Updated: February 26, 2021 10:07:11 pm
In the last two years, since Hardik Patel joined the Congress, the state has seen a by-election to eight assembly seats and now faces the local body elections. The youth leader, who in 2015 had challenged the incumbent BJP government with an agitation seeking OBC quota for Patidars, however, feels the Congress has not utilised him enough and, in fact, its leaders were trying to “pull him down”.
In an interview to The Indian Express, the working president of the state Congress says, on Thursday, that the Congress’s state leadership had not organised a single public meeting of his ahead of the municipal corporations, municipality, district panchayat or taluka panchayat elections. Over the last 10 days, Hardik says he addressed 27 public rallies, all on his own.
Had the state party unit involved him more in the campaigns, he says, the party would not have scored a zero-seat result in the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC).
Frequently using the word ‘andolan’ (agitation) in his conversation, Hardik gives credit for all the Congress victories in the 2015 local body elections to the quota agitation organised by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), an organisation he had founded and continues to be member of.
Elections to six municipal corporations of Gujarat were held on February 21, all of which were won by the BJP with Congress not winning a single seat in Surat, where Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) won 27 seats. On February 28, elections to 31 district panchayats, 231 taluka panchayats and 81 municipalities are scheduled for which Friday was the last day of campaigning
“In 2015, the entire results in Gujarat (civic polls), be it of the taluka, district or nagarpalika, mahanagarpalika, was only because of the (quota) agitation and that the Congress will have to accept. I tell the party leaders time and again that you need to understand the people who have come from the (Patidaar) agitation because we are touring (the state). Even today, my tours are constantly on. Not a single of them have been decided by the PCC (Pradesh Congress Committee), still I am on my toes, because I want to strengthen the party whether someone else does or not… They (Congress leaders) might want to pull me down and push me. Let them, I will stand up again. Because during the (2015) agitation, the BJP would bring me down and I would rise up.”
Hardik says, on joining the Congress, he had thought the party would utilise him. “Even there, I feel that my Pradesh high command, (and) the state party in-charge (prabhari), has failed. Organise my meetings, I am ready to do 25 meetings a day… Assign me something, I tell the party again and again,” he adds.
According to Hardik, the Congress leadership had asked him to go to Surat for a rally a day before the last day of campaigning, on February 19, and he had to decline as he had tours planned seven days in advance.
On February 19, the Congress called off its only major rally to be led by Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee chief Amit Chavda and AICC guardian leaders Biswaranjan Mohanty and Rajeev Satav, ostensibly after the PAAS threatened a disruption.
“Had they told me in the beginning of the election that you have to do 25 rallies in Surat, this would not have been the result in Surat. The Congress will have to do ‘atmamanthan’ (introspection) and openly speak up where they failed or were weak,” Hardik says.
The Congress’s manifesto was the “best in 25 years”, he adds, but failed to reach to the people, neither did the election song. “The 6.5 crore people of Gujarat don’t accept the BJP, whether anyone believes it or not. But the public wants that if the Congress fights then we want to vote for it,” he says.
Referring to the void left by senior party leader Ahmed Patel’s demise, he says, “One thing is clear that the 219 seats that were won (by the BJP across the local self government body seats) uncontested (in the current election)were due to mismanagement. There is no leader in the state who would call and say – why do you worry? Ahmed bhai would have had handled such a crisis.”
Asked if he would contest elections when his conviction period was over, he says, “As a working president, if the party wants to utilise me throughout the state for campaigning in the 2022 (Assembly) elections, then I don’t want to fight the elections. We want to form the government. I have not come here to do electoral politics. I have come here to form a government. Once that is done, everything else will follow.”
Asked about the Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) victory on 27 seats in Surat and the AIMIM’s entry into Ahmedabad, Hardik says, “If you want to counter all these, come out on the streets and make your heads bloodied, fight against the people in power, be bathed in blood. Not that you tell the SP (superintendent of police), ‘we will walk that much then you can detain us’. No. Let the SP do whatever he wants. If you have to march to the governor’s place, then march! Be aggressive. If you do seva (service) you will get meva (fruit).”
At Ravapar in Morbi, the ceramic hub’s outskirts, where Hardik addressed a rally Thursday evening, he is still a star. Shouts of the quota agitation slogan ‘Jay Sardar’ ringed as he had walked through the crowd around 30 minutes before the loudspeaker ban at 10 pm.
Targeting the BJP government over the rising fuel prices, he asks if the huge crowd gathered to hear him if they would vote for a party that raised the petrol diesel rates to Rs 95-100/litre or those that kept it at Rs 50-60/litre. “What happened yesterday? The Sardar Patel stadium’s (in Motera) name was changed to Narendra Modi cricket stadium. The man who never held a cricket bat… why did you (Modi)have to get into this business? If you only want to lend a name, lend it to say Narendrabhai free university where our children will study for free,… if you want to lend a name then build a government hospital and name it after Hiraba where our family elders and children can get free treatment, we have no objection. But a stadium built by our tax money, a cricket ground built with our tax, you give your name to it, and that too by removing the name of Sardar saheb what kind of justice is this?” he tells the crowd.
He also exhorted the people to vote for the candidates thinking they were voting for Congress’s Tankara MLA Lalit Kagathara. “Your vote will go to Subhas Chandra Bose, Sardar Patel, Jawaharlal Nehru, Mahatma Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Bhagat Singh. It will go to the party of Indira Gandhi who split Pakistan into two,” he says.
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