Hardik Patel has a charisma of his own. In a short span, he has been jailed, banished from his home state and is now trying to take on, almost singlehandedly, the mighty BJP
Gujarat’s young Patidar leader Hardik Patel has yet again proved that he is no pushover. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might ridicule him, but it cannot ignore him.
Since mid-2015, Hardik has become the face of the Patidar agitation for reservation in jobs. Currently, the young leader is on an indefinite hunger strike demanding reservation for Patidars and a farm loan waiver. Today is the 11th day and by now he has managed to draw huge crowds. Many political leaders across the Opposition spectrum have come out in his support as well.
Hardik has been accepted as a member of the Opposition fraternity arrayed against the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine and is hard at work in carving out a niche for himself as a leader of consequence.
Hardik did not contest the 2017 Gujarat assembly elections as he was underage then. Without a charismatic local leader to lead it from the front, the Congress was unable to take advantage of the groundswell of anti-incumbency.
Now there is intense speculation that he will contest the upcoming general elections. Hardik is likely to focus on the state elections and move on once he has consolidated his position in the state.
Hardik has also displayed political maturity and shrewdness by being on the right side of Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Trinamool Congress leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.
It would be foolish to ridicule Hardik as a mere Patidar leader because the Patidars constitute 15 percent of the total electorate in Gujarat. They can influence the outcome in about 60 of the 182 assembly seats.
If Hardik manages to assume Congress’ leadership in Gujarat (with Rahul’s blessing), he could challenge the BJP, which has been in power in the state for more than two decades. If he does not align with the Congress, he could be the third force in the state, which could even bargain with the grand old party.
Hardik has forged good relations with OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani — two youth leaders who command support among groups they belong to. Hardik is also trying to woo the farmer lobby and cash in on their anger against the Modi- Shah combine in Gujarat.
The Hardik phenomenon could influence voting patterns in some way in the upcoming elections in Rajasthan and even in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh — three states which have a straight BJP-Congress contest.
His indefinite fast, which epitomises the non-violence professed by Mahatma Gandhi, is endearing him to the masses. But it is not like Hardik has no detractors. The BJP opposes him while the Congress views him with suspicion. The Gujarati elite predominantly look upon him with contempt.
Everything now depends on how young Hardik shapes up. If he concentrates on Gujarat, he could well make a mark. Gujarat could be a good launching pad for the politically-savvy young leader. Challenging the redoubtable Modi is no mean task. But the more he is hounded, the more sympathy and support he would get.
Indeed, Hardik Patel has become a leader with a charisma of his own. In a short span, he has been jailed, banished from his home state and is now trying to take on, almost singlehandedly, the mighty BJP. Unless he plays his cards badly, he could be the one young leader the nation should keep a close watch on.Kamlendra Kanwar is a senior journalist and political commentator. Views expressed are personal