In his letter, he has lashed out against the Congress leadership, terming it "anti-Gujarat" and even "anti-India."
Now, three questions are important here:
What next for Hardik Patel?
How important is Hardik Patel?
Will his exit harm the Congress?
Let's deal with each of these.
What Next for Hardik Patel?
On 16 May, The Economic Times had reported that Hardik Patel could well be heading towards the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and that he is in touch with leaders in the party.
Two other possibilities doing the rounds are Patel joining the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or forming his own party. A great deal would depend on Patel's ability to consolidate support within his own community and what community leaders advise him to do.
Patel's choice of words in his resignation letter do seem to indicate that he is heading towards the BJP or at least wants to stake claim to that ideological space. Here are a few excerpts:
"The party has constantly been working against the interests of my country and our society."
"Be it the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya, revocation of Article 370 from Jammu and Kashmir, implementation of GST-India wanted solutions for these subjects for a long time and Congress only played the role of a roadblock and was always only obstructive."
"When it came to issues related to India, Gujarat and my Patidar community Congress's only stand was to oppose whatever Govt. of India led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji did!"
"Whenever our country faced challenges and when the Congress needed leadership, Congress leaders were enjoying abroad! Senior leaders behave in a way like they hate Gujarat and Gujaratis."
"Gujaratis can never forget how the Congress party has insulted Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel."
"When I joined the Congress I did not know that the hearts and minds of leadership of the Congress are filled with such hatred towards our country India."
The general narrative does seem similar to what the BJP and its spokespersons say on various forums. In sharp contrast to this was Punjab leader Sunil Jakhar's parting remarks, in which he continued to assert his loyalty to the Congress, praised Rahul Gandhi, and pinned the blame on individual leaders like Ambika Soni.
How Important Is Hardik Patel?
It is not easy to ascertain the true political clout of Hardik Patel because it has sharply declined since the Patidar movement. During the Patidar reservation agitation and later in the run-up to the 2017 Assembly elections, Patel's rallies used to attract massive crowds, which had seldom been seen in Gujarat politics. At that time, he had a very strong following, especially among the Patidar youth.
However, the cases against him and the release of a controversial CD did affect his popularity. Also, the Patidar agitation was being tacitly backed by a section of the BJP itself against the then CM Anandiben Patel. So after her removal, these leaders' purpose had been served and they stopped lending their support.
Patel joining the Congress in 2019 itself was a result of a reduction of his political capital.
After the 2019 Lok Sabha election results – in which the BJP swept all 26 seats in Gujarat once again – the fortunes of both the Congress and Hardik began to suffer. Several Congress leaders from Gujarat defected to the BJP.
The BJP also worked hard to rebuild its support among the Patidars.
Patel tried to negotiate a better deal for himself within the Congress and this led to a great deal of back and forth between him and the party leadership.
He was finally made working president in 2020 but he still didn't get along with much of the Congress leadership in the state.
The Congress hasn't traditionally been the preferred choice of Patidars and this harmed Hardik's capacity to get his community to shift to the Congress, in turn affecting his bargaining power within the party.
Will This Harm the Congress?
The Congress was already in a weak state in Gujarat, having faced defections as well as massive defeats in local body polls and bypolls.
Therefore, many say "how worse can things get for the party anyway?"
However, the party still does have a sizeable base in rural Gujarat, especially among Dalits and Adivasis.
There is also a great deal of anti-incumbency against the BJP in the state. The Congress may still gain from it, provided it gets its house in order. Otherwise, it is possible that anti-BJP votes in some areas could flock to alternative parties – as it happened with the AAP in the Surat civic polls.
With Hardik Patel gone and before him OBC leader Alpesh Thakor shifting to the BJP, Congress' potential to attract the youth may suffer.
It must be remembered that the Congress has been out of power in Gujarat for over 25 years now and an entire generation has grown up without ever having seen the Congress winning the state. The party's efforts in winning over that section, especially younger Patidars, would no doubt suffer a blow with Patel's exit.
The other negative spinoff for the Congress is that Patel's exit comes just days after the Congress concluded its Chintan Shivir, which is supposed to have laid the ground for the party's revival. Losing a key leader in a poll-bound state just three days after the shivir is bad optics for the Congress.