congress, AAP, BJP… I have all options open.”

Today’s event was a media in Ahmedabad this morning. Hardik Patel repeated his dissatisfaction with the Gujarat Congress leadership and said he had apprised the party’s high command about the issues. “The high command has told me they will make a decision soon, and I hope that it will be a good decision, which is made keeping the welfare of the people of Gujarat into consideration. I am not upset with anyone personally in the Gujarat Congress, but I am upset with the state leadership. Instead of fulfilling its responsibility toward the welfare of the people, I see the state leadership stuck in conflicts. If someone speaks up for the welfare of the party, they start making predictions about the person, whether he intends to leave the party. They should rather sit down with that person and try to understand his problems, his thinking and vision for the party,” said Hardik Patel.

The activist for the ‘Patidar’ cause who had risen seven years ago, claiming there were several Patidars across India other than the Patels of Gujarat said, “I come from Raghuvanshi clan, I am from the Luv-Kush lineage and I believe in Ram, Shiv and Kuldevi. It is obvious that I am a Hindu and I make all attempts to follow its rituals. On April 28, on the death anniversary of my father, I am going to distribute 4,000 copies of the Gita. I am proud to be a Hindu.”

The act of weighing his options coincides with the Supreme Court’s stay on Hardik Patel’s conviction by a Gujarat court in a case of violence during the 2015 Patidar agitation. Hardik can hence contest in the 2022 Gujarat assembly election. He has, in fact, expressed his intention to do so. At the time of the 2017 assembly election, he was younger than 25 and hence could not contest.

A member of the locally powerful Patidar community, Hardik had led a popular agitation for quota for his community against the BJP government, before the 2017 assembly election. The INC’s strong performance in that election was attributed to some extent to the Patidar anger. The main opposition party in Gujarat has been banking on Hardik for the state assembly election this year. Along with Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakor, Hardik is considered among the tallest next-generation leaders of the state.

But Hardik Patel told Divya Bhaskar, “The BJP has leadership with terrific decision-taking ability. I am not saying this because I am upset with the Congress. They work a lot on their organisation and make regular changes in the role chart. Like a phone gets updated, in the same manner, the BJP also brings new updates. This has been going on for years now, even people are saying that the Congress is losing and the BJP is winning because of it.”

He denied any recent communication with the BJP, though. He said his praise was limited to the political strategies of the ruling party. “It is the job of the opposition to work for the welfare of people and care for them. When they fail to do their job, then people start looking for options… I believe that the BJP’s political strategies are very good.”

Reporters asked him whether he was apprehensive of disciplinary action by the INC high command, Hardik Patel said: “Political loss should worry those who have concerns for their future. My only concern is the people of Gujarat and their welfare. I have discussed with (AICC in-charge) Raghu Sharma my issues with the state leadership, that it does not allow me to work.”

Reacting to the interview, Gujarat BJP president CR Paatil said, “The entire country is influenced by the ideology of the BJP. The impeccable leadership of the BJP and the hard work of Prime Minister Narendra Modi have led the country to the path of development, and the world has seen this since 2014 (Lok Sabha elections)… It is natural that many leaders of the Congress are also influenced by the same, not just Hardik Patel. But the other leaders cannot say it openly, and Hardik has mustered the courage to say it in public.” Paatil was attending a party motorcycle rally in Rajpipla in District Narmada.

Inducted into the INC in March 2019, Hardik Patel was made the working president in July 2020. He has been chafing for some time now on not getting enough of a say in the running of the party, which took 10 months to even replace its last president.

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