Hardik Patel, the young Patidar community leader who is now a BJP candidate, today said his former party Congress has no vision for Gujarat. “Rahul Gandhi has been busy with his ‘Bharat Jodo Yatra’ in the South,” he said, pressing on the fact that the Congress top leader’s marquee march isn’t passing through poll-bound Gujarat. The Congress “never stops anyone from leaving”, he told NDTV, and jibed that the party “does not need Gujaratis”.
Contesting his first election — having recently joined the ruling BJP after quitting as Gujarat Congress Working President — he denied that the fear of being jailed over pending cases, including some from the time of the Patidar quota agitation, made him switch sides.
“I still have 32 cases on me. If you think joining a party will relieve me from that, then that’s not it. Law and courts are independent,” said the 29-year-old, who did not contest previous elections as he did not fulfil the minimum-age criterion of 25.
“I had to take a decision as the Congress was consistently speaking against Gujaratis. I told them not to speak against businesspeople,” he said, and reiterated his assertion that the state unit of the party “hesitated” in donating towards Ram Temple construction in UP’s Ayodhya.
“If you don’t take a stand on issues that concern Gujarat’s people, how will they like you?”
When he was leaving the Congress earlier this year, he said, no one tried stopping him: “The Congress doesn’t need people like us who are hardworking. It just wants sycophants.”
He denied that switching parties means changing his ideology. “What is ideology? Nothing but a spirit of public service. I have the same ideology from the start,” he said, drawing a family connection with the BJP, “My father helped establish the BJP in the Viramgram region. He was an office-bearer of the party.”
Not long ago, Hardik Patel was with Congress. In mid-2022, he exited saying he’d wasted 3 years of his political life with the party. (File)
On Viramgram, listing why he thinks he’ll win the seat that’s had a Congress MLA for 10 years now, Hardik Patel said he’s banking on local anti-incumbency and “the people’s increasing trust in PM Narendra Modi and the BJP”.
“People have anger within them regarding the Congress,” he said, adding that there’s no anti-incumbency against the BJP government of 27 consecutive years.
About community arithmetic, he said the Patel-Patidar community has “always been the vote bank of the BJP”. “Even when there was an agitation in 2017 (elections), 60 per cent of the Patidars voted for the BJP, because they cannot trust the Congress,” he claimed.
He dismissed the idea that this time AAP could make it a triangular contest. “The BJP is winning over 150 (of the 182) seats. We don’t care if the AAP and Congress fight each other,” he said, sticking to the party line.
He acknowledged that price-rise and joblessness could be issues, but attributed these to “national and global economic scenario”. He said, “The BJP has made earnest efforts. Gujarat is till the best in generating jobs.”
Asked about the Morbi bridge collapse that killed over 130 people last month, he said if anyone is found to have caused it due to negligence or corruption, “exemplary punishment should be given”.
Meanwhile, the Congress, which has had some rallies by Rahul Gandhi as part of its low-key campaign, says the relatively muted push will capture a “strong undercurrent”.
Milind Deora, the party’s observer for the state polls, told news agency PTI, “In the 2017 polls, there were issues such as the Patidar agitation, demonetisation and the Goods and Services Tax, which led to public demonstrations against the government.”
This time, he said, there is a very “strong undercurrent” of anti-incumbency against the state government and the Congress is carrying out a very localised, personalised and orthodox campaign, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi alluded to.
The Congress had increased its share to win 99 of the 182 seats last time, though later a number of its MLAs resigned and left.
Voting this time is on December 1 and 5, and results are to be out on December 8, along with those of Himachal Pradesh which votes on November 12.