Hardik Patel’s Agitation Casts a Shadow on Narendra Modi ?

Gujarat is unlikely be the same again as it was under the unchallenged leadership of Narendra Modi as State’s Chief Minister for over a decade. The recent incidents of agitation and subsequent violence invites one to ponder if the period under Modi’s rule was unreal or what is being witnessed at present is temporary and not in tune with Gujarat’s known and established character, and will disappear with the passage of time.

There is no denying the fact that ,deliberate or otherwise, it was either a miscalculation or an utter failure on the part of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel — first to anticipate, and later deal with the situation when it came to a head.

Much to the delight of the opponents of Modi, from within and without, the untimely arrival of this crisis in his home State, if not controlled, may weaken both strength and hold of the Prime Minister on the Government and the Party. It was not without any reason that the crisis in Gujarat is now being discussed at the highest level in New Delhi and accorded top priority as the agenda to be addressed without any delay. Murmuring has already started among the allies of the NDA with Shiv Sena taking the lead, describing Hardik Patel the 22 year old leader of the Patels as ‘a hero of Gujarat.’ Hardik, in return, heaped praise on the late Bal Thackeray.

If the likes of Nitish Kumar, the Bihar Chief Minister, are happy with the developments in Gujarat, the reason can well be understood as Bihar is faced with elections for the State Assembly, and more than anybody else, the stakes for the BJP-RSS combine in general, and Modi in particular, are very high. Modi can not consider visiting Gujarat on any pretext in the given situation. Even a visit to his parent state by the National President of the BJP and a proven trouble shooter and confidant of the Prime Minister, Amit Shah, may not have helped in bringing about the desired change in situation. On the contrary, while Amit Shah was on his way to Gujarat, Hardik Patel was thundering before a gathering of Gujjar leaders in East Delhi declaring that :”I will make sure that we, the descendants of Sardar Patel, unite all communities agitating for OBC status and present a national front.”

The threat issued in Hindi by Hardik Patel on August 25 at Ahmedabad’s GMDC ground: “If we can make them the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister, we can also send Narendra Modi and Anandiben back to the railway station to sell tea,” exhibits the kind of bitterness which has developed between the BJP and its one-time most trusted Patel-Patidar vote bank.

Hardik Patel’s fearless outburst indicates that what was buried beneath the ‘no – nonsense’ rule of Modi’s twelve year rule is slowly and gradually surfacing in his physical absence. Not only this, Modi’s emotional address to his people in Gujarati language to maintain calm also failed to evoke desired response and violence continued. This is also evident from the fact that Patel – Patidar community’s agitation though at a low scale in manifestation was very much present even during Modi’s tenure as Chief Minister.

The question therefore is — where did Modi go wrong in Gujarat if it has been finally ruled out that dissidents within the ruling party, who had been left marginalised from getting any share in the power, were actually behind the scenes in helping the agitators? Did Modi go wrong in deciding upon his successor in Gujarat and committed the same error of judgement as in case of selecting the candidate for the post of Chief Minister in Delhi? KiranBedi and Anandiben both delivered only disappointment to Modi causing a dent to his established image of a person always taking a right decision. And again, If the Gujarat agitation is not to be viewed as a silent revolt against her leadership then where did Anandiben make the mistake which fuelled this agitation ? About thirty-seven per cent (44) out of 120 party MLAs in the 182-member State Assembly hail from the Patel and Patidar community; there are eight Patel ministers in the cabinet as also eight Patel Lok Sabha members from Gujarat.

It is being talked about that candidates for the Assembly polls from the Patel–Patidar community were allegedly picked on the basis of their personal loyalty and it was the Modi-wave which got them elected. They may not be representing the community in the true sense and are likely to lose polls if given tickets again. Had this not been the case, the residence of Minister of State for Home, himself a Patel, would not have come under attack at the hands of agitators after the outbreak of violence. The Prime Minister’s fire-fighting brigade is said to have been assigned with the task of isolating the well–meaning Patels from Hardik’s aura of influence. But what about the elaborate arrangements (Sewa Kendras) made all along the routes leading to Ahmedabad to take care of participants’ food and shelter requirements? Who would have done all that? Agitators’ number for the rally kept increasing before swelling into lakhs in Ahmedabad and it should not have gone unnoticed. And lastly, if the Chief Minister claims that she had not issued any order for the police lathi-charge then who would have actually done so? It was the police lathi-charge which led to large scale violence resulting in calling of the army to control the situation.

Which way would the agitation now go and what price would it extract before making the people of Gujarat feel comfortable? This cannot be predicted as things have not fully unfolded, as yet. But what is most certain is that Modi will have to tie the loose ends in Gujarat first, before decisively reaching out to voters in Bihar.