The atmosphere was charged up, provocative speeches against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah were on. One of the speakers who had come from Haryana used abusive words against the BJP which was cheered by the crowd. The slogan of “Jay Sardar, Jay Patidar” reverberates across the neighbourhood in Nikol — traditionally a BJP bastion — on Monday night as a song dedicated to the community plays in the background.
After hours of wait, 23-year-old Hardik Patel arrives at around 9:30 pm amid a rousing welcome. There is a frenzy in the crowd. Thousands of youngsters cheer for him, jostle with each other to have a glimpse of the PAAs leader, one selfie with him. Every word that Hardik speaks is reciprocated by the crowd in complete frenzy.
Fathers put their sons on their shoulders to let them see the leader who seems to have united Patidars against the BJP, girls try to stand on barricade and women stand on chairs to cheer for him. The whole event, the show of rose petals, firecrackers and loud music dazzle the crowd.
But despite this rock concert like event and Hardik performing like a rockstar, there are voices that should worry him as well as the Congress, which is banking on his support in this election.
Ruchit Patel and his classmate Vishal Patel, both 19 and residents of Naroda, have come to see Hardik for being a fellow Patidar. “I am going to caste my vote for the first time on November 14, and it will be for the BJP. I am here to support Hardik only for being a Patidar,” he says. His classmate agrees and adds, “We agree with Hardik for reservation to Patidars in jobs and education, but we can’t vote for the Congress. I think Patidar should have a separate political party.”
Satish Patel, a businessman from Naroda, says the BJP has become “arrogant and rules like a dictator” and that “there is too much corruption, and business opportunities have gone down”. But goes on to add: “I personally think that GST and demonetisation are good decisions for long term, and appreciate Modiji for this. I have always voted for the BJP. We have issues with state BJP leadership and they should go.”
However, 25-year-old Parth Patel, who runs a factory in Gir-Somnath district and voted against the BJP, says: “I have come here on my own to campaign against the BJP. I am doing this to teach the BJP a lesson for the atrocities it committed on Patidars during the (2015) agitation. I used to like Modiji, but even he didn’t utter a word of sympathy against police action.”
In the same frenzy crowd, there were many teenagers, who though are not eligible to vote, have come to listen to Hardik. They say that they like Modi, but support Hardik. “I like Modi more than Hardik. I am supporting Hardik since he is raising community problem,” says Krish Patel, who studies in Class XII.
A group of middle-aged men sitting in a corner of the road after the meeting got over discuss impact of Hardik’s in the election. “No matter how hard he campaigns for the Congress, Patidars would not support him for this. The demand of reservation is one thing, and choosing Congress is another,” says one. The group agrees in unison. They say BJP will win, but their “victory margin will be enough to make them realise that they could lose the state”.
On the last day of his campaigning for the second and final phase of polls, Hardik on Tuesday was in Vadodara city where he receives a rousing welcome from community members as he began his roadshow from Chhani to Sangam Char-Rasta — a 10 km route. After offering floral tribute to a bust of Sardar Patel in Chhani, he proceeds towards the stage set for his public meeting at Sangam junction, standing on the foot board of his SUV and surrounded by his own security guards as well as armed CISF jawans.
On his way, Hardik meets enthusiastic Patidars who turned out in big numbers to see him. Children dressed as Chhatrapati Shivaji, Bhagat Singh, Swami Vivekanand and Mahatma Gandhi posed with Hardik. Here too, he urges the community to “overcome fear” and vote against the BJP. In the rally, were hundreds of Patidar youths, who could not help but scream “Hardikbhai” for selfies. Several Patidar youngsters take out their phones as they livestream the roadshow on social media.
“I have come out to see Hardik as he doesn’t visit Vadodara often. I feel he speaks up what all of us are feeling. I am graduating in engineering, but yet to get placement. I am anxious,” says Nikul Patel, a resident of Karelibaug.
Whether Hardik has been able to change his mind about voting against the BJP, Nikul replies, “While Hardik is speaking about real issues, we are confused about overthrowing the BJP. The fact is that Modiji is working hard to bring growth in the industrial sector. So, will it help if the BJP goes out of power in Gujarat?”
Several women, who turned out on the terraces and verandahs of the buildings along the route to catch a glimpse of Hardik, wave at the young Patidar leader.
Jigisha Patel, a homemaker in her late 40s, feels Hardik can bring change if he joins politics. “Leaders like Hardik are necessary to question those in power. He is fearless and speaks up, which also irks the powerful. But he is right. However, his appeal to thrash the BJP in Gujarat is not a feasible idea. Their government has been in power for 22 years and they have already initiated development projects. As Modiji has said that with the Central and state governments coordinating, the state will benefit. So, we are not sure if the Congress will be able to continue the development work in Gujarat.”
As Hardik reaches the podium at Sangam crossroad, in the backdrop of a famous mobile phone store, several youngsters fervently hold up their handsets to make videos and click pictures of their leader.
From the stage, in his trademark style, Hardik attacks the BJP, Modi and Amit Shah. The crowd cheers. Hardik’s speech is hurried and shorter than his usual fiery self. The reason being the clock ticking towards 5 pm, when campaigning must come to an end.
Around 4.45 pm, Hardik attacks Modi and addresses the issue of according “izzat” to the Prime Minister. He tells the crowd, “Many of you must be thinking that this 24-year-old young boy does not give Prime Minister like Modi much ‘izzat’. Of course, I respect the post of the Prime Minister. But the fact is that he is Prime Minister because we voted for him. That is respect enough. Moreover, when he was chief cinister and declared as the Prime Ministerial candidate, he abused Sonia Gandhi, who was leading the government in power at that time. Did he not think of the ‘izzat’ then?”
He also speaks about Modi “making an issue” out of suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s ‘neech’ comment. “Mani Shankar Aiyar called him (Modi) ‘neech’, and the next day BJP issued advertisements in newspapers that the people of Gujarat will avenge this insult. You imagine, that he is confident that the people of Gujarat will avenge the insult of the word ‘neech’, but he has no regard for the killing of 14 Patidar youths by the police, which we have to avenge. When it became a matter about him, he is pushing the public to fight his war. Open your eyes and see the truth.”
“Throw out the fear in your mind and go to the polling booths to vote for the party or candidate that you believe will amplify your voice and not be arrogant as the current government. No one can threaten you inside a polling station, and you must exercise your right to vote judiciously… It is a matter of the future of the community and the state,” he concludes as the crowd cheers.