Hardik Patel says the purpose of his deal with Congress is not political but a tactic to secure reservation for Patidars. He told The Sunday Standard that if the Congress comes to power in Gujarat, a survey of backwardness will be conducted on the lines of the Mandal Commission. Patel indicated that it isn’t his concern that the Supreme Court has set a ceiling of 50 per cent for job quotas.
The 24-year-old Hardik Patel is a phenomenon in Gujarat, an enigmatic phenomenon. He’s in politics but also not in politics. He has been the helmsman and icon of the first youth agitation Gujarat has seen in five decades, but he’s too young to contest an election. As a young Patidar agitating for reservation benefits for his community, he is linked to the one demand that has galvanized caste/community groups in several states of in India.
Patel’s potential is palpable in the way he can sway crowds. How much he can swing votes in a fiercely contested field is an open question. Sitting in a community centre on the outskirts of Ahmedabad with his band of Patidar boys, humble yet assertive, Hardik Patel tells The Sunday Standard in an exclusive interview that all he’s interested in right now is achieving social goals through political alliances, not direct politics.
Excerpts from the interview:
Now that you have made your understanding with the Congress public, will you share the stage with Rahul Gandhi and openly campaign for his party?
No, there’s no such plan. My understanding with the Congress is on the issue of reservation for my community. The party has agreed to support our movement—primarily the demand for reservation. We are responding to the times, and we are bound by the present time. If the Congress comes to power, a proper survey will be conducted on the lines of the Mandal Commission. Our support is on the basis of this agreement.
And what if the Congress does not come to power?
Our agitation will resume, our movement for reservation will continue.
In a way you have taken a direct plunge into electoral politics. But you have no experience in electoral politics and you are taking on the BJP, which is considered a well-oiled election machine. How do you think it will pan out?
Who said I’m interested in elections and politics? I’ve not put up candidates, nor am I contesting. That’s not our job. My job is to spread awareness among my people—to awaken them. To encourage them to come out, demand their rights. The spring that has been suppressed for long, I’m trying to release it. To help the common Patidar become something, we need help, the political help of a big party.
So this is a social movement, not political?
Yes, it’s primarily for social uplift, but then everything is political. We cannot achieve our objectives without political alliances. What is Gujarat’s problem? Unemployment. The youth are not able to earn a decent living. That’s because they don’t get the right kind of education. Farmers are not getting the price for their produce. Just step out of the city, you can see the distress in the rural areas. Trade is down. You’ll understand why people are supporting us.
Surely, things have not come to a standstill, not in the way you’re suggesting. Maybe a slowdown…a temporary one.
The development they talk about, it’s superficial. Just a show. Society has been emptied from the inside. The situation in rural Gujarat, the social disparities there are not just serious, they’re dangerous. Would someone from the BJP, any leader, be ready to even sit with me and convince me there really are no disparities? The fact is we need reservation to come up in life, to become socially acceptable.
You say you are not in politics. Then why did you demand seats to contest? Why did PAAS (Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti) activists ransack Congress offices. You forced them to change four candidates.
Who said I forced them? Who’s saying that I demanded tickets?
You may not have yourself demanded the change of candidates or recommended anyone specifically. But your representatives did.
People were upset because the candidates they (the Congress) put up were not the right candidates. People expressed their anger, so that party had to make some changes. What has that got to do with me?
Your PAAS convenor Dinesh Bambaniya and Alpesh Kathiriya sought tickets for themselves. The talk of the town is that they may join the BJP and you had a fracas with them.
I can’t help if one media house deliberately puts out a wrong story. I’ve never asked anyone for a ticket, nor has PAAS. Our discussion has been on issues: reservation, compensation for those injured during our agitation, jobs for the youth. They (Bambaniya and Kathiriya) are not going anywhere. Dinesh was sitting next to me at the press conference when we pledged support to the Congress. This is all propaganda.
But Pappan (Praful) Togadia (Pravin Togadia’s nephew), the Congress corporator from Surat and your old friend-cum-supporter, a Patidar at that, says you cut his ticket by pressurising Ashok Gehlot (the AICC Gujarat in-charge) after his name was announced.
Why would I? I was the one who made him the leader of the opposition in the Surat Municipal Corporation. I have nothing to do with the internal matters of the Congress.
Well, it’s being said that a 133-year-old party has to bow to the wishes of a 24-year-old.
If the Congress is listening to the people’s voice, it’s good. But do I have the stature or the audacity to dictate terms to any political party? I’m a small person. They are listening to my reservation demands, because my people are behind me.
If there was no pressure from your side, why did you call off or postpone the announcement by two days? It was to happen in Rajkot the same day as Vijay Rupani filed his nomination.
The discussion on the reservation was not over. There were still a few loose ends that needed to be tied up.
Coming back to reservation for Patidars, how will you actually achieve it?
There’s a Supreme Court ceiling of 50 per cent on reservation. Won’t there be a backlash from your other friend, Alpesh Thakor’s OBC community?
I’m not interested in cutting into the 27 per cent reservation for OBCs. I’m not going that way at all. There’s no conflict with the OBCs. I want a separate constitutional guarantee, like the SC/ST quota. And the Supreme Court thing, it is only a judgment. It can always be overturned. No court is above the Constitution.
How can reservation for Patidars be brought in line with constitutional principles?
Why can’t it be? We’re saying, get a survey done on the lines of the Mandal Commission, and it will become apparent who is rich and who is poor. Reservation has to be given to the socially and educationally backward—that’s the constitutional mandate.
It’ll be difficult. Other communities, the Jats and Marathas for example, will also make the same demand across India.
All that needs to be considered. Let a survey get done, everything will fall in place. We know it’s a long struggle, we’re not giving up. Politicians are voted to power not to do mujras (musicals), but address problems. If people make genuine demands, they have to look at it.
There have been quite a few controversies around you in recent days: the CCTV footage on your alleged meeting with Rahul Gandhi and the so-called dirty tapes. Have they hurt your image?
Have you seen them? I’ve not seen them. Nothing will be gained by adopting these petty means. It does not bother me. It’s an old game. It will only bring disrepute to those who are indulging in such tactics.