Ahmedabad: Patidar quota warrior Hardik Patel seems to have lost ground ahead of the crucial 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

The absence of a crowd near the youth leader’s residence in Ahmedabad, where he sat on a fast from 25 August for 19 days, shows that his popularity is on the wane. Hardik’s hunger strike did not turn out to be a mass protest movement as many of his supporters had expected.

The state government, which has in the past held several rounds of meetings with the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader, did not budge this time. Patel, while announcing his decision to go on a fast in a video message in July, had said that this was his last fight.

“The time has come to take the fight to its last stage. It’s time to be either on this side or that. Besides reservation, my fight is also for farmers and unemployment," he said in the video message.

A senior BJP politician, who did not wish to be named, said that the Vijay Rupani-led Gujarat government’s handling Patel’s hunger strike was one of his biggest political achievements.

“There was a fear that something untoward might happen and take the shape of a mass protest, like it had happened in 2015. However, nothing happened and, surprisingly, Patel ended his fast without the government showing any signs of giving in to any of his demands," said the politician mentioned above.

Despite having garnered support from political parties including the Aam Aadmi Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Samajwadi Party, the Shiv Sena and the Rashtriya Janata Dal, Patel’s hunger strike failed to make an impact on the ruling government.

The youth leader, who turned 25—the minimum age to contest assembly or Lok Sabha elections—was seen as a crucial factor that helped the Congress increase its tally in the 2017 Gujarat state elections.

“Hardik Patel has lost credibility and his political future is in the doldrums. He is seen as more of a gallery politician and not a Patidar leader. He is trying to raise farmers’ issues, but he will, at best, be seen as a caste leader for them," said Jai Mrug, political analyst and director of Voters Mood Research.

A senior Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity, said that had Patel taken out a rally during his hunger strike, he would have gathered public support and won sympathy of the masses.

Patel had chosen 25 August as the date for sitting on the hunger strike as the day is being observed by PAAS members as Patidar Kranti Divas. Exactly three years ago on the same day, Patel had addressed a huge gathering in Ahmedabad, which was attended by about half a million people. The rally turned violent leading to a crackdown by the police and detention of Patidar leaders. The subsequent violence across Gujarat claimed 14 lives.

In mid-2015, Patel had launched PAAS, which quickly moved to the forefront of an agitation by Gujarat’s Patel community. Hardik Patel, who is facing charges of sedition, has led a number of protests against the state government in the last three years.

In the local body elections that followed in December 2015 saw the BJP losing heavily to the Congress in the local body elections. In 2017 Gujarat elections, he also lent support to Congress in his fight against the ruling BJP government in the state.

Patel, who was seen addressing huge rallies during 2017 Gujarat elections, had become a force to reckon with, especially for the Congress that saw its seats tally rise in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah.

His main demand for quota reservation for Patels for government jobs and education in Gujarat had taken a backseat since the 2017 elections. At a time when Patel was holding public meetings in poll bound Madhya Pradesh addressing farmers’ issues, his colleagues at PAAS took out separate rallies for quota reservation demand in Gujarat without involving him.

“There was a feeling among some PAAS members that Hardik was side-stepping the Patidar reservations issue and hence he decided to sit on indefinite fast," said a former PAAS member.

Besides reservation for Patidars, Patel’s hunger strike call was also to demand farm loan waiver and release of PAAS member Alpesh Kathiriya who was arrested on sedition charges.

Many anti-BJP political party leaders came out in support of Hardik Patel’s hunger strike call however most of them spoke in support of farmers’ issues than reservation for Patidars.

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