Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel, who brought down a Patidar-headed BJP government through an agitation that sought reservation for the community, on Wednesday, quit the Congress. The resignation came amid speculation that he was vending his way towards the BJP.
His resignation, announced on twitter, with the letter addressed to party president Sonia Gandhi attached along with, came as no surprise to political observers in Gujarat, for it was known that he had been running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.
Doubts, if any, stood dispelled, given the tone and tenor of a privileged communication put on social media.
Hardik, who had often equated Home Minister Amit Shah with General Dyer and blamed him for the death of Patidar youth during the 2015-2016 agitation, now sees virtue in what has been the leitmotif of the Narendra Modi-led BJP dispensation.
‘‘The Congress party has been the obstacle delaying the resolution of key national issues like the Citizenship Amendment Act, the Ram temple construction or the scrapping of Article 370, which provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir”, the letter said.
Hardik charged the Congress with being anti-Gujarat, even anti-Sardar Patel, a common criticism voiced by then chief minister Narendra Modi against the Congress-led UPA government, which held power from 2004 to 2014.
Congress spokesperson Shaktisinh Gohil termed Hardik’s statement as a ‘dictation’ of the BJP and a virtual rebuttal of all his own speeches and statements delivered over the years while in the Congress. “His contradiction of himself shows him in very poor light”, Gohil added.
Patel, who owed his entry into the Congress as well as his rapid rise in the party as state working president to Rahul Gandhi, reserved harsh words for his mentor of the time.
“Our leader was most often abroad when his presence was needed in the country and it is lack of vision and absence of a decisive roadmap that the Congress is being rejected in state after state”, the letter states.
Put out in Hindi, English and Gujarati on social media, the letter goes on to state that the top Congress leaders are distracted by their mobiles and the Gujarat Congress leaders were more interested in arranging ‘‘chicken sandwiches” for them (read Rahul Gandhi).
That Hardik had opened a line of communication with the BJP was the worst kept secret in political and media circles in the state. In fact, his restlessness began soon after.
The Congress high command had also got a whiff of his ‘dealings’ with the BJP and this was the main reason why Rahul Gandhi cold shouldered him during the tribal rally in Dahod.
Hardik Patel, once the star leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti which had played an important role in bringing down the Anandiben Patel-led BJP government in 2016, has been losing steam after the 2017 state Assembly elections.
Due to his proximity to Rahul Gandhi, Hardik managed to have a decisive say in securing tickets for his supporters in the last Vidhan Sabha polls. His initial restlessness was aimed at leveraging the same influence in ticket distribution in the Assembly elections due later this year. However, with the other side suspicious of his dealings, the poll dividend was unlikely.
Though Hardik initially criticized the Congress leadership for the delay in taking a decision on the entry of Naresh Patel, chairman of the Khodaldham Trust, an influential set up of the Leuva Patidars, the fact was that he was concerned at the prospect of his entry, since it would diminish his importance.
At one point of time Naresh Patel’s name was even mentioned as a possible chief ministerial candidate, if he chose to join the Congress. Naresh, on his part, is playing cards close to his chest as he has invitations from all three principal contesting parties – the Congress, the AAP and the BJP.
For all practical purposes, Hardik seems to have overplayed his cards in his zest for being on the winning side in keeping with his rising aspirations. Anticipating a triangular contest, with the Congress and the AAP both set to challenge the ruling BJP in the forthcoming Gujarat elections, Hardik decided to cast his lot with the BJP. It is his calculation that with the Opposition votes getting split between the two, the ruling party was better positioned to retain power.
However, he is hardly going to enjoy the same say in the BJP that he has had in the Congress.