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Old August 23rd, 2015, 06:37 PM
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Hardik Patel: Rise of the quota warrior

Hardik Patel: Rise of the quota warrior
AHMEDABAD: Two months ago, nobody had heard of Hardik Patel, the man who has galvanized Patidar masses in a Gujarat-wide movement to demand reservations in the OBC quota. A 22-year-old BCom graduate who helped his father run a small submersible-pumps business in rural Ahmedabad is the convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). Hardik is now directing a quota agitation that routinely pumps colossal crowds onto the streets.

Indeed, of the 100-odd Patel rallies that have been held, Hardik has attended between 60 and 70. He got thrown out of some rallies because of power struggles within the community but has emerged as an unlikely rallying point for a community which is already the most powerful in Gujarat.

Hardik, who graduated with less than 50% marks from Ahmedabad's Sahajanand College, comes from an average middle-class Patidar family from Viramgam, near Ahmedabad. His father, Bharatbhai, is engaged in farming too.

Hardik's rise has baffled everyone, especially the political establishment led by chief minister Anandiben Patel. He was a member of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), a leading Patidar youth body, and was president of its Viramgam unit. But Hardik was ousted from the post because the leader of the SPG, Lalji Patel, was not amenable to the idea of Hardik promoting his PAAS. Formed only in July, PAAS has shaken social and political stability of Gujarat by becoming the uniting force for Patels, so far the bedrock of support to the BJP.

Following his parting with the SPG, Hardik concentrated on building up PAAS even as SPG leaders lodged an FIR against him, alleging that he had failed to return Rs 2 lakh he owed to the group. Hardik claims that the FIR had been filed at the behest of the state government. Old photographs of him with VHP strongman Pravin Togadia are also fuelling the rumour mill about the mysterious source of his strength.

The turf war between Patel factions swung Hardik's way on August 17 after the success of a rousing rally orchestrated by him in Surat which drew an estimated half a million Patels on to the streets of Diamond City. The SPG announced publicly that it shared a common purpose with PAAS.

The flourish has proved tricky for him too. Recently, a controversy broke out with the emergence of a video clip showing a montage of fiery images — including those with Hardik holding guns. In that video, shared widely on social media, a provocative commentary runs in the background. Hardik, though, says that the audio comprises just lyrics of popular Bollywood song.

The government wants to hold talks with him but he is clear that talks are possible only after chief minister Anandiben Patel announces OBC reservation for his community. There is a scare among BJP's Patel leaders as his group is threatening to picket BJP leaders till they pledge support to the reservation demand.

Hardik feels that Patidars are losing in the development race because of the present reservation regime. He said, "A Patidar student with 90% marks does not get admission in an MBBS course, while SC/ST or OBC students get it with 45% marks." He said that Patidars were not against SC/ST or OBC communities getting their due.

Hardik said that in the current government the CM is a Patel, as are seven ministers. "All these leaders have failed to protect the common Patidar. A common Patidar is now on his own," Hardik said.
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