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'Dropping of Cases on Patidars to Begin With Me': Hardik Patel On Campaign Trail

Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

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Merely a year after Narendra Modi became the Prime Minister of India and moved to Delhi, a 22-year-old Hardik Patel became the troublemaker number 1 for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) back home in Gujarat.

For the first time since the 2002 riots, Gujarat garnered national headlines for violence and unrest as Hardik led a mass movement for reservation in jobs and education for the Patidar community. One of the tallest BJP leaders of the state, the Gujarat mantle was being held by Anandiben Patel as the chief minister.

As the movement continued to peak a year later, Anandiben resigned as the CM in August 2016, reportedly saying that she was paving way for younger leadership to lead Gujarat ahead of the 2017 Assembly polls.

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Hardik was quick to take credit, saying that apart from the Patel and the Dalit agitations, another reason for her resignation was the "widespread corruption that the Anandiben-led government was indulging in.”

Come 2022, addressing a gathering of villagers at a temple in Viramgam as he contests on a BJP ticket, Hardik said: "When Anandiben was the minister, maximum development work took place in certain regions."

Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

A poster of Hardik Patel on a truck during his campaign in Viramgam.

(Photo: Eshwar/The Quint)

The praise by Hardik comes after years of leading the Patidar movement as an activist, launching several attacks on the Anandiben-led government till she resigned, a two-year-long stint with the Congress, and merely five months with the BJP.

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The Pros and Cons for Hardik Patel

"I shall work in a way that I may never have to come to your doorstep to ask for votes again," said Hardik while addressing a group of villagers in at least two of the villages during his campaign. Amid promises of ensuring basic facilities, he was quick to blame the Congress, that has held the constituency for a decade, for blocking 'vikas'.

A close look at Hardik's constituency and the mood in his campaign points to several aspects as the reasons behind the change of heart.

Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

81-year-old Jasu kaka is following Hardik patel in every village.

(Photo: Eshwar/The Quint)

"I will make sure Hardik Patel wins, no matter what. He made sure we get the reservation by all means," said 81-year-old Jasu kaka, a BJP worker from Viramgam who has been following Hardik every day.

Jasu kaka's sentiment was echoed by several BJP workers campaigning for him, giving some perspective on a major question that was raised when Patel quit the Congress and joined the BJP a few months ago: Will the BJP cadre accept Patel whose Patidar movement was responsible for damaging the party ahead of the 2017 Assembly elections?

Contesting his first election, there are several challenges that Hardik is faced with:

  • Turning the tides against the Congress in Viramgam that has been held by the constituency since 2012

  • Diluting the sentiment of him resorting to opportunism by joining the BJP

  • Bypassing the clout of Tejashree Patel, who lost to Congress' Lakhabhai Bharwad but managed to get over 37% votes in 2017

There are factors, however, that also might work in Hardik's favour:

  • Hardik Patel was the national face who heralded the Patidar movement for reservation

  • He is perceived as somebody who got the reservation and did not hesitate to stand up against the BJP

  • A personal connect with the voters having grown up in the constituency and being involved in activism for years

Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

A toddler holds a writing pad with Hardik Patel's poster on it.

(Photo: Eshwar/The Quint)

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'Confident People Will Acknowledge My Work'

As the campaign stopped for lunch at a local religious leader's ashram, Hardik got to answering some key questions in a conversation with The Quint.

You have been going from village to village for campaigning. How have the initial months been with the BJP?

The time has been good. We are moving ahead with the agenda of development. There has been a Congress MLA here for the past 10 years, hence there has been no development. We want development to take place. The first priority is going to be to making Viramgam a district. If it becomes a district, it will get more funds for development. There are MNCs here which must provide employment to the local youth. We are on ground for these issues. I have faith that whatever work I have been able to do with the BJP in the past 5 months, I can take it further. I can solve these problems because I am young.

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Why the decision to join the BJP?

My father was one of the oldest workers of the BJP. He is no more, but he contributed to the strengthening of the BJP here. BJP is like family. BJP has always been family. Yes, there was a phase in between, such political developments do take place. But when it's the question of Hindutva and Gujarat's pride, I am strong. I will stand by the BJP.

Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

An old woman at a Hardik Patel rally in Viramgam.

(Photo: Eshwar/The Quint)

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Since you have joined the party that you began a movement against, do you think your supporters will be a little reluctant? 

Movements are always against a government, not against any Opposition. I believe that people understand this fact. Governments always give in to public movements, this government did too. It was a political decision. People might have issues with the candidate, but they vote on issues. The issue here is the development of Viramgam.

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This constituency has been with the Congress for the past 10 years. While you were with the Congress, did you face hurdles while working here?

Definitely. The groundwater facilities that should have reached here, have not. The MLA here had lesser difficulty working for the people than me, I was not the MLA. The appeals, applications, and complaints of the people that much reach the concerned authorities never did. Precisely why no Congress candidate has been setting foot in villages for campaigning. 

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Was it just their responsibility that development could not take place here?

Mere letters don't work, you have to fight for it and raise your voice. Only then will development reach your Assembly. If you don't do that, then yes, the Congress is responsible.

After the 2017 elections, there was a saying that Jignesh, Alpesh, and Hardik cost BJP badly. What do you think might work in favour of the Opposition this time?

The Congress has always worked against Gujarat's interests but the BJP has always worked for Gujarat's pride. Be the Congress or the AAP, because of their vocal criticism of Gujaratis, the voters don't like them. We have all seen how an AAP leader in Delhi said that he refuses to consider Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh as his gods and he took an oath. But Gujarat is connected to issues like these. Those who don't consider Brahma-Vishnu-Mahesh as their gods, Gujarat's people will never accept them. The people will never accept the Congress who opposed the Abrogation of Article 370 in J&K.

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Contesting from Viramgam for the BJP, Hardik Patel focuses on discrediting the Congress and making promises.

Hardik Patel addresses a gathering at a temple in Viramgam.

(Photo: Eshwar/The Quint)

Were you able to raise issues like Article 370 or Ram Temple with the party high command?

There is no point of talking about it now. All those are bygones. That's not my high command any more. That chapter is over.

A few Patidar members have been saying that for Patidars, the priority should be to get the cases against the protesters of the 2015 movement dropped. 

I was the first one. I myself have 32 cases against me. The start will happen with me and naturally I will get it done for everybody.

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