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David vs Goliath? First phase boiling down to be a personality clash between Modi & Hardik

Rajeev Khanna | Updated on: 1 December 2017, 19:51 IST
(Arya Sharma/Catch News)

The first phase of Gujarat elections, that will see South Gujarat and Saurashtra regions of the state polling on 9 December, is slowly boiling down to be a clash of personalities. Prime Minister Narendra Modi stands pitted against the youth Patidar leader Hardik Patel. The atmosphere in both these regions stands charged with Hardik's personality soaring by the day.

The Patidar rally at Nana Mava on the outskirts of Rajkot on Wednesday that had Hardik at its core was an event that simply outshone Modi's show in Morbi district the same morning. This show of strength has further demoralised the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the ground. The event saw Hardik tearing down the BJP's narrative on development with a Patidar or Patel perspective.

“There were around 12,000 people logged into the Facebook live of the rally before Hardik took over. Just as he started speaking the online viewership rose by another 9,000 in the next ten minutes. The presence at the venue was stupendous,” pointed out a Patidar youth based in Ahmedabad.

“The difference between the BJP rallies and those organised by Hardik's supporters is that in the former, people have to be managed while the crowds are spontaneous and voluntary for the latter,” disclosed an editor of a vernacular daily.

“What Hardik spoke that day made complete sense. He said the real development for the Patidars would be something like the farmers getting irrigation facilities, selling their produce at remunerative prices, marrying off their daughters without borrowing and getting their children educated in institutions of excellence. The migration to cities after selling off the land, living in small houses and setting up small shops is not development. His statement that the Patidars are not opposed to other communities getting reservations has also gone down well with the people who are not from the Patidar community,” said the Patidar youth.

To add to the woes of the BJP, Hardik is planning a day-long road show in Surat on Sunday in which 5,000 motorcyclists will be moving across the Patel-dominated areas in the city.

Both Saurashtra and Surat are areas that have a substantial population of Patels. These are areas where the Patel unrest has been the maximum since the Patidar reservation demand came into prominence.

Over the last few months, Hardik has been organising road shows and other events parallel to those being organised by the BJP for Modi. This has led to the local BJP cadres getting perplexed.

Another issue that has gotten added to the BJP's woes in the form of the apex body of Leuva Patels, the Khodaldham Trust, declaring its support to the Patidar demand for reservation.

Sources said that Hardik met the top Khodaldham Trust functionary Naresh Patel on Thursday where the latter expressed his support to the cause he was fighting for.

“Naresh Patel gave him his blessings and asked him to take the initiative of Patidar development forward. This means that Naresh Patel has conveyed that he stands with Hardik and hence cannot be now approached by the BJP. Till now the BJP was banking on the Leuva Patel support to salvage some Patidar support. It has been reminding the community how it made the community members Keshubhai Patel and Anandiben Patel state chief ministers besides making Nitin Patel the deputy chief minister,” said the Patidar youth.

Reports appearing the local media too have quoted Khodaldham Trust president Paresh Gajera saying –

“We support Hardik's cause. There are 60% youth from upper castes who come from an economically poor background and they should get a reservation in jobs and education. There are 58 castes in Gujarat that do not have a reservation, neither in Other Backward Class (OBC) nor under Economically Backward Class (EBC). But for them, some concrete plan has to be there. We are not favouring or opposing any political party, but supporting the cause,”

Even in his Nana Mava rally, Hardik had called upon the two Patidar sub castes – Leuva and Kaduva – to unite and defeat the BJP. Apprehending that efforts would be made to divide them, he had said, “It's time for Leuva and Kaduvas to unite forgetting all their differences.”

Reports say that the Khodaldham Trust giving support to Hardik is all set to upset the BJP calculations costing the party some key seats that have been its strongholds for the last more than two years.

There is a substantial concentration of Patidars in Amreli, Junagadh, Rajkot and Bhavnagar districts of Saurashtra. A large number of residents of these districts are also residing in Surat and adjoining areas where they have migrated to work in the diamond and textile sectors.

Meanwhile, sources say that the BJP leadership is also worried over the waning attendance in the rallies being addressed by Modi and other central leaders of the party including the national president Amit Shah in various parts of the state. Their rhetoric is not working and the BJP workers face an uphill task bringing crowds to their venues.

“The party is faced with the task of putting in the optimum effort. There is also a talk of experimenting with various narratives till it manages to find one that catches the fancy of the masses. As of now the fluid situation is keeping the BJP's poll machinery on its toes,” said a senior media personnel who has been covering Gujarat politics for the last more than two decades.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 1 December 2017, 19:50 IST