With just two days left for the poll campaign to end, the Congress star campaigner Hardik Patel was slapped at a public meeting, his former aide Reshma Patel was manhandled and the Thakore Sena led by Alpesh Thakore, who quit the Congress recently, split up again on Friday.
While the BJP is trying to aggressively woo the Patidars back into the saffron fold, the Congress is hoping to attract the Thakores. The Patidars and the Thakores are accusing their respective erstwhile icons, Hardik and Alpesh, of “betrayal” and reaping political dividends of the support their communities gave them.
Blamed for deaths
On Friday, in the heat of aggressive campaigning, as soon as Hardik started his speech in Jan Aakrosh Sabha (People’s Anger Rally) at village Baldana, near Wadhawan, in Surendranagar district of Saurashtra region, an angry man suddenly climbed up the podium and slapped the bewildered ex-Patidar quota leader, holding him responsible for the death of 14 young Patidars (in police firing in July 2015).
Hardik’s supporters soon overpowered the man, identified as Tarun Gajjar, a native of village Jasalpur in Kadi, Mehsana district (North Gujarat), and roundly thrashed him. Police later hospitalised him and registered a case. He is a BJP worker, said to be close to Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel.
Hardik promptly blamed the BJP for this “conspiracy” and claimed the ruling party wanted to “murder” him. Gujarat Pradesh Congress spokesman Manish Doshi accused the BJP of resorting to “hooliganism” as it was scared of the “growing support” for the Congress.
Disaffection against Hardik Patel, convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PASS), which spearheaded an aggressive quota movement (2015-17), has been brewing for months and his outfit has seen several desertions. Despite his protestations that the quota movement was apolitical, he hobnobbed with politicians of all hues before joining the Congress on March 12, to the chagrin of his community, most of which has been traditionally pro-BJP since the 1990s.
On Thursday, this anger came to the fore when Vinay Patel, a farmer in Lunawada, Mahisagar district, stoutly refused permission for using his farm as helipad for landing Hardik’s chopper, accusing him of “playing politics on the corpses of those innocents who died” during the reservation movement. A meek Hardik had to beat a hasty retreat and cancelled his helicopter ride at the last moment, travelling instead by road.
Lalji Patel, Convener of Sardar Patel Group (SPG), which had once joined hands with PAAS, regretted the slapping incident and added that the Patels are angry at Hardik joining the Congress while the quota agitation is still on. “Public sab janati hai (the people know it all),” he said.
Even in Gujarat Congress, reports said, many are miffed at the party leadership’s ‘generosity’ in providing a chopper for days to a greenhorn entrant whose political heft is yet to be tested in ballot boxes.
Not only Hardik, even his erstwhile supporters are facing the wrath of the community. Reshma Patel, who had ditched Hardik, joined the BJP and recently quit it to join the Congress, was assaulted at Manavadar in Junagarh district, allegedly by the BJP workers, on Friday. She sustained injuries and was being treated.
On the other hand, Alpesh Thakore, who quit the Congress, announced that he would not join “any party” for now, but would retain his membership of Gujarat Vidhan Sabha. He is also facing a tough time in his own community.
Leaders and members of Gujarat Kshatriya Thakore Sena (GKTS), of which he is the convener, are deserting the outfit regularly, accusing him of being hand-in-glove with the BJP. Many of them are joining the Congress which hopes to garner disaffected Thakore votes, especially in North Gujarat.
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