On the eve of Valentine’s day, Rajkot witnessed a congregation of BJP’s collective headaches – Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar – who were in the city to lead the ‘Save the Constitution, Save the Nation’ rally.
The rally was organised by former Congress leader and Rajkot party president, Indranil Rajyaguru, who had challenged Chief Minister Vijay Rupani in the 2017 Gujarat Assembly Elections in Rajkot West, only to lose the battle.
While interacting with the press in Rajkot, Mevani made it clear that he will not contest the Lok Sabha elections this year, but will continue his campaign against the incumbent BJP. Meanwhile, Hardik declared that he will contest the polls, albeit, he hasn’t decided where he will contest the elections from.
There are plenty of choices for Hardik across the 26 seats in Gujarat to contest the elections. However, whether he will contest independently with Congress’ support or will he join the Grand Old Party, is an open question.
Is Saurashtra a Safe Bet?
There are seven key seats in Patidar-dominated Saurashtra. Of these seven seats, political analysts are of the opinion that Hardik will contest from Amreli. But why Amreli?
For starters, Amreli is the bastion of the Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, Paresh Dhanani, who also belongs to the Patidar community. Dhanani had rallied for the farmers of Amreli and won the Assembly seat comfortably in the 2017 Gujarat elections. In fact, the Congress had won five out of seven Assembly seats that are part of Amreli Lok Sabha constituency.
With the Congress openly to supporting Hardik, Dhanani’s clout will help Hardik garner votes in the cotton and groundnut belt of Saurashtra. BJP’s Naranbhai Kachhadia won the Amreli seat in the last two General Elections. However, there is growing resentment among the farmers in Amreli which translated into votes for Congress in the Assembly election and can catapult Hardik into the Parliament.
Back to Surat?
Another seat which can reap huge rewards for Hardik is Surat. Surat was the gestation point of the Patidar movement in 2015. In fact, before the massive rally in Ahmedabad of 25 August 2015, it was Surat that backed the Patidar reservation agitation as millions came out to the streets in support of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti.
The 2017 Assembly Elections saw thousands line up to hear Hardik speak, as he urged the voters not to vote for the BJP. Surat was simmering under immense pressure from the after-effects of demonetisation and GST and almost everyone had written off the saffron party from winning a single seat.
However, the BJP swept Surat reclaiming its dominance among urban voters in the state, even though there was an increase in the Congress’ vote share. Also, the diamond and textile industry in Surat has weakened significantly and Hardik can be the perfect riposte to the BJP in the general elections.
A Tumultuous Ride So Far
A lot has transpired for Hardik since the Patidar Maha Rally on 25 August 2015 – sedition charges, prison time in Surat, leaked sex tapes before the 2017 Assembly elections and fallout with his fellow Patidar leaders.
He even sat on an indefinite fast in August last year which lasted 19 days, returning him to the political spotlight just before the all-important Lok Sabha elections.
However, he was again charged with sedition in November 2018 by a local court in Ahmedabad and he finally tied the knot in January this year with his childhood friend.
On 8 February, Hardik took to Facebook and started a poll asking netizens whether he is wrong to contest elections for the farmers and youth of Gujarat; 67 % voted no. The 25-year-old had missed out on contesting the Assembly elections two years ago, yet this time he has strong political backing not only from the Congress, but from all parties who call themselves a part of the Mahagathbandhan.
The only question that remains to be answered is, where will he contest the elections from?