In a crucial election year, the Gujarat Congress can heave a sigh of relief, at least for now.
On the face of it, there are now signs of the “differences” between Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel and leaders of the party in Gujarat beginning to get sorted out.
Of late, Hardik Patel has been vocal and has been going public with allegations that the local leadership does not allow him to work. Hardik, at the same time, has been also saying that he has no problems with the party’s central leadership and the Gandhi family.
If Hardik Patel has been speaking his mind, two days ago, state party president Jagdish Thakor claimed that the state party leadership has asked him to come for discussions and sort out the “differences”, but he hadn't responded.
However, April 28 seems to have changed it all. Top Gujarat Congress leaders, including party’s in-charge Raghu Sharma, paid a visit to Viramgam, near Ahmedabad, to attend programmes organised by Hardik Patel on the first death anniversary of his father, Bharatbhai. He passed away in 2021 during the Covid pandemic.
Religious leaders, social leaders, politicians and Hardik Patel’s close associates from the small town and elsewhere attended. The programme was one of its kind. There was a Ram Dhoon, distribution of Shrimad Bhagwat Gita and food for Brahmins (Brahmbhojan). The programmes continued the whole day in a huge specially created air-conditioned pandal.
Hardik Patel could not have asked for more. Sharma said that Hardik Patel’s future is bright and that he will have a key role to play. He added that the Congress wishes to form the government in 2022.
The firebrand Patidar leader, whose Patidar agitation of 2015 helped the Congress put up a good show in the assembly elections of 2017, said that he has never demanded any post. He said that his objective is the welfare of 6.5 crore people of Gujarat.
Hardik Patel acknowledged the move of Gujarat Congress leaders paying a visit and said that they have come and made a move on Thursday and “so we will resolve it [differences] by talking to each other”.
The presence of top Congress leaders was even more significant considering that except for one former BJP MLA, who is a Congress turncoat, none of the BJP leaders came for the memorial event. Hardik Patel had invited all, saying that his father had relationships with all and such occasions (death anniversaries) are occasions to acknowledge these relations and give back.
In the past, in an interview with THE WEEK, Hardik Patel had mentioned that Bharatbhai considered former Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel as a sister and she would refer to him as brother. Hardik Patel had said that he called Anandiben foi (paternal aunt).
There were rumours that Gujarat Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel and state BJP president C.R. Paatil would attend the programme. The roads and every nook and corner of the place were cleaned, but they did not turn up.
The rumours of top BJP leaders attending the programme were so strong that some of the younger BJP leaders had assumed that Hardik Patel is quitting the Congress and joining saffron brigade. They even put up posts on social media welcoming Hardik Patel.
Sources said the BJP leadership perhaps is trying not to give much importance to Hardik Patel, who has minced no words in criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Albeit, in the recent past, Hardik Patel said openly that certain measures taken by the BJP should be appreciated. BJP leaders attending the programme could have also given wrong signals to the Patel leaders within the BJP and a section of the Patel vote bank that is committed to the BJP and averse to the Congress. In Gujarat, the Patidar vote bank is divided, with the tilt in the BJP’s favour.
Interestingly, Hardik Patel has always taken pride in being a Hindu. So on Thursday when Nautam Swami of the Swaminarayan sect tied a saffron turban on Hardik Patel’s head and advised that he should join a 'Hindutvawaadi' party, Hardik later replied in his own characteristic style.
The 29-year-old Patidar leader said that the community members are heirs of Luv-Kush and so belong to the Raghuvanshi tradition. Pointing at the Lord Ram statue installed in the pandal, he asked hadn't he installed a statue? He said he was a Hindu and does not need to give proof of it.
About a fortnight ago, legal decks were cleared for Hardik Patel to fight elections.
With issues related to Hardik Patel on the way of being sorted out, the Congress can now start preparations for the upcoming elections.
The party is still hopeful about the entry of one more Patel—Naresh Patel, who heads Khodaldham Trust. Hardik had written an open letter to Naresh to join the Congress.
But sources said that Hardik might feel that his clout within the party would decrease if Naresh joins the Congress. To this, Hardik said that if he could recommend Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar, both youngsters, to the Congress leadership, what problem should he have about a person in his 50s.
Naresh Patel had said that he is likely to announce his decision on political plans soon.