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Hardik Patel interview: ‘When polls come, you’ll see me in an important position… Why should BJP not be an option?’

“The cases (against me, others) will not be done in one go. We agitated against the people in power, and people in power did what they did against us... (But) This very govt gave the 10% reservation... So we fought against the govt and it has fulfilled the demands,” Patel says.

Written by Leena Misra | Ahmedabad |
Updated: May 25, 2022 6:58:38 am
Former Congress leader Hardik Patel address media in Ahmedabad after his resignation from the party. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

In his first interview after quitting the Congress, Hardik Patel talks about problems with the Congress and what AAP is doing right, why his opinion regarding the BJP has changed, how Congress let him down compared to Jignesh Mevani, and his plans. Excerpts:

How do you see the 2022 Assembly elections playing out?

I don’t think it will be an interesting election, because it will be one-sided. (Asaduddin) Owaisi has come into the scene, the Congress votes will go there. Then there is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP)

Do you see AAP as a challenger?

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Yes, but not in this election, in the next one.

But AAP looks aggressive…

Every party has a right to be aggressive, be it the Congress, BJP, AAP, but AAP’s (aggression) shows because its national leaders are constantly travelling, and they are more in the media limelight even for the smallest things. They are in the whole of Gujarat. In the case of the Congress, all their leaders go to one place – Saurashtra, Surat, Vadodara (where the recent regional Chintan Shivirs for Gujarat were held). In front of them, their competing party (AAP) is doing meetings in all four corners in one day… Their (AAP) strategy is definitely better than the Congress’s. That’s what I was tired of telling the Congress.

How do you see AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi as a force in Gujarat? Many Muslims too seem to be opposing him?

Who? You see small video clips and you think it is opposition. The language he speaks is what the Muslims like. Basically, whatever drama you do, it is clear that in the last 30 years, the people of Gujarat have voted on only three-four issues. That is the truth, and it is very important to accept the truth and not live in a world of fantasy or probabilities. They see the BJP as bringing development, peace and security. The people of Gujarat have understood that there is peace and security in the BJP regime because before that they saw riots. They have seen that in the last 20-22 years, nothing has happened.

Third, there is no corruption in this government. Agreed, you have to stand in a queue and pay a bribe to get a copy of the land title, but there has been no major instance (of corruption) involving any department in Gandhinagar in the last 30 years. And if something has happened, why has the Congress not taken it up? My anger with the Congress is this, that you have not been in government for 25 years, tell me of an agitation where your leader went to jail for even 20 days? There are no issues, so you cannot do anything, and assuming there are issues, what have you done to raise them? It means you don’t want to do anything.

Rahul Gandhi and Hardik Patel at a public meeting. (Express file)

So, on these three issues, I see the people of Gujarat walking this one path (of the BJP). Therefore, the Congress has not succeeded.

Another thing – clearly – is who is your face? Now, when the Assembly elections come, it is natural that there will be discussion on Gujarat’s asmita (pride) – that Narendrabhai is from our Gujarat, we have to vote for Narendrabhai. In 2017, Vijaybhai (Rupani) was the face for the BJP, now Bhupendrabhai (Patel). Who is your (the Congress’s) face?

Isn’t that an advantage a ruling party always has?

In Punjab, the Congress fought in the name of Capt Amarinder, this time you fought in the name of Charanjit Channi… A face means one or two people, not 10-15. You have to project two-three faces before the people… In the Prime Minister’s last few visits, he promoted Bhupendrabhai as a ‘simple, down to earth’ CM.

Maybe the Congress’s strategy is to not declare a face…

Chehra na rakhna, yeh strategy hai (Not announcing a face, is it a strategy)? Chalo, you don’t declare who is your (CM) face, but you can put some faces before the people. You have been putting five faces before the people for 30 years… what result have you got? These people cannot even win an election in their own villages or towns.

When exactly did you realise you could not stay in the Congress anymore?

I realised that if you are a social worker and an agitationist (andolankari), the Congress will tell you ‘Wah! We need youths like you… with you the party can progress’… They talk sweetly. Take my case. From 2015-18, they would talk to me, come to meet me, ask what could be done… Once I joined the party, they forgot all this. Then they saw me as a competitor.

