PANDEMONIUM broke out after protesting Patidars stormed the venue of a programme organised here Thursday by the businessmen-led Patidar Abhivadan Samiti (PAS) to felicitate prominent Patidar BJP leaders and party president Amit Shah as part of the party’s run-up to state elections next year. Shouting “Hardik, Hardik,” — a reference to Hardik Patel who is in Udaipur serving a bail condition — and “Jai Sardar, Jai Patidar,” they disrupted proceedings and countered the “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” slogans from the stage.
Besides Shah, those on the dais included Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, his predecessor Anandiben Patel, BJP state president Jitu Vaghani, Union Ministers Parshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandaviya and 44 Patidar MLAs of the BJP. Chairs were thrown at the police who tried to stop them as members of the Hardik Patel-founded Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) shouted anti-BJP slogans and rooted for Hardik. People began leaving the venue after clashes broke out between PAAS and police which had staked out the venue since Wednesday.
The three to five-minute speeches of Rupani and Shah at the event held in the P P Sawani school run by PAS leader Mahesh Sawani, a diamond businessman, in the Abrahma area of Mota Varachha, a Patidar neighbourhood, was in stark contrast to Shah’s earlier speech at a meeting of booth karyakartas in Tapi some 80 km away where he spoke about the BJP’s “model” of uprooting the Congress in every state.
Amid the chaos, Patidar businessman Lalji Patel, who bought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s monogrammed suit for Rs 4.31 crore, and his friends Sanjay Movalia, Manhar Kakadia, Mahesh Sawani and Mukesh Patel felicitated Shah, Rupani, Anandiben, Vaghani, and Rupala. Every one on the dais was visibly worried. Rupala spoke for at least 15 minutes, followed by Vaghani who spoke the longest at 17 minutes, while Rupani spoke for three and Shah for five minutes. Every one dispersed by 8.30 pm.
Shah underlined the contribution of the Patidar community to the growth of Gujarat and the BJP since 1995. “If we see the history of the BJP in Gujarat, the state has developed and even the Patidars have progressed. This shows that the progress of BJP, Gujarat and Patidar community are interconnected. I am assuring you that these three will remain linked with each other. I express my gratitude to the community for the contribution made by it for the progress of the party,” he said. But there were few who were listening as protesting Patidars began tearing off banners outside the venue and throwing stones at buses, the programme which began at 7 pm and was scheduled to continue until midnight wound up in barely an hour and a half.
Over the last week, the animosity between PAAS and PAS had been growing over this event. PAS is led by Sawani and Mukesh Patel, a realtor, both of whom had been supporting PAAS and Hardik until two months ago. Things changed when Mukesh Patel put out a video on local television channels yesterday showing Hardik’s cousin Ravi Patel collecting Rs 25 lakh from him purportedly for a Patidar mobilisation event.
Reacting to this video which went viral, was a video of Hardik’s interview in which he was heard saying “Sawani and Patel are the same people who used to say we are ready to put as much money to continue the agitation to ensure Anandiben Patel’s removal and bringing in of Amit Shah”. Hardik could not be reached for his comment on this. As soon as Amit Shah came on stage, protests grew louder. A special barricade had been erected between the public and the stage. The protest started in the last row and spread in waves towards the VIP gallery. Police tried to control the mob and whisked away some of the men.
A large number of people gathered outside the venue but police stopped them from entering. This prompted them to raise slogans at the main gate. Meanwhile, PAAS convenor of Mehsana Reshma Patel — police were looking for her — turned up at the main gate and was detained with 15 others. As news of her detention spread, people started throwing chairs out of the venue. There were reports of buses and other vehicles set ablaze in Saurashtra in protest against the police action against Patidars.
Police detained hundreds of protesting Patidars from the venue and took them to rural police station. Surat PAAS member Vijay Mangukia who sat in the press gallery and was shouting pro-Hardik slogans also used abusive language against Shah, following which, police took him away.