Updated: May 18, 2022 1:59:34 pm
Three years after he joined the Congress, and weeks after he said he was “keeping his options open”, which includes the possibility of joining the BJP, Hardik Patel resigned from the grand old party on Wednesday.
In a letter to Sonia Gandhi, Patel accused the Congress of “working against the interest of the country and society”. He accused the party’s “top leadership” of hating Gujarat and Gujaratis and “lacking any seriousness”.
In an interview to The Indian Express over a year ago, Hardik had voiced similar grievances, of being ignored and not given tasks by the party. A prominent Patidar and youth leader of Gujarat, Hardik was inducted into the Congress by Rahul, the then national president, in 2019, barely two months before the Lok Sabha elections. In 2020, he was appointed the Congress working president. However, his name does not feature even on the website of the Gujarat PCC, unlike the other new office-bearers.
So what lies behind the angry Hardik:
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1. That he is not involved in the decision-making process
He has claimed that even three years after his appointment, the state Congress leadership does not acknowledge him as a leader or involve him in decision-making. In March, the Congress appointed 75 general secretaries and 25 vice-presidents for the Gujarat unit, the first major overhaul in the party after he joined. Hardik says he was not “consulted” about the appointments. Among those elevated as vice-president was Manoj Panara, who was spokesperson of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, the organisation founded by Hardik, which spearheaded the Patidar quota agitation.
He also told The Indian Express in last year’s interview that his recommendations for ticket distribution during the local body elections were not considered by the party.
Congress sources say Hardik is “too demanding”. “You can ask for your man to be appointed, but you cannot say so and so should not be appointed,” says a party leader, comparing him to Alpesh Thakor, the OBC leader who had also joined the Congress in presence of Rahul Gandhi, won the Assembly elections in 2017 on a Congress ticket, was assigned the state of Bihar, and in 2020 joined the BJP, but lost the by-election to his seat.
2. That the party high command is indecisive
According to Hardik, he has made several representations to the Congress high command, only to get an assurance that “something good will be done… you will get your space”. He told The Indian Express Saturday that he has also met KC Venugopal, the powerful AICC general secretary, in this connection. But in the one year since he first vent his grievances against the local leadership, he says the only thing that has changed is the party president.
In December last year, the party appointed OBC leader and former MP from north Gujarat Jagdish Thakor as GPCC president and MLA Sukhram Rathwa from central Gujarat as the Leader of the Opposition in the Gujarat Assembly. Their predecessors Amit Chavda and Paresh Dhanani, respectively, had resigned following the party’s rout in the local body elections of 2021.
Hardik has also spoken out on the party high command dithering over a decision regarding Naresh Patel, a prominent Patidar face who is being wooed by all sides. On Saturday, Naresh Patel told mediapersons in Rajkot that Hardik had met him and told him about some issues in the Congress, “which he suggested I help sort out”.
3. That the local leadership sidelines him
Rahul Gandhi had brought Hardik into the Congress in a largely “lateral” entry. His appointment within a year as working president had caused much heartburn among leaders who had served the party for years. Then, in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Hardik was the only leader from Gujarat picked by the Congress as a ‘star campaigner’ apart from late MP Ahmed Patel, entitling him to a chopper to fly to campaign venues; a privilege repeated in the 2022 Punjab Assembly elections.
“Naturally, Hardik’s entry and quick appointment as working president have disturbed some people in the party,” said a Congress leader, adding that “Hardik needs to adjust and accommodate himself to the party”.
Senior Congress leaders, however, do admit that it is but pragmatic that leaders like Hardik and Jignesh Mevani, who have emerged from movements, be “treated differently” — especially in a party with few leaders with any name recall. Mevani pledged allegiance to the Congress last year, with Hardik by his side. Kanhaiya Kumar also joined the Congress with Mevani.
4. That the party did not schedule or organise rallies for him during the local body polls
At a rally in Morbi in 2021, during the local self-government body elections, Hardik had told The Indian Express that his campaigns were largely designed and executed by him and his team, and not the party. Some Patidar Congress MLAs like Lalit Kagathara were among those present at his rallies. He had campaigned not only in Patidar-dominated constituencies but also others like Ahmedabad. The party did not bear the expenses of his campaign, he had said.
5. That he got no backing from the party in fighting, or speaking out, against the criminal cases lodged against him
In February this year, Hardik announced an agitation from March 23 if cases against the Patidars filed during the 2015 quota agitation were not withdrawn. Before the date set by him, the Gujarat government announced it had begun the process to withdraw 10 cases, except the ones under the sedition law against Hardik. While the BJP government was seen to have taken heed, Hardik’s call for an agitation did not see any backing from his party.
He currently faces 28 cases, including two under the sedition law. With the Supreme Court earlier this month staying his sole conviction, in a case of violence from the Patidar quota agitation of 2015, he has announced willingness to contest the elections. But there has been no reaction from the Congress to this development yet.
Incidentally, the Congress has rallied behind Mevani after he was arrested over remarks made against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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