The Congress has appointed Patidar youth leader Hardik Patel as the working president of the party’s Gujarat unit. With this, Hardik has become the youngest leader in the party to have held such a senior post in Gujarat – he will turn 27 on July 20.
The elevation marks yet another milestone in the public life of the young leader, who first came to limelight in 2015 during the Patidar quota agitation.
Hardik comes from Chandan Nagri, a small agrarian Patidar-dominated village of Viramgam taluka in Ahmedabad district. His parents – father Bharat and mother Usha – stayed in the village till Hardik was in Class V, when the family moved to Viramgam town for the better education of the kids. Hardik has a younger sister, Monika.
Hardik did his graduation from Sahajanand College of Ahmedabad, which is affiliated to Gujarat University.
Hardik’s stint in public life started with his association with a social organisation called Sardar Patel Group (SPG), of Mehsana in North Gujarat, led by Lalji Patel. Patel became a mentor to Hardik. It was SPG that started the Patidar agitation in 2015, seeking OBC status for the community. Young turk Hardik handled the social media affairs of the SPG group then.
The quota agitation began around July 2015, starting with some peaceful rallies in different parts of Gujarat. However, the movement caught the attention of the entire state when a Patidar rally in Visnagar of Mehsana district turned violent, and a mob set a local BJP MLA’s office on fire. It was followed by an FIR against several persons, including Hardik.
It was around this time that Hardik developed differences with Lalji Patel. Hardik and his friends then floated Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), which eventually became the main organisation seeking OBC reservation for the Patidar community.
On August 25, 2015, Hardik addressed a massive rally of around 5 lakh Patidars at GMDC Ground in Ahmedabad, to press for OBC reservation for the community. Events turned violent later in the day, following which Hardik was detained for a brief period. The police action resulted in riots at a number of places in the state.
A total of 14 agitating Patidars lost their lives as the police tried to control the riots.
These events established Hardik as the top leader of the Patidar quota agitation.
Subsequently, he held a number of public rallies. In the process, a number of criminal cases were registered against him, including three cases of sedition in different parts of Gujarat.
He was eventually arrested by police on sedition charge in October 2015. After spending around nine months in jail, he was released on bail by Gujarat High Court in July 2016, with a condition to stay away from Gujarat for six months.
Hardik stayed in Udaipur of Rajasthan during this period of exile, and returned to Gujarat in January 2017. In August 2018, with the demand for reservation for Patidar community, Hardik sat on hunger strike for 19 days, before being hospitalised under medical advice.
Hardik has credited his Patidar quota agitation for the 10 per cent reservation to economically backward upper castes announced by the central government.
For a significant period during the quota agitation, Hardik did not align with any political party, though he targeted the BJP, which has been in power in Gujarat for more than 25 years now.
In the meantime, many of his close aides deserted him while new ones kept joining. It was only in the run-up to the 2017 Gujarat Assembly elections that Hardik asked a gathering of Patidars in Patan town of North Gujarat to vote for Congress, and give the party a chance of governing the state. He then actively canvassed against BJP and in support of Congress in the Assembly elections. The BJP could win the elections only by a thin margin, even as its tally remained below 100.
Hardik’s proximity to Congress became stronger and he formally joined the party in the presence of then president Rahul Gandhi in March 2019, months before the Lok Sabha elections. He seemed eager to fight the Lok Sabha polls, but could not due to his conviction in July 2018 in a case of rioting, arson and leading unlawful assembly in Visnagar in July 2015.
Hardik then concentrated on campaigning for the Congress. He was one of the star campaigners of the party, allotted a chopper for the purpose.
With an eye on Assembly elections in 2022, Hardik’s immediate electoral target will be the upcoming by-elections to eight Assembly constituencies and general elections to six municipal corporations and a number of other local bodies in the state.
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The by-elections to the eight Assembly constituencies are due in September, and polls in municipal corporations and other local bodies are expected by the end of 2020.