The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti’s North Gujarat convener Narendra Patel, who claimed on October 22 to have been offered Rs 1 crore to join the Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of Assembly elections in the coming months, has called his declaration a “sting operation” aimed at exposing the rot in the state’s Hindutva politics.

The Samiti, led by Hardik Patel, is spearheading a campaign for reservations in education and jobs for the land-owning Patidar or Patel community, which accounts for 14% of Gujarat’s population. Since 2015, the group has organised massive protests in several states and targeted the BJP, the party it once supported.

Narendra Patel had joined the BJP on Sunday but later held a press conference at which he declared he had done so only to expose the party. He showed Rs 10 lakhs in cash that he claimed had been given to him as advance by Varun Patel, a former member of the Patidar group who had joined the BJP a day ago. On October 26, Narendra Patel circulated an audio recording of his purported telephone conversation with Varun Patel, who allegedly brokered the deal on behalf of the BJP. Varun Patel has denied the allegations and accused the Congress of being behind them. The Congress had on Saturday invited Hardik Patel and his group to join forces against the BJP in Gujarat.

Later, speaking with, Narendra Patel claimed the BJP had targeted him solely because of the area where he worked – Mehsana. “More than me it is Mehsana which stands out remarkably in the BJP’s attempt to purchase my loyalties,” he said. “Although I am the North Gujarat convener of PAAS [Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti], it is Mehsana where I have been working all through. So, when the BJP tried to purchase me, it had its eyes primarily on Mehsana.”

Hardik Patel at a protest. Image: AFP

The importance of Mehsana

This Patidar-dominated district in North Gujarat is not only a hotbed of the community’s reservation stir but is also considered the nerve centre of the BJP in the state.

“Mehsana provided the first foothold to the BJP after it was formed in 1980,” Narendra Patel pointed out. “It was one of the two Lok Sabha seats the BJP won in the first election it contested in 1984. The area has stayed firmly with the BJP ever since. Mehsana is, therefore, the core of the BJP in Gujarat. If the BJP has to purchase loyalties in Mehsana, you can imagine the situation for the party in the rest of the state.”

In the 1984 general elections, the BJP had sent two MPs to the Lok Sabha – one from Mehsana and the other from Hanamkonda in Andhra Pradesh. While the party could never win again from Hanamkonda, Mehsana by and large stayed with the BJP. In the eight Lok Sabha elections held since 1984, the party won the seat six times, losing it to the Congress only in 1999 and 2004.

“It is because of this that the BJP’s bid to purchase my loyalties shows how wobbly the party has become in its own epicentre,” the patidar leader said. “My sting operation reveals the rot in the very core of the BJP.”

Mehsana was also a training ground for the BJP’s two top leaders today – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. “Both of them have their roots in Mehsana,” Narendra Patel said. “While Modi was born and brought up in the district’s Vadnagar town, Shah did his schooling in Mehsana.”

Narendra Patel, who is the senior-most member of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti’s core committee, claimed his actions had not only exposed the BJP but also stopped it from using its money power to engineer defections in the ranks of the Patidar agitators.

“We have exposed the BJP, and people have seen through all its tricks,” said the Patidar leader, who is not sure whether he will be contesting the upcoming polls. “Now we have to see what happens in the Assembly election. The BJP’s money power is now directly pitted against the PAAS’s organisational strength in every Patidar locality.”