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Saturday, September 26, 2020

Won’t do anything by sidelining senior leaders, need their advice: Hardik Patel

In a conversation with Parimal Dabhi, Hardik Patel spoke about his challenges, objectives and the way ahead.

Written by Parimal A Dabhi | Updated: August 8, 2020 12:53:05 pm
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Patidar agitation leader Hardik Patel who was recently appointed working president of the Congress in Gujarat — the youngest to be at the post — in a year of joining the party, has already charted a course for himself. Excerpts:

You have become a working president of Gujarat Congress at 27 years. What are the challenges you see within and outside the party?

My appointment was trending on Twitter nationally and I got congratulatory messages from almost all the leaders. (In Gujarat) Congress is out of power for more than 25 years. All the senior leaders in Gujarat Congress have held the post earlier. The party’s decision is (generally) welcomed by all. So, there is no challenge within the party.

About challenge outside (the party), the BJP has been in power in Gujarat for 30 years. My biggest challenge is to bring new people to the party and strengthen it. When Sonia ji, Rahul ji and Priyanka ji have put faith on a 27-year-old boy, naturally the expectations are very high. It is a challenge for me to meet the expectations.

There are talks that many senior (Gujarat Congress) leaders are not happy to work under a young working president like you…

Why would they think of it as “working under me”? Let them become our advisers. You give us your experience. Young leaders have to struggle and strengthen the party on the basis of the senior leaders’ experiences. We do not want to do anything by sidelining them. Congress will be strengthened only by the combination of armchair politics and public politics. Small issues will be there and they will eventually do good.

There seemed a perceived jealousy among some party leaders over you being the only Congress campaigner in Gujarat to fly a chopper in the last Lok Sabha elections. How do you handle that?

If I had loved power, I would have been in the BJP. I have 32 cases against me. I am not in a position to fight elections and am working for the organisation. Why should there be jealousy? It could be true had I become a Rajya Sabha MP, chief minister or home minister. I have come (to politics) to struggle. And currently, I don’t see any jealousy against me. I do not know what the future holds.

How do you want to strengthen the Congress in Gujarat?

It is not just the Congress; it also means NSUI, Youth Congress, Mahila Congress, Seva Dal and Kisan Congress. Congress will be strengthened when its wings are strengthened. We are planning to have a team of 200-300 youths in each assembly constituency. In urban constituencies, we are planning teams of 500 youths each. These youths should believe in the Congress party and its flag. We will find strong youths who are law-abiding citizens, who can also give a befitting reply to goons. I will make sure that such youngsters get maximum party tickets in elections.

How do you see the power tussle between Ashok Gehlot and Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan?

In Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the government was formed with a thin majority. Gehlot ji is not only a senior leader, but he has presented good administration earlier also. You need a capable and experienced leader to run a government, which is on a borderline majority. Therefore, the party made him (Gehlot) the chief minister. Similarly, in Madhya Pradesh, Kamal Nath ji was made chief minister to run the government.

As far as (Sachin) Pilot Saheb and (Jyotiraditya) Scindia Saheb are concerned, when their fathers died, both of them immediately got party tickets to be Members of Parliament. Then they were central ministers. Sachin Pilot became an MP at 25 and a central minister at 30. He became a chief of Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) at the age of 35 and deputy chief minister at the age of 40. Why should there be any problem?

When I joined the Congress, I did not have any post. We maintained patience, remained serious and had faith in our leader. Pilot Saheb and Scindia Saheb are very senior to me and I cannot advise them. But, I can tell our young workers that Congress party is the only party where a worker gets to a good position after working for the party. In cricketing terminology, in Congress, a worker certainly gets to bat after doing fielding.

They (Pilot and Scindia) have made a big mistake. (In Centre) Congress is out of power (only) for the past six years. In six years, why do you get so much worried? One has to struggle. May be some do not have the habit of going through a struggle.

We are struggling since 2015. I must salute Gujarat Congress leaders who have been struggling for 30 years.

Patidar quota agitation that you led will mark fifth year this month on August 25. How do you look back?

When we started the agitation, there were many people who were saying that this fight will not succeed. I was from a middle-class family. Yet we took the fight to such a height; 32 cases, including two sedition cases, were registered against me. I was jailed for 10 months. My family and I faced lot of harassment. But the fruit of the agitation is Yuva Swavlamban Yojana worth Rs 1,000 crore and 10% (EWS) reservation. Later I declared the end of the agitation and joined a political party.

Most of the major issues in 2017 — when Congress gave a tough fight to BJP and brought the latter below 100 seats in the Gujarat assembly — have been now resolved. Ram Mandir is likely to be a reality soon. In such a situation, how will you appeal people to vote for the Congress?

From 2015 to 2017, there was an issue for only one community. Today, every community in Gujarat is unhappy. There are 50 lakh unemployed youths. There are issues of farmers. There is no dearth of issues in Gujarat.

Ram Temple has a sentimental bond. The BJP government should now establish Ram Rajya in the country. Give employment to the unemployed, improve the education. During the corona pandemic, Ahmedabad Civil Hospital’s capability has been exposed. It is Asia’s biggest hospital, what is its condition now?

People are very unhappy with the BJP in Gujarat. But we will also have to come out as a strong opposition, as an alternative for people. In 2017, there were around 2.5 lakh NOTA votes. We will have to bring them to the Congress. We will go to the people and know their issues.

What will be Congress’s strategy for the upcoming assembly bypolls to eight constituencies and local body polls later this year?

We are getting a sense of local party workers’ expectations. We have put committed party workers on the job. We will design the manifesto after knowing issues of 18,000 villages. I have proposed that the party has assembly constituency wise manifesto for the bypolls.

Gujarat Congress has been facing problem of defections by party MLAs during Rajya Sabha elections. Any remedy?

BJP has a clear goal to have majority in the Rajya Sabha. Therefore, in every Rajya Sabha poll, they buy out MLAs. If an MLA betrays the party for his/her personal gain, what is the party doing? It is no joke that an MLA resigns at his will and then there is bypoll at the cost of public money. As an Opposition party, it is our responsibility to ensure that public money is not wasted. They (defectors) have to be held answerable and party should be aggressive against such MLAs who endanger democracy.

You have been teaming up with independent MLA Jignesh Mevani for some time in the past. How does it impact or benefit both of your politics?

It is not about benefiting each other; the benefit should be for the janta. Jignesh and I have decided to meet once a month and check on important issues of the state. It will be a strong case of social harmony in the state. Our bonding will send a message that if these two can get together and work, why can’t we? Our primary attempt is to ensure social harmony and equality.

How do you view a public function for foundation stone laying of Ram Temple in Ayodhya amid Covid-19 pandemic?

It is a religious topic and many people will not like if I say something on it. There is no point speaking on it. Jawaharlal Nehru had said that the government must not play a role at religious places. It is good that a temple of Maryada Purushottam Lord Ram is being built. But I clearly want that Ram Rajya is also established in the country.

Many Gujaratis had gone as kar sevaks for the Ram temple and lost their lives. Why none of the kar sevaks was invited (for the ceremony)?

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