Three years after the Patidar quota agitation was launched in Gujarat, a sessions court in Visnagar Wednesday convicted Patidar leader Hardik Patel and two others for rioting, arson and leading an unlawful assembly that vandalised the office of local BJP MLA in July 2015. Fourteen others were acquitted for want of evidence.
The court of Additional Sessions Judge Vijay Agrawal sentenced the three — Hardik, his mentor Lalji Patel and local Patidar leader A K Patel who had organised the rally — to two years of simple imprisonment. The court also imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on each of the three convicts. The three, however, were cleared of the charge of criminal conspiracy. The court, later, granted bail to all of them.
Soon after the verdict was pronounced, Hardik hit out at the ruling BJP, saying the party’s “Hitlershahi” cannot prevent him from fighting for “truth, farmers, youth and poor”.
“If it is a sin to fight for social justice and rights, then I am a sinner. If those who fight for the truth and rights are rebels, then I am a rebel,” he said in a series of tweets.
The 25-year-old Patidar quota leader said that he was not daunted by the sentence. “I am not scared of jails. I could have stayed back home if it was my fight alone. But this is the fight of crores of poor people. My fate is to fight the oppressor and fight for rights. The more you suppress me, the more I will rise to pose a challenge,” Hardik tweeted.
Hours before the verdict, Hardik had posted a video message on Facebook urging his supporters to stay calm notwithstanding the verdict.
The case relates to the incident on July 23, 2015 when a mob of around 500 to 1,000 vandalised the office of then BJP Visnagar MLA Rushikesh Patel after attending a rally organised by Patidars seeking OBC reservation for the community in government jobs and educational institutes. A local journalist, who was attacked by the mob, had lodged a police complaint following which a criminal case was registered against nine people. Later, names of eight more people, including Hardik, were added as accused. During the trial, Hardik had pleaded not guilty, saying he was neither a part of the rally nor the mob that vandalised the MLA’s office.
Rushikesh Patel had also testified in court. However, as per Hardik’s lawyer Rafik Lokhandwala, Rushikesh did not testify against Hardik. “He simply told the court that his office was vandalised, but he did not know who did it,” said Lokhandwala.
“The trial court has granted us time till August 27 to challenge the verdict before the Gujarat High Court. So, we will challenge it by then,” said Hardik’s lawyer.
After the verdict, Hardik Patel hit out at the BJP government calling it “murder of democracy” , and compared himself to the freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.
“Today one thing has been proved that before polls (state Assembly) all BJP leaders shouted that except sedition all cases will be withdrawn… For tod fod (damage to property) I have been sentenced to two years in jail. In Gujarat, there are several cases pending where numerous vehicles were damaged, innumerable cases of women being lathicharged, 14 Patidar youths being killed. But, till now nothing has been done. We’ll go against Sessions Court judgment in higher courts,” Patel said.