- The 25-year-old leader is demanding loan waiver for farmers, reservation for his community and a jailed friend’s release
- He began his hunger strike on August 25, lost 20kg already and his haemoglobin level is falling, triggering health concerns.
- BJP government in Gujarat is not allowing Hardik’s supporters to go near his home. Assembly of more than four people banned.
The BJP government in Gujarat will not brook even a whisper of protest in which Hardik Patel is involved. Hindsight tells the administration to be wary of the young Patidar leader whose massive rally in 2015 shook the ruling party. Patel, who was two when the BJP began its unbridled rule 23 years ago, is on a hunger strike again. His demands, in this order, are loan waiver for farmers, reservation in jobs and education for his community, and release of close associate Alpesh Kathiria, jailed on sedition charges.
The government is wary again, which is evident from its actions. Hundreds of Patel’s supporters across the state are being prevented from meeting him. Those who sneaked through the cordon are stopped and lathi-charged at the gates of Greenwood Resorts, the colony in Ahmedabad where the leader stays and holding his indefinite strike. On September 8, police didn’t spare mediapersons covering his return from a hospital. Some were roughed up. The bandobast is impregnable as Patel began his fast on August 25, exactly three years after his rally on this day in 2015.
The government has more reasons to be edgy. Nobody except the firebrand youngster has drawn crowds as big or, at times, larger than Narendra Modi’s rallies in Gujarat, and this explains why the BJP was scrounging to save power in the December assembly elections. It won but only with an apologetic seven seats more than defeat. From 115 in 2012, the party’s tally came crashing down to 99.
The majority of farmers are Patidars and the impact of Patel’s movement was felt in the farmlands of Saurashtra—the Uttar Pradesh of Gujarat in terms of most number of seats, 54, it sends to the assembly of 182 as well as caste dynamics. The Congress doubled its tally to 30 over 2012 in the region, which has been a strong BJP bastion since 1995.
But the BJP victory, howsoever small it may be, presented Patel a bigger challenge. After exploring several options, he decided the strike to press for his demands, including the debt waiver for farmers. This has found traction with political leaders. Sharad Yadav of Janata Dal (United), BJP rebels Yashwant Sinha and Shatrughan Sinha, Praful Patel of NCP, Dinesh Trivedi of Trinamool Congress, besides a host of others came to meet him. Uddhav Thackeray of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) called him, while former prime minister and Janata Dal (Secular) chief HD Deve Gowda wrote to him.
It’s a real fast, not a stunt as the BJP leaders have been saying, as the 25-year-old had lost more than 20kg and his haemoglobin levels are falling. His deteriorating health prompted the politicians on his side to ask him to give up his fast and preserve his health “for the larger cause of farmers and for the bigger fight that lay ahead.” Deve Gowda even appealed to Prime Minister Modi to intervene to save the youngster.
The government’s response? It banned the assembly of more than four people near his home. It spoke through police when he launched his movement in 2015, and the BJP paid for this. It is deploying similar tactics when 2019 is approaching. But how long can it keep in tethers the elephant in the room?
By Darshan Desai in Ahmedabad