Hardik Patel, the Patidar leader who helped make this Gujarat Assembly election difficult for the Bharatiya Janata Party, has said he would launch a campaign for “removing communal distrust” and getting “freedom from electronic voting machines”.
Patel had, in the last two years, come to embody opposition to the BJP’s 22-year rule, leading a mass agitation for reservation for his community in 2015, then aligning with the Congress and running a high-pitched campaign against the BJP in this election. In the end, though, the ruling party prevailed.
“Before the election we kept the focus so much on issues related to governance and democratic rights that the BJP found it difficult to build its usual Hindu versus Muslim narrative in the state,” Patel told Scroll.in after the BJP secured victory. “Now I will spend time in cities and villages and hold meetings to tell people they must unite against attempts to divide the society on communal lines.”
Patel accused BJP leaders, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, of “dividing the state” by employing ecommunal rhetoric during the election campaign. “It is now the responsibility of the people of Gujarat, especially the majority Hindus, to reach out to Muslims,” he added. “Modi and his men divide us and we will unite our people.”
Alleging that the BJP won the election “by tampering EVMs and using money power”, he vowed to “expose these dirty tricks” and prevent them from being repeated in future elections. “Ensuring freedom from EVMs is as important as removing communal distrust,” he said. “Both are necessary to prevent the subversion of our democracy. There are doubts about the reliability of EVMs, and this is not good for any country. If something is not done quickly to remove these doubts, our protest will move to the streets.”
Patel has shown he is not averse to changing goals, and allies, if it serves his politics, so it is no surprise he is turning his attention to the issues of communal harmony and EVM tampering. Raising these issues now that the election is done could help cement the support base he has built – largely out of the BJP’s traditional social base – in the course of this election campaign, and set him up as the main political challenger to the BJP in Gujarat.
Patel, though, maintained that politics was not on his agenda for now and he would think about it when the 2019 Lok Sabha election comes around. “The Congress has been raising people’s issues and I will keep supporting it so long as it continues to raise such issues,” he said when asked if he would consider joining the Congress or floating launch his own party. “But joining politics is something I will decide two years later.”