PAAS chief Hardik Patel meanwhile has the spotlight on him. He is locked in negotiations with the Congress over a demand for reservations for the Patidar community in government jobs and education. He is also the target of a social media war in the run up to the elections as videos surfaced allegedly showing him with a woman in a room.
In a rally on Saturday at Mansa, he declared an all out war to weed out the BJP government in the Gujarat assembly election. A gamble that Hardik has undertaken was pledging his support to the Congress party in an attempt to wrest Gujarat from the BJP; which they have held for two decades.
This agreement was based on the Congress’ vow to cover Patidars under the 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes. The Patidars represent roughly 12% of the state’s population. The Patels have traditionally been BJP supporters; but with the support of Hardik Patel, they hope to ride on his wave of support coupled with the anger from them against the BJP government.
The ruling BJP warned of salacious videos of him which were then released. The Congress in light of this controversy has stood by Patel and criticized the BJP for its “poor mindset”. It would seem that the BJP is resorting to dirty tricks to garner votes. The Hindustan Times editorial cited the Supreme Court judgment on privacy -
“For politicians, elections bring many challenges. Not only do they have to convince an increasingly difficult-to-please electorate about the merit of their candidacy, but also they must keep a sharp eye on what the dirty tricks department of opposing parties can do upset their plans or malign them”.
“Expectedly, a hashtag — #HardikExposed — did the rounds, though nothing had really been exposed. It is not a crime for two adults to be in a room. Moreover, there was no evidence of anything illegal happening. Mr. Patel is a key player but is not contesting the Gujarat assembly polls”.
A constitutional bench of the Supreme Court in August ruled that privacy is a fundamental right and linked it with human dignity and preservation of personal intimacies.
“It clearly said that invasion of privacy will have to be justified against the standard of a “fair, just and reasonable” procedure. By this standard, invading Patel’s privacy and circulating the videos are not just morally unjust but also illegal”.
The Indian Express editorial stated similar points –
“On Thursday, Amit Malviya, head of the BJP’s IT cell, tweeted a nine-photo grid featuring Jawaharlal Nehru with women in “compromising positions”. Malviya wanted to prove that there is “a different yardstick for secular philanderers” and that Hardik has “Nehru’s DNA”.
“The personal lives of public figures, as long as there is no harassment, impropriety, or quid pro quo involved, do not concern the Indian public beyond their value as salacious gossip. Those in public life who think the mere insinuation of an adult relationship is a way to bring down political opponents, past and present, are merely displaying how out of touch they are”.
On the political front, the Gujarat Congress and Hardik Patel led PAAS reached an agreement over the issue of granting reservation to Patels, if the Congress is voted to power in the Gujarat Assembly election.
The key to Congress’ path to victory could be Hardik Patel. The spotlight is on him as he partners up with the Congress in the crucial election coming up. He is someone who did not seek to be involved in politics after his dream of being a cricketer did not come true. In 2015, the community he belongs to protested for quotas in jobs and education. He rose through the ranks into national spotlight overnight which made him a political leader.
He launched the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and became the face of the Patidar agitation for OBC status in July 2015. Patidar youth were agitated and tens of thousands marched and clashed with police and torched vehicles to press the state and central government to give in to the politically influential community.
In a column for The Hindu, Sanjay Kumar, a professor and current Director of CSDS, Delhi and Shreyas Sardesai a Research Associate at Lokniti, CSDS write on the first pre-election tracker in Gujarat ahead of the elections there which shows Hardik Patel could a decisive factor in the election –
“…what we can say with some confidence at this stage is that even though the BJP continues to be ahead, the momentum has shifted, and shifted quite strongly towards the Congress. If the party is able to build on it in the next three to four weeks of campaigning, it may well end up posing a very serious challenge to the BJP”.
“A major reason for the Congress to have come back from so far behind is the support for it from the Patidar, or Patel, community, no less than two-thirds of whom have voted for the BJP in the past several elections”.
“That Hardik Patel, who is leading the Patel movement for reservations and now calling for the BJP’s defeat, was found to be liked by two in every three Patels in the survey might make matters worse for the ruling party”.
This is the state the Congress might focus on in hopes of winning Gujarat. Hardik Patel is certainly popular within his community which could be a cause for worry for the BJP. The formula seems simple for both parties; for the BJP, ensure your base supporters are energized and turn out in big numbers, for the Congress, do not mess up the important alliance with Hardik and keep their end of the bargain.
More columns by Varun Sukumar