By Yash Shukla
After the announcement of the Gujarat assembly results in favour of the BJP, hopes of the revival of the Congress party have been rekindled. Political commentators have started analyzing the performance of both the parties as well as the effect of the trio of Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakur on the elections. While Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakur emerged victorious and have been able to make a dent in the support of the BJP by winning in the stronghold of the saffron party, Hardik Patel, who was too young to contest an election, believes that he helped the Congress party immensely and helped it increase its vote share from 33 percent in 2012 to 43 percent in 2017.
The Hardik Patel storm
The campaign and agitation led by the young Patidar have been remarkable and definitely made the Prime Minister and the BJP leadership use their might to stop the tide against the party. However, the performance of the BJP in the Patel-dominated areas have a different story to tell. Defying predictions of complete indifference of Patels towards the BJP, the BJP retained much of its Patel vote bank and battled successfully against anti-incumbency and disenchantment towards the party which has been in power for 22 odd years.
Hardik Patel, who heads the Patidar Anmat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) which has sought inclusion of Patels in the OBC list, came into the limelight just after the conclusion of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the departure of the then Gujarat CM Narendra Modi to the Centre. Three months into the government, the BJP leadership woke up to a crisis in the Prime Minister and National President’s home state in the form of agitation led by Hardik. The BJP government led by the then CM Anandiben Patel, who herself belonged to the Patel community, in Gujarat came into the attack because of its inept handling of the agitation. The BJP leadership swiftly replaced the Chief Minister by anointing Vijay Rupani as the new CM and Nitin Patel as his deputy. But the damage had been done- Hardik was sent to jail and was accused of sedition and riot charges in the wake of the leader’s increasing support among the community. The government in the state also was accused of turning a blind eye to the distress faced by the community and brutally suppressing the agitation. The BJP government also came into attack when nine members of the Patel community died in the police firing against the agitators. At that point in time, it seemed that the BJP was unable to get rid of the PAAS and its leader Hardik Patel. The young leader emerged out of the oblivion once again before the elections and took the BJP leadership by storm with even more power and might.
Patel and Congress: Joining hands?
The rallies organized by PAAS started getting thousands of people eager to listen to the young leader. Even seasoned BJP leaders like Nitin Patel and Anandiben Patel failed to get as much support as the young leader got in his rallies. Then came the Congress party and its President Rahul Gandhi who sought to ride over the discontent among the community and cash the popularity of Hardik Patel to its advantage.
Despite his earlier reluctance and denials to support the Congress party, Hardik decided to support the Congress party close to elections. Hardik who belongs to the Kadva community among Patels who are 30 percent of the bloc also tried to stitch alliance and get support from the Leuva Patels who are numerically stronger Patels in the state. Hardik also challenged the BJP and the PM into the traditional strongholds of the BJP.
BJP supporters overpowered Patel’s motives
However, after the dust of the Gujarat elections has settled down, it has become clear that Hardik with all his qualities and shrewd skills could not unite Patels under the banner of PAAS and could not achieve his aim of teaching a lesson to the BJP. The BJP won 14 out of 16 seats in Patel dominated Surat where Hardik had also convened a mega road rally. Out of six candidates who were given the Congress tickets on Hardik’s insistence, only two could win. The BJP despite incumbency and all odds set against it, won convincingly.
The Congress party and these leaders fought very well and resisted the policies and divisive agenda of the BJP but could not provide their own alternatives to the woes of the people. Hardik knowing fully well, that the campaign promise of the Congress party of giving reservation to the Patel community under OBC quota cannot be realized supported the Congress party merely to embarrass the BJP and avenging his personal loss and pain. He, along with the Congress party, could neither present a better solution to the people nor could convince voters of the advantages of having a Congress government in the state. Hence, the Patels only supported the Congress in the Saurashtra region.
Baseless arguments to cover up for the loss?
Hardik Patel’s assertion that the BJP won because of the malfunctioning EVMs only alienates him further from the young voters who are fed up with this blame game after the conclusion of every election. The election presented him an opportunity to emerge as one of the youngest and decisive leaders of the state and he has been successful also to a certain limit as he could be called the biggest face of the Patel community in the state after the retirement of former BJP leader Keshubhai Patel. The young leader needs to find new ideas and retain his spirit to fight against the BJP leadership.
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