Ending months of speculation, Patidar leader Hardik Patel on Wednesday said they had accepted a Congress “formula” on granting reservation to the Patel community and other non-reserved categories “at par with OBC reservation”. However, he said Patidars were “not going to openly support the Congress or canvass for them” but underlined that their “fight against BJP” in the Gujarat assembly polls next month would “directly or indirectly” benefit the Grand Old Party.
The development came even as an FIR was lodged against Hardik and his aides Dinesh Bhambaniya and Dinesh Patel for holding a public event without permission in Punjab’s Mansa.
“We accept the formula given by the Congress party on granting reservation to Patidars and other communities without disturbing the quota of ST/SC/OBC communities under the provisions of Articles 46, 31(C), 15(4) and 16(4),” Hardik said. Hardik said he had consulted two major Patidar organisations, Khodaldham and Umiyadham of Kagvad in Rajkot and Unjha in Mehsana respectively, about the “formula”. Dismissing allegations that he “sold himself” to the Congress, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti convenor said, “I am not ‘bikau’. Otherwise I could have accepted an offer of Rs 1,200 crore from K Kailashnathan (Chief Principal Secretary to Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani) when I was in jail.”
The Supreme Court in its verdict in the Mandal Commission case had ruled that the total reservation for SC/ST and other backward classes or special categories should not exceed 50 per cent. When asked about the order, Patel said it was just a “sugggestion”. “Nowhere in the Constitution is it written that reservation above 50 per cent cannot be given. It is only some judgments of the Supreme Court, in the form of suggestions, that reservation should not cross 50 per cent,” the 23-year-old leader elaborated.
Hardik said they had held talks on this with the BJP as well but the party lacked “niyat” (intention) to grant reservation to Patidars. “The Congress has heard our plight, our rights and when they have offered a formula which seems plausible, we must listen to it,” he said. Referring to the ordinance brought by the Gujarat government to grant 10 per cent reservation to the economically weaker sections, and which was struck down by the High Court in August 2016, the PAAS leader said the HC had observed the state did not even do a survey of communities to provide them reservation.
“The Congress has said it will get the survey done, and it means a lot to us. Congressmen are not our cousins, but when they speak of our rights, we must listen to it. We are not going to openly support the Congress or canvass for them… But when we fight against the BJP, it will give support, directly or indirectly, to the Congress,” he said.
On cracks in the group, Hardik said “some so-called members of PAAS” have filed nomination papers as independent candidates. He alleged the “BJP has kept a budget of Rs 200 crore to field such persons” and “attempts are being made to destroy PAAS”. He appealed to the Patidars “not to waste their votes” by voting for independents or “any other party” since that will “deprive them of their rights”.
The Patidar vote has been the BJP’s backbone since 1995, when it won its first election in Gujarat and Hardik’s support to Congress is sure to give jitters to the saffron party. Patidars are estimated to account for about 12%, or roughly one-eighth, of Gujarat’s 6 crore-odd population. In 71 of the 182 seats, they form 15% or more of the electorate, which can swing the verdict if enough of them vote in the ‘same direction’.
Following Hardik’s announcement, Gujarat Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said the formula of reservation above the cap set by SC was something “offered by fools and also accepted by fools”. “The nexus between Congress and PAAS that was planned two years ago stands exposed. Hardik has been speaking from a script given to him by the Congress… Fools have made a proposal and fools have accepted it,” he said.
Describing the Congress “formula” as the “biggest joke” in the last two years, Patel said: “The cap of 49 per cent has been placed by a nine-judge bench of the Supreme Court… If the Congress brings a law based on their formula, I am sure it will be struck down by the court since reservation above 50 per cent cannot be given.”
The Deputy CM also had a message for Hardik: “You are a young boy, like a son, of the community and we have tolerated your acts because we were bound by the ‘maryada’ of the chair. You have ransacked our offices, burnt our effigies, but you must stop it now. In my political career, I have seen a number of people like you who have gone into oblivion. You will not be in a position to show your face to the community if you do not mend your ways even now.”
Congress veteran Kapil Sibal, meanwhile, thanked Hardik for his support. “We are very happy that a ‘sanjha morcha’ (united front) will now fight against the BJP… We thank him that they (PAAS) have joined us with an ideology to contest the election by coming together. Our target is to win the election and fulfill promises made to the people,” he said.
When asked about Nitin Patel’s remarks, Sibal said the BJP had never followed the Constitution. He also accused the saffron party of hatching conspiracies and imposing sedition case on Hardik for leading the quota campaign. “I want to ask the BJP if they know anything…they have got nothing to do with the Constitution which they have never followed. Gujarat is a symbol of it. So, the less they talk about the Constitution, better it is,” he added.
Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too seconded Nitin Patel’s views that the 50 per cent cap on reservation could not be breached. “The Congress-Hardik club is one of mutual deception. Legally and constitutionally that (breaching the 50 per cent cap on reservation) is not possible as the law stands today,” he said.
Countering Jaitley, Congress spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi accused the BJP of fooling people everyday. “If you want to see who has fooled whom, you go and see it in Rajasthan. The BJP is a ruling party there. It fools people everyday. Sometimes they talk about Jat reservation, sometimes Gujjar reservation. They are in power, they can fulfil the promise, yet they don’t,” he told reporters in Delhi.