AHMEDABAD/SURAT: The diminutive figure of Hardik Patel, too young to contest but a vital cog in the extremely fluid pre-election landscape of Gujarat, came out of the shadows of agitational politics on Wednesday to announce his full backing for the Congress. Despite signs of infighting and fragmentation, Hardik’s yes-vote for the Congress — announced at a press conference in Ahmedabad — is what may make or mar the party’s electoral fortune this time.
What clinched the deal was the tricky question of reservation for Patidars. Hardik announced his full acceptance of the new formula put forth by the Congress, where Patidars are proposed to be covered under a ‘special category’.The reservation proposal, clinched over the last two days, involves defining Patidars as “socially and educationally backward”.
Asked if this runs afoul of the 50 per cent reservation cap set by the Supreme Court, Hardik said, “This 50 per cent cap is just a suggestion of the Supreme Court. In our Constitution, there is no mention of a cap on reservation. I am of the firm opinion that reservation can be given over 50 per cent.”
His endorsement, which is at the base of the new alliance, would gladden the Congress top leadership, particularly Kapil Sibal, who negotiated the deal. The sentiment may not be shared by every Congress leader in the state, some of whom see Hardik as a usurper.
Hansmukh Desai, the Surat unit chief of the party, in fact was so angry that he threatened to resign after Patidar candidates from the party were changed to accommodate people from Hardik’s outfit Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS).
But for Hardik, taking a clear stand at this stage was no less crucial — a fact he acknowledged to this correspondent. He had to “salvage” his and the Patidar Andolan’s reputation. After PAAS activists clashed with Congress workers in Surat, BJP has been saying it has been vindicated — and the “anarchists” were only interested in political gains.
By accepting the Congress formula, Hardik Patel is seeking to prove that his moves are governed by the interests of the community. Hardik said that if the Congress comes to power, a commission would be set up, a proper survey conducted and a Bill brought before the state assembly.
What does Article 46 say
Article 46 says the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections. Though it mentions SCs/STs in particular, the Congress will explore if the definition can cover other communities.
Seat sharing with Congress
Hardik also sought to scotch the idea of a conflict with the Congress over seat-sharing. “We have not demanded any seats, but we had asked the Congress to put up candidates of our community who have a strong character,” he said.