The fact is that we can keep the people with us, we have our finger on their pulse, we try to give them what they want. But these older leaders offer them what they already have. I joined in March 2019. When Rajeev Satav (AICC in-charge of Gujarat) was the prabhari, I joined the party without any bargain, I remained a karyakarta for a year, then you made me working president, but you never assigned any responsibility. I said this repeatedly, I organised all the meetings myself, but did you see even a picture of the working president in any of the party posters? Was the working president just a lollipop? You didn’t even call me to important meetings, did not consult…

The beginning (of the problem) was when my father died, that is one instance that left a deep impact. Not one Congress leader came (to see me).

Former Congress leader Hardik Patel address media in Ahmedabad. (Express photo by Nirmal Harindran)

That’s when you thought…

… that these people are not worthy of one’s trust, nor can you have faith in them. In the local body elections, where I have to do my politics, they didn’t even ask me. They gave their own mandate (on candidates), and when I got angry, they gave a second mandate on my asking, but did not cancel the earlier one… In the entire Viramgam Assembly constituency, not one district panchayat ticket was given to a Patel. There are 60,000 Patel votes in this constituency.

But the Congress leaders argue that you were the party’s star campaigner, even outside the state.

Do you think star campaigner is a position? In 2019, I did the maximum meetings, what did I get from it? Did I go for myself? I went for the party. If you think that star campaigner is a position, then mubarak (congratulations) to all of you. Make everyone a star campaigner. Being a star campaigner is a tough job… You made us star campaigners because people want to listen to us and they don’t want to listen to you.

Isn’t it ironic that you led an agitation as a caste leader and you call the Congress casteist now?

Was the agitation to snatch away (the rights) of someone and give it to another? Every leader rises from the issues of his village, his community, or his district. Nobody becomes a leader right from a mother’s womb. We are not from a political family, we are from an ordinary family.

When the 10 per cent reservation (for EWS in general category) was announced, did we say only give it to Patels and no one else? When the Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavalambhan Yojana (MYSY – a scholarship scheme by the Gujarat government for meritorious students from EWS families) was announced, did we say don’t give to anyone but Patels?

Caste politics is when you say don’t give them, give us… We came from a community and understood their problems. We first started out saying we want an OBC quota, then we said quota for those who are poor. When the 10 per cent was announced, we thanked the PM. If we were so selfish, we would have said give us a 20 per cent quota.

When Jyotiraditya Scindia left the Congress, you said the party gave him so much and still he quit. Some people say the same of you.

I still say, I gave to the party, what did the party give me? Did you give me 10 lawyers who would fight for me for free?

How do you see the Gujarat of 2015, when you led the Patidar quota agitation, and Gujarat of 2022?

When there is a movement, the anger and the enthusiasm of that time are very different. We saw in the results of the 2015 local body polls and the 2017 Assembly elections, there was anger. So the Congress won 82 (counting the two BTP seats, Jignesh Mevani’s and the 1 NCP seat). Then, in 2019, you were down to zero. In the eight by-elections, zero. In the local body elections, zero. That means the people of Gujarat don’t like you anymore. The atmosphere that was created, you should have maintained it and built on it…

You also said the Congress destroyed your team.

The Congress system is very clear. If I say this man is strong, give him a position, they won’t. If that person goes through another leader, he gets a position. The Congress was only breaking up other’s teams. The sole intent was that Hardik’s team should not be strong, Hardik should not be strong.

What will be Hardik’s role in the 2022 Assembly elections?

Certainly, I will be in and around the elections

Meaning?

When the elections come, you will see me in an important role.

Like in 2017 (he campaigned against the BJP, to the Congress’s advantage, across Gujarat)?

Could be better than that.

Which party will you join?

When it is decided, you will know.

Is the BJP an option?

Why shouldn’t it be?

Is there an offer?

Offers and bargains are for weak people. Strong people create a space for themselves.

Suppose you go to the BJP, will it be on the condition that the cases against you be withdrawn?

Not me but against the youth of the community. They did not come out for themselves. Why should they be harassed? Because they came out, there is 10 per cent reservation for lakhs of people in Gujarat and crores in the country, and we are availing its benefits. So why should someone who worked for everyone run from pillar to post in courts? All the cases should be withdrawn, and the process will begin slowly. And I am saying this clearly, not out of arrogance, that I alone can do it, I have been doing it. This responsibility is on my head.

