Hardik Tapes: will BJP's bid to derail Patel stir backfire in civic polls?
The Gujarat police has finally got one up on Hardik Patel. They have firmed up the sedition case against him by producing transcripts of his conversations with other leaders of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti.
The transcripts of what are being called the Hardik Tapes are annexed to a fresh FIR filed against the Patel quota agitation leader for "waging war against the government".
Some of the tapes are from around the time when the PAAS was threatening to disrupt India's match against South Africa in Rajkot on 18 October. Others are from as far back as 25 August, when Hardik was arrested after a rally in Ahmedabad.
The transcripts purportedly show PAAS leaders trying to stoke unrest. In a conversation at 9.36 pm on 25 August, Hardik's associate Dinesh Bhambaniya tells someone that the government "has committed a mistake by arresting Hardik". He then purportedly asks the person not to waste even an hour and go burn down all of Gujarat.
Why did the police sit on the damning evidence of the Hardik Tapes for nearly two months?
A 11.11 pm, according to the transcript, Dinesh tells someone to keep cartridges ready to shoot in case of trouble.
In other transcripts, Hardik allegedly discusses blocking highways at Sayla in Surendranagar and Kamrej in Surat if he is detained while on his way to disrupt the match in Rajkot.
End of the road?
Planning to block highways or disrupting a match may be thin grounds for invoking sedition, but the charge of advising Vipul Desai of Surat to "kill 4-5 policemen" may be difficult for Hardik to escape from.
Still, the tapes may strengthen the state's hand as it seeks to take advantage of the weakening of the agitation to go after PAAS leaders.
And the agitation does seem to have weakened. As social scientist Achyut Yagnik points out, unlike earlier, there were no protests, save in some pockets of Surat and Mehsana, when Hardik was arrested in Rajkot early this week.
The reason, Yagnik argues, is that the agitation didn't have an organisational structure to begin with; it was only driven by sentiment.
Patels aren't taking to the streets anymore. Will they show their anger in the civic polls?
Yet, even if they don't hit the streets, the Patels may express their anger in other ways: through the ballot when the state holds civic polls in late November.
It was the spectre of a Patel backlash that had prompted the BJP government to issue an ordinance to postpone the elections. The High Court, however, declared the move unconstitutional.
The state also has some explaining to do about his handling of the Patel unrest. For one, why did the police sit on the damning evidence of the Hardik Tapes for nearly two months?
"It is evident that the government failed to act against the Patel agitators despite having the Hardik Tapes for the last two months," said Yagnik. Why?
As for the agitation, its course and, indeed, the fate of its leaders, will be determined to a large extent by how the Patels will vote in the civic polls.
Keep an eye out for the results.