Ahmedabad: Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener Hardik Patel is not only trying to spread his reach beyond the boundaries of Gujarat by planning several rallies and public meetings in poll-bound Madhya Pradesh, but is also looking to position himself as a leader of the youth and farmers, rather than just being a man who fights for quotas.
Patel, who had campaigned extensively during Gujarat assembly elections in 2017, had spoken on several issues including farm distress and unemployment. However, his demand for reservation for the Patel community was central to all his campaigns.
“If quota for Patels was our main demand in Gujarat, in Madhya Pradesh, it is all about addressing the issues and aspirations of the youth and farmers. I plan to cover 150 seats in Madhya Pradesh in my rallies and public meetings," Patel told Mint on the phone on Monday.
Patel, who has been at loggerheads with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat since 2015 over his demands on reservation for his community, said he has planned as many as 14 rallies in the next few months under the banner of the Kisan Kranti Sena that he heads. The rallies will highlight the plight of farmers and try to address their issues.
In August, Patel plans to hold a massive rally of farmers at Garoda in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh, where more than 100,000 farmers from four assembly constituencies are expected to gather.
The Patidar leader also aims to start a campaign in August from Amarkantak, the place where the Narmada river originates, to Bundelkhand, covering 58 assembly seats. In the next phase, Patel will cover 58 seats from Kokasi to Malwa-Nimad regions. He also aims to address five big public rallies in Indore, Bhopal, Dhar, Panna and Mandsaur covering various issues from unemployment to rural distress. Patel also aims to address another gathering of 500,000 people at Mandsaur city, in what seems to be an attempt to repeat the Rajkot event in 2017 state elections.
Patel had caught media attention during the Gujarat elections, especially when he addressed a huge rally in Rajkot as a show of strength where thousands of people poured in, 30km from Morbi where Prime Minister Narendra Modi was addressing a gathering.
“We will fight the ruling BJP in Madhya Pradesh and if in that process the Congress stands to gain as they gained in Gujarat, then so be it," said the 24-year-old leader.
In the 2013 state elections in Madhya Pradesh, the BJP had won 165 seats, the Congress 58 and the Bahujan Samaj Party four, while independents bagged three seats in the 230-member assembly.
“The entire belt from Indore to Bhopal is dominated by the Patel community. Hardik Patel can play a very vital role in Madhya Pradesh by positioning himself as a farmers’ leader as at least 60% of the population in Madhya Pradesh is dependent on farming and agriculture. His campaigning will certainly help the Congress in Madhya Pradesh. We have seen how farm and rural distress have gone against BJP in Gujarat and we hope that the impact will be much bigger in MP," a Congress leader who has been watching the party’s developments in Madhya Pradesh said on condition of anonymity.
The BJP has doubts whether Patel’s presence in Madhya Pradesh would have any impact on the ruling party’s performance in the state elections that are likely to be held by end of this year.
“With quota hardly being an issue in Madhya Pradesh, I have my sincere doubts about Patel’s success there. He is yet to create any base in Madhya Pradesh and with elections hardly a few months away, I don’t think he can make any real impact," said a senior Gujarat BJP official on condition of anonymity.
“Hardik Patel has been trying to project the BJP as being unsympathetic to farmers right from Gujarat elections. As there is no reservation issue in Madhya Pradesh, he is banking on the agrarian crisis and the accidental common identity with Patidars who were shot in Mandsaur last year," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst and director of Voter Mood Research, an election analysis organisation.