But will this be a point of contention between you and the BJP?

Look, the issue of cases will not be done in one go. We agitated against the people in power, and the people in power, to stay in power, did whatever they did against us. And we did what we could to take the agitation to its logical end. This very government gave the 10 per cent reservation and the MYSY. My point is that we fought against the government and it is the government that has fulfilled the demands.

Some believe the BJP government will keep this issue alive by withdrawing a few cases at a time…

So be it. Even if it takes 10 years, at least everything will be settled for my boys.

What about AAP? Are you thinking about it?

Maybe… there is no plan. There is no clarity where I will go. I will sit with friends and well-wishers and think about what I should do so that people will benefit . Our objective is to stay amidst people and thus pick the best option.

The Congress says that since it started talks with prominent Patidar face Naresh Patel, you saw the space for yourself in the party shrinking.

I made Jignesh and Kanhaiya Kumar join (the Congress), a bigger space of mine would be taken by them. They (the Congress) don’t want to keep Hardik with them, nor do they want to take Naresh. They don’t want anyone from the general category (upper castes).

So they talk about the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) theory helping them form the government and thus keep fooling the Gandhi family. The question is why have they not formed a government after 1985?

So the Congress does not want the Patidars?

Yes, it is a fact. Even the Gandhi family… because of whatever happened with Sardar (Patel) saheb, wants to keep Gujarat’s Patels at arm’s length… Vitthal Radadiya, why was he not made a Union minister? Because he was a strong Patidar. Dinsha Patel was never made a Cabinet minister, only Minister of State, he had a big role in keeping the identity of Sardar Patel alive.

Will you launch a third front?

No.

How are your relations with Naresh Patel?

Very good. His blessings are always with us.

Do you think he will join the Congress?

There is no clarity. When I met Nareshbhai first, I told him, I don’t think the Congress will help us in our matters. The Congress has nothing to do with people. They are only concerned about those 60-65 seats by which they can ensure one-two Rajya Sabha seats. Forming the government is a far cry. To tell you, very honestly, all this talk about me being close to Rahul Gandhi was false. He has not given me time more than twice.

According to you, where is Rahul at fault?

He does not have proper information about the places he visits, and if he doesn’t, the local leaders should brief him properly. Second, he should meet leaders frequently. People around him don’t have the understanding of what is correct and what is not. There are some people who will tell him that it will make no difference to us if we don’t go to a particular place (to campaign). When Scindia left, you said it won’t make a difference, the government fell immediately.

You did not become a part of the Group of 23 rebels in the Congress. Why?

I don’t want to become a traitor while being within the party. It is better to confront and say I am not with you anymore. I didn’t go to the Chintan Shivir (in Udaipur), because if Rahul Gandhi could not give five minutes in Dahod, then why should I go to show that I have surrendered to you?

These Congress people thought that this Hardik’s fight is with the BJP and all roads for him are thus closed. That he won’t go anywhere, so harass him as much as possible.

Is your rancour also because Rahul gave more time to Jignesh Mevani?

Obviously. Why not? I have been in jail for 10 months, was sent away for six months in exile from Gujarat, I was facing 32 cases. You have started the politics of caste, isn’t it? You can see a person who was convicted for three months in a case under Section 188, and you can see a person who went to jail for nine days, but you could not see my pain?

You talked about local Congress leaders being busy looking for chicken sandwiches for leaders who come from Delhi. That remark was seen as being below the belt.

You can of course have (a chicken sandwich). But the leaders are more worried about arranging for a chicken sandwich than the problems of the people, and that was my objection.

How is the Hardik of 2022 different from the Hardik of 2015?

Now, my understanding is clearer. Now I understand that you have to worry about the people more, and less about what you have.

How many seats will the BJP get?

I can tell you about the Opposition. I don’t see Congress anywhere in the Opposition.

Who will be in the Opposition?

Time will tell, but the Congress won’t be there . The people of Gujarat who had faith in the Congress as an Opposition, that Opposition has not played its role.

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Will your team stay with you?

Why not? Time will tell. Once my political stand is clear, you will see something new every day.

Which three issues should politicians take up in this election?

There should be a law to check paper leaks. FIRs should be lodged against the officials involved and they should be sent to jail. Second, children and youth should get access to education in their own village. And third, after the corona experience, the state government should consider setting up a hospital in every district.

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