As the BJP government in Gujarat cracks down on leaders of the Patidar quota agitation, the Congress has started courting the Patidars, fielding the wives of two booked for sedition in elections to civic bodies and including photographs of jailed Patidar leader Hardik Patel in Congress poll banners.
Sadhna, wife of Amrish Patel of Ghatlodia in Ahmedabad, and Rekha, wife of Nilesh Arvadiya of Morbi, have been handed Congress tickets for elections to the Ghatlodia ward and Ravapar seat of the Morbi district panchayat. Their husbands were booked for sedition in the wake of violence that followed the Patidar rally on August 25.
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“The BJP’s atrocities on Patidars is the only reason why I wanted to contest in this election. Women were abused, beaten by police. My husband has been booked on charges of sedition and attempt to murder. What is his crime?He participated in a social movement seeking reservation for Patidars. Is that sedition?” Sadhna said. “My husband is absconding, I do not know his whereabouts.”
She said “we were actively associated with the BJP” earlier but “to protest against these atrocities, I volunteered to contest elections against the BJP on a Congress ticket”.
Ghatlodia, a Patidar stronghold, has been a BJP bastion. It is the constituency of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. In the violence that followed the August 25 rally, Ghatlodia was one of the worst hit areas and curfew had to be imposed.
Jitendra Patel, Congress leader in-charge for Ghatlodia ward, said: “Such were the police atrocities on Patidars that the people and our workers sought a ticket for a ticket for her (Sadhna)… This election will give an unexpected result. People will have to be freed and discharged from the charges.”
In Morbi, Patidars have been protesting the arrest of Nilesh Arvadiya and other leaders. Mukesh Gami, president of the Morbi unit of Congress, said: “Patidar leaders from Ravapar came to us and sought a ticket for Arvadiya’s wife Rekha. The village youth insisted that Arvadiya’s wife be made the Congress candidate because their community wanted to teach the BJP a lesson.”
A relative of Arvadiya said: “We had no association with the Congress, the BJP was the only political party for us. But the atrocities forced us to think. Congress leaders said they will provide all support if Rekha contests. We spoke to Nilesh and he agreed.”
Durlabhji Dethariya, president of the BJP Morbi taluka unit, dismissed the challenge to his party’s candidate: “The Congress candidate is not a resident of Ravapar. She belongs to Halvad and, therefore, an outsider. The reservation agitation was an attempt by the Congress to disturb the atmosphere. But it has died down and will not impact this election.”
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In Surat City, where Patidar votes matter in as many as 44 seats, Hardik Patel has made it to a Congress poll banner outside the office of Congress candidate Dhirubhai Lathiya.
“Hardik Patel is in the hearts of all Patidar Patels across Gujarat. I am also Patidar and, along with Congress leaders, treat him as our community leader. So I have decided to place his photograph along with those of senior Congress leaders. Our party will benefit,” Lathiya said.
As part of a campaign, thousands of postcards by Patidars, including Congress candidate Praful Togadia, who is related to VHP leader Pravin Togadia, were sent to Hardik, kept in Lajpor jail after being booked for sedition.
Surat City BJP general secretary Lalit Vekariya said, “In the present situation, we are hopeful that some of the Patidars will vote for the BJP in the municipal elections. The percentage of votes will be less but they do follow the BJP ideology.”