Twenty one year old Hardik Patel is emerging as the unlikely new leader from Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He has built up a new fan following, comprising of people in the age group of 15 to 70, and has been organizing huge rallies much to the envy of most political leaders. His claim to organize a rally of 40 lakh people on August 25 in Gujarat is not being taken lightly by the state government as well as the Centre.
He has taken up the leadership of the influential community of Patels who constitute a population of 14 per cent in the state but have a significant political clout. So much that the Anandiben government has no less than six ministers from the Patel community. Modi has replaced Keshubhai Patel as the state chief minister in 2001. Till lately octogenarian Keshubhai Patel was the undisputed leader of Patels and the mantle has now shifted to someone one fourth of his age.
Hardik Patel does not even look like a copybook neta. He prefers a shirt and jeans to the ubiquitous kurta pyjama of Politicians. He does not mind himself to be compared to the best known Patel – Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel – called the Loh Purush of India.
For the last couple of months, the influential Patel community has hit the streets demanding reservation in government jobs and in admissions to schools and colleges. Hardik Patel is leading the protest and says they are affiliated to no political party, though his father is a member of the ruling BJP.
Interestingly he has also uploaded a video on YouTube which shows him posing with a rifle, a sword and a pistol. A banner on the video says “Jai Sardar”, an apparent reference to Gujarat icon Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. “If need be we can also follow the footsteps of Bhagat Singh”, he says.
Hardik had launched the Patidar Anamat Sangathan as a college movement to protect the interests of the Patel community when he was a 17-year-old student of commerce in an Ahmedabad college. He has not looked back since then.
Hardik who graduated in commerce, hails from a middle class business family and runs a small business of supplying water in Viramgam about 64 kilometers from Ahmedabad.
He said what prompted him to lead the struggle was the concerns of the youth from the community who did not get jobs or admission in government educational institutions due to the reservation policy.
This despite the general perceptions about the Patels, who belong to the Patidar community, that they are a rich and prosperous community.
Hardik has been drawing crowds in both urban and rural areas. His following has forced the state government to appoint a six minister panel, headed by Health Minister Nitin Patel, to look into the demand.