India Today

Why Hardik Patel is Sulking Again

- By Kiran D. Tare


Hardik Patel, the face of the Patidar reservatio­n protests, has learnt how to get things done his way in his three-year associatio­n with the Congress party. It started in mid-April when he publicly expressed unhappines­s with the party’s inability to take quick decisions. Within a fortnight, the state leaders were all lining up in an attempt to mollify him.

On April 28, the death anniversar­y of his father Bharatbhai, Hardik declared he would not leave the Congress, but only after state president Jagdish Thakor and state in-charge Raghu Sharma (who had come to pay homage) were corralled into announcing that the working president (Hardik) would play a “crucial role” in the party’s Gujarat poll campaign in December. That couldn’t have come too soon. For, of late, Hardik has been brandishin­g his Hindutva credential­s on social media. Last month, he described himself as a “believer of Lord Ram” and “a proud Hindu”, posted a picture wearing a saffron shawl, praised the BJP for its “decision-making capacity”, and stoked speculatio­n further by removing mention of the Congress from his social media handles.

Hardik’s main issue, sources say, pertains to the induction of Naresh Patel, an influentia­l Leuva Patidar community leader from Saurashtra region. Naresh was negotiatin­g with the Congress leadership through poll strategist Prashant Kishor. If he had joined the party, Hardik would have seen a competitor for his Patidar base, even if he himself is from the Kadva group. But now, since Kishor himself has declined to join the Congress, Naresh’s entry into the party also looks uncertain. Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party has extended an open invite to Hardik, which could increase his leverage in the Congress. (AAP is hoping its second Gujarat outing will be a more serious one than its 2017 debut, when it won only 0.1 per cent votes.)

When he joined the Congress ahead of the May 2019 Lok Sabha election, Hardik was seen as a force to be reckoned with. Just four years before, he had mobilised the Patidars against the BJP, a mass uprising that had bled the saffron party. In 2017, its tally hit a low 99 seats—out of a total 182, its worst showing since 1995. But the fizz had waned since then and Hardik’s hopes of getting to helm the Congress in Gujarat were dashed after the party drew a blank in 2019. Hardik had to settle for the post of working president. He did try to create an impact by taking out marches against the state apathy towards farmers and the victims of Cyclone Tauktae. But it was all wasted as the Congress plumped for the seasoned Thakor as state chief in December 2021. Hardik could not hide his frustratio­n and soon after stopped attending party meetings.

“Hardikbhai assumes he is still a people magnet, that’s the root cause of his unhappines­s,” says a senior Congress leader. “He was a great influencer in 2015 (during the Patidar agitation). That time is past, and his influence has waned. He has to accept the fact that he can’t always be a hero.” In meetings with him, though, state leaders were conciliato­ry, and Hardik melted, saying on April 29 that difference­s would be sorted out. “Party leaders are talking to me. It’s a good thing. Those who are unhappy should be contacted, their problems discussed,” he said in his hometown Viramgam. But things could turn again with the Congress’s latest investment, independen­t MLA Jignesh Mevani, likely to formally join the party closer to poll time. Hardik could then be relegated to being one among the young turks, which is likely to induce another of his big sulks. ■

Hardik Patel complainin­g to the media, April 15
POWER POINTS Hardik Patel complainin­g to the media, April 15

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