HUNGER GAMES

Hardik’s stock rises as the in­def­i­nite fast goes on even as the BJP tries to cut him off

India Today - - STATES - By Uday Mahurkar

Over a fort­night into his in­def­i­nite hunger strike, Hardik Pa­tel has had a vir­tual ret­inue of po­lit­i­cal lead­ers of ev­ery hue call­ing on him. From es­tranged BJP veteran Yash­want Sinha, for­mer JD(U) chief Sharad Ya­dav, NCP’s Pra­ful Pa­tel to A. Raja of the DMK and the TMC’s Di­nesh Trivedi, they have all been mak­ing a bee­line to the farm­house out­side Ahmedabad where Hardik is stag­ing his protest. Need­less to say, it’s given the young Gu­jarati pati­dar leader’s po­lit­i­cal stature a sig­nif­i­cant boost.

An­a­lysts say it is al­most like when he first burst onto the scene in April 2015, brav­ing a bru­tal po­lice lathi charge to de­mand quo­tas for his com­mu­nity. The in­dig­nant Pa­tel com­mu­nity re­acted with vi­o­lence, which in­vited a fur­ther po­lice crack­down. It then pro­vided Hardik with a po­lit­i­cal plank that even­tu­ally bruised the BJP in the 2017 as­sem­bly polls.

But this time, the Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment has a nu­anced strat­egy to re­strict Hardik’s in­flu­ence from grow­ing. BJP state pres­i­dent Jitu Vaghani has con­sis­tently dis­missed the pati­dar’s fast as a “Con­gress

spon­sored ex­er­cise”. And the state ad­min­is­tra­tion, cit­ing the 2015 vi­o­lence, has in­voked Sec­tion 144 to dis­al­low the as­sem­bly of more than four peo­ple at the fast venue.

The state gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to en­gage with Hardik on the two key is­sues—quo­tas for the Pa­tels and the Rs 82,000 crore farm loan waiver—has in some ways robbed Hardik of his ad­van­tage. His avid sup­port­ers have nonethe­less flexed their mus­cles with protest marches in Mehsana and Am­reli dis­tricts, both pati­dar stronghold­s.

The rul­ing BJP is also point­ing to Hardik’s flip-flop re­gard­ing his ‘fast unto death’. It is be­ing pointed out that he has twice ac­cepted a drink of wa­ter from vis­it­ing politi­cians. Also, when he was forcibly re­moved to a gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal for a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion on Septem­ber 7, Hardik’s sup­port­ers, claim­ing they feared for his life, in­sisted he be ex­am­ined at a pri­vate hos­pi­tal of their choice.

For the mo­ment, though, the Gu­jarat gov­ern­ment is un­will­ing to risk any­thing. Aware that Hardik is look­ing at a ma­jor role in next year’s Lok Sabha polls in tan­dem with the Con­gress, CM Vi­jay Rupani knows that the pati­dar leader won’t pass up the slight­est op­por­tu­nity. His big chal­lenge now is to en­sure that Hardik’s fast ends with­out fu­elling more fire. Sources say the lat­ter too is look­ing for a way to end his fast hon­ourably.

CM RUPANI’S BIG CHAL­LENGE IS TO EN­SURE THAT HARDIK’S FAST ENDS WITH­OUT IN­CI­DENT

REAP­ING THE GAINSHardi­k Pa­tel on hunger strike out­side Ahmedabad

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