Ahmedabad: Hardik Patel, the face of the Patidar reservation agitation in Gujarat who joined the Congress, is feeling neglected by the party, which, he says is not giving him any work because “there are people within the party who feel insecure”.
Speaking to ThePrint at his Ahmedabad residence, 27-year-old Patel said he was happy to barter his title of working-president for actual work.
“I don’t want to be a working-president, president, minister or chief minister. I want to work. But I can only work when I’m given work to do,” he told ThePrint, adding that there are several issues that the Congress can take up — from unemployment to public healthcare to the ongoing farmer’s protest — but “groupism within our leadership” is preventing any action.
“The problem is that even if I want to do something about these issues, there are people within the party who feel insecure and don’t let me work. It’s a big party, an old party, so this problem exists. But I have hope in the top leadership, Rahulji and Priyankaji will listen and do something good. I’m confident that in the short-term something good will happen,” he said.
The Congress lost badly in the local body elections in the state which took place in February this year, winning only 1,805 out of 8,470 seats across various municipalities, and district and taluka panchayats.
“If the Congress wants to keep the ideas of Gandhi and Sardar Patel alive then we have to get out of our AC offices and go to the roads and villages. If we do this, then the people of Gujarat will automatically accept us. At least they’ll be able to see that we are on the streets and willing to take a beating for the people. That’s when the people will stand with us,” he said.
‘Congress will remain in opposition if it doesn’t work’
Patel was brought into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi in 2019 but this hasn’t helped the party wean the Patidars away from the BJP — a fact that was evident from the Congress’s poor performance in Patidar-dominated areas in the municipal polls.
In 2015, the Patel quota agitation, which demanded OBC status for the community, was at its peak. Violence had broken out in northern Gujarat and lakhs of people rallied in support of Hardik Patel. The movement managed to turn a big section of the community — the most politically influential in the state — against the BJP. The local body elections that year demonstrated this, with the BJP suffering a setback in nearly all local bodies except city-based municipalities.
The BJP’s loss became the Congress’s gain. In the 2017 assembly elections, though the BJP returned to the government by winning 99 of the 182 seats, the Congress made huge inroads by winning in 77 seats.
The recent local body polls, however, have dragged the Congress’s performance to a new low. The party didn’t score a single seat in the municipal polls in Surat, and ceded to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which won 26 seats.
Patel, however, doesn’t see the AAP as a threat, and dismissed their entrance into the state’s politics.
“AAP has tried to steal our votes. But the seats that they won in Surat were not based on any real work they have done,” he said, adding, “People are looking at them with new hope, but they will soon realise that in 1916, after Mumbai and Gujarat were separated, it was the Congress that stepped in and provided the people with leadership and infrastructure and that the Congress can do that again.”
Patel explained the Congress’s poor performance in the February election as inaction by the top leadership within the state and the party’s failure to make its presence felt on ground. ““In the two years that I’ve been with the Congress, I’ve never complained. I’m raising my voice for the first time because these elections could have prepared us for 2022,” said Patel, adding, “It’s only if the Congress raises its voice, struggles for people, if only we bloody our heads, fight with the police for the people, only then will the people accept us. The reality of the situation is that no one loves the party in power (BJP) and people have more hope in the Opposition. But we need to meet the expectations people have of us. Our leaders should stop sitting at home and come out on the field.”
Patel claimed that though the Congress lost in the local body polls, it didn’t indicate a rejection of the party.
“I’m confident that people still want the Congress. The BJP has ruled for 30 years, but we still have 42 per cent of the votes. People haven’t left us. If the BJP gets 30,000 votes, we are getting 29,000. We may be losing, but it’s by a small margin.”
He added, “People are with us, but we need to start working. If we start working, we’ll be put in power. But if we don’t work, we’ll have to remain as Opposition.”
‘Hope Rahul will give Gujarat importance’
The Congress’s hope that Hardik Patel would attract the votes of young Patidars did not materialise in this election. The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, of which Patel was a founding convener, said it would not support the Congress during the local body polls after the party failed to distribute tickets to its members.
Patel also seems to have distanced himself from the movement, saying, “All politicians start from somewhere and with the support of their community. Mine is a similar story, but now those from other communities are also standing with me. I’m sure that this support will be leveraged to benefit the party in the coming days.”
Despite his falling out with the party, Patel says he has no plans of leaving the Congress, because he is inspired by the ideals of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, and has hope in the Congress’s central leadership.
“I hope that Rahulji will give importance to Gujarat and do good for the state. I didn’t join politics for power. If I wanted power, I would have joined the BJP. My priority is to serve and help the community through whatever means I have. The results of the panchayat elections show that there were mistakes that we made and we have reflected upon those mistakes,” he said.
For the 2022 polls, Patel admits the party has much work to do, “In 2022, we need to pay a little more attention and put in more work. Not just a few hours, because being a politician is a full-time job and we need to think of matters of governance 24 hours a day.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)