When Hardik Patel was 19, Lalji Patel had inducted him into his Sardar Patel Group. Today, the the SPG founder-president says “the boy” outwitted him by using social media effectively.
“I gave him the responsibility of handling the social media campaign for our movement and he ran it creating an impression that he was leading the movement,” Lalji, 38, popularly known as “LD”, told The Indian Express. “To this day Hardik holds the rights to all social media accounts of SPG.”
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Lalji alleged that the one time he asked Hardik for access to the group’s social media accounts, “he gave me a wrong password.”
He refrained from accusing Hardik of “taking over” the movement, however, and agreed Hardik remains with SPG. “He is a lifetime member of SPG, so we cannot throw him out unless he is caught in an anti-community act. He has not done anything of that sort yet,” Lalji said.
Lalji said Hardik’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) was only a group on Facebook and WhatsApp, not even a registered organisation when it held its rally in Ahmedabad on August 25.
As Hardik launched himself in Delhi, Lalji announced Monday that the SPG’s first priority is to help families whose sons had died in the violence that followed the rally, provide aid to the injured, and ensure the release of Patidars in custody. “We have the rest of our life to run the agitation. This is more important than rushing to Delhi,” he said. He also demanded a CBI investigation into the role of the police in the violence and declared August 26 “Patidar Shahid Din”.
Hailing from Aloda village in Mehsana, Lalji has eight bighas of farmland. When not farming castor, cotton, cumin and wheat, he spends his time in “social service”. He describes himself as a “media shy”, grassroots person and Hardik as someone who “likes the spotlight”.
Lalji said 90 per cent of the public was mobilised by SPG, which claims a 10 lakh membership. He felt the crowd at the Ahmedabad rally would have turned out even if Hardik or he was not there. “By then it had already turned into a movement and the villages had been awakened,” he said.
“Till five days before the rally, there was no planning, but the people of Ahmedabad took it upon themselves to organise the food and logistics. Had that not happened, we would not have been successful, for both Hardik and I were busy addressing rallies.”
SPG decided Sunday to block any electoral ambitions of its members. “We decided office-bearers of SPG will not contest elections and will have to file affidavits saying so. We had taken this undertaking orally earlier but now it is official,” Lalji said Monday.
Before he registered SPG in 2004, then as the social organisation Sardar Patel Seva Dal, Lalji had started networking the Patidars in 1997; he was 20. By then Shankersinh Vaghela had broken away from the BJP to form a party and become chief minister.
Among the leaders who attended the foundation of Lalji’s group on Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s birth anniversary were former chief minister Keshubhai Patel, against whom Vaghela is seen to have rebelled. So were former minister Gordhan Zadaphia and Congress leaders Narhari Amin and Urmila Patel besides the then BJP MLAs from north Gujarat, especially Narayan Lallu Patel and Prahlad Gosa and Umiya Mata Trust founder Keshavlal Sheth, Lalji said.
The main objective was to unite the Kadva and Leuva sub-castes. “Our campaigns were mostly directed against vices such as paan masala and cigarette addiction. The number of girls in our community is also low, so we held fairs for choosing life partners where Kadvas and Leuvas could choose from either sub-caste.”
On October 31, 2012, Hardik Patel participated in an SPG blood donation camp in Mehsana. “He came that day to become a member as a college student and within a month I appointed him president of the SPG unit of Viramgam taluka, because he had helped network the Patidars and added to our membership,” Lalji said.
On Hardik’s questioning of his leadership now, he said that was his “personal view”.
He is unsure, however, which way the community will go. To a question whether the Patidar community would listen to Lalji’s or Hardik’s mandate in an election, he said, “I feel they should listen to me.” And quickly added, “But the Patels are an intelligent community… It is very difficult to organise intelligent people. They can demolish any leader.”