The architect of Patidars’ agitation for OBC status, which is snowballing into a movement, is a 21-year-old. Meet Hardik Patel, convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), who has engineered the stir, pushing the Anandiben Patel government to a corner.
On Tuesday, as Hardik addresses the gathering at a Patel community hall in Vadodara, he shows streaks of a rebel with a cause. “Patels make the government. If Patels can make a chief minister reach the post of the prime minister, then we also possess the strength to overturn this government,” he thunders, to whoops of applause from the motley crowd comprising people between 20-60 years. The hall resounds with slogans of solidarity, promising to make the upcoming rally in Vadodara on August 21 a huge success.
Hardik took on the leadership of the movement, mobilizing mainly youth under the banner of (PAAS) after abandoning his business of supplying water to commercial establishments.
Youngsters, led by Hardik, have oragnised successful rallies, jointly conducted by the Leuva and Kadva Patidars in Visnagar in Mehsana to Dwarka in Saurashtra and recently in Gandhinagar. Interestingly, the CM and six of her ministers are from the same community.
On Wednesday, government spokesperson and health minister Nitin Patel, who also hails from Mehsana, said, “Hardik Patel is a Congress worker. He is closely working with Viramgam MLA (Tejshree Patel).” Hardik also belongs to Viramgam and claims his father, Bharatbhai, is a staunch BJP supporter and reportedly drove Anandiben Patel in his jeep during her maiden Assembly elections in 1998.
The people, however, have a different take. “What he is saying and doing should have come from senior leaders from the BJP and Congress,” says 64-year-old Chagganbhai Patel from Gandhinagar, justifying why he and several Patidars like him responded to the call given by PAAS. The serial agitations have seen nearly a dozen episodes covering major cities, with two of the rallies turning violent.
But through all this, Hardik has matured as the face of the Patidar agitation.
Three years ago, Hardik graduated with a B.Com from Sahjanand College in Ahmedabad. Now, he is walking the tightrope as both the BJP and Congress level allegations that the agitation is motivated by the other. As images of the Patidars — basically a community of agrarians and industrialists —emerge from various urban and rural centres in Gujarat to press for inclusion in the socially and economically backward class quota, Hardik claims he is apolitical.
“Even today my father is staunch supporter of the BJP. That does not however, make me a political person. At the same time, our agitation is not against Anandiben,” said Hardik. “It is against the system,” he adds.
In 2004, Sardar Patel Sevadal (SPS), a group of the Patidars, was founded in Mehsana, which is a stronghold of the BJP.
It is also the home district of Anandiben as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. In 2011, Hardik, then 18-year-old, started the Viramgam wing of SPS to serve the group’s prime objective — protection of the Patidars. According to him, at that time, Patidar women used to face a lot of harassment and eve-teasing and SPS played its role to make them secure. “Many youths approached us with problems of inability to get admissions in government colleges and get government jobs despite good scores,” says Hardik. It was at a 2012 meeting in Kanpur of Sardar Patel Mahasabha, an Uttar Pradesh-based group of Patels across India, that the SPS started thinking about a place in reservation system. “Unlike Gujarat, the Patels in other states are known with different surnames like Kurmis and have been classified as OBC or SC.”
By July this year, the youth members of SPS formed PAAS Hardik has been moving across Gujarat since July 6, mobilising the Patels. “Reservation is our right. First, we follow the path shown by Gandhiji and Sardar Patel. But, if required, we can become Bhagat Singh too,” he says.