National

As polls looms, Gujarat govt invites Hardik Patel for truce talks

Rutam Vora Gandhinagar | Updated on January 15, 2018

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With elections to nearly 10,318 panchayats due next month, and the Assembly polls looming in 2017, the embattled BJP government has invited for truce talks the 23-year-old Hardik Patel, “exiled” to Udaipur following a court order in the wake of the pro-reservation agitation and subsequent unrest of the Patidars in Gujarat in 2015.

This development is significant as the ruling BJP had already paid the political price for angering the powerful Patidar community when it could manage to retain only six out of 31 district panchayats, while the Congress won 21 in the elections held in November 2015.

Now, with village panchayat elections due next month, followed by the Assembly polls next year, the jittery ruling party seems to be cobbling together a winning combination again in its social base.

Interestingly, the state government had slapped a “sedition” charge against Hardik when he allegedly incited the Patels to take on the police and other officials during the agitation. But the government has been trying to woo the Patidars through back-channel diplomacy and ‘confidence building measures’.

The agitation, that commenced during the Anandiben Patel regime in July 2015, and remains dormant but unresolved during the current regime led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani, has seen ups and down but threatens to seriously upset the ruling BJP’s applecart for the first time since the party tasted power in 1995 as it hurtles to the crucial Vidhan Sabha polls in 2017.

Citing Rupani's desire to resolve the Patidar quota issue, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel said, "For the peace and unity of the state, the support of all the communities is needed. With this objective, the Government has invited Patidar leaders for talks (on the quota issue)."

He said the government wanted an amicable resolution to the issue at the earliest. "We hope that PAAS members will reciprocate and their leader Hardik Patel and his friends will accept the invitation," he said.

Hardik Patel, reciprocating, said, "The state government has expressed readiness to hold talks with the Patidar agitation leaders. An 11-member team of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) will meet the government. However, we stick to our demand for quota under OBC and will not tolerate any further 'lollipops'."

Notably, in October last year, during the Anandiben Patel regime, the Gujarat government had filed sedition charges besides other cases on Hardik Patel. Later, in July this year, the High Court granted him bail but banished him from Gujarat for a period of six months.

In the meanwhile, the Anandiben Patel government had attempted to douse the agitation by introducing an ordinance of 10 per cent reservation for non-reserved sections under the Economically Backward Classes (EBC), but the same was later quashed and set aside by the Gujarat High Court putting the ruling BJP in a tight spot.

The fire-brand Patidar leader's six-month exile will come to an end in January 2017.

Published on November 28, 2016

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