Not invited to meetings, asked about decisions, why have me: Hardik lashes out at Cong

Accusing the Congress of “ignoring” him, Hardik told The Indian Express: “My position in the party is that of a newly married groom who has been made to undergo nasbandi (vasectomy).” He also questioned the Congress “delay” on taking a call on Khodaldham trust president and powerful Patidar leader Naresh Patel, who is being wooed by all parties in the state, suggesting that it was an insult to the entire community.

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“I am not invited to any of the meetings of the PCC, they don’t consult me before taking any decisions, then what is the point of this post?” Hardik said. “Recently they announced 75 new general secretaries and 25 new vice-presidents, did they even consult me, that Hardik bhai, do you think there is any strong leader missing from the list?”

Inducted into the Congress by Rahul Gandhi himself, as the celebrated young Patidar face who had led a successful agitation against the Gujarat government before the last elections, and made the working president in 2020, Hardik has earlier too expressed his frustration over not being given a prominent role in the party.

Hardik warned the Congress that the party had put up a good performance in the 2015 local body and 2017 Assembly polls due to the Patidar agitation. The Congress had won 77 seats in the 182-member House in 2017.

“But what happened after that?” Hardik said. “Many in the Congress feel that Hardik was not properly utilised by the party.” He said it might be because people felt threatened by him in the party.

On Naresh Patel, Hardik said: “I am seeing on TV that the Congress wants to induct Naresh Patel for the 2022 polls. I hope they do not search for a new Patel for the 2027 elections. Why does the party not utilise the people it already has?”

Gujarat Congress president Jagdish Thakor said he would speak with Hardik regarding his remarks, while denying that the party was dithering over a decision on Naresh Patel.

“Since day one, the Congress has been clear that be it Naresh Patel or any other good leader in Gujarat, they are most welcome in the party. Not a single leader of the Congress in Gujarat has given any public statement suggesting Naresh Patel was not welcome. There has been no disrespect to any person or community. Naresh Patel has himself said he would enter politics if his community allows him. He has been holding discussions with various groups and the decision on joining the Congress is entirely up to him. Then how can the Congress disrespect him and his community?”

Speaking to The Indian Express, Hardik said: “Recently, a delegation of Punjab Congress leaders including their working president met Sonia Gandhi. Why doesn’t the working president get similar respect in the Gujarat Congress?”

On Naresh Patel, he said the BJP “was aggressive and ready” when it came to decisions such as inducting leaders. “It has been two months since the talk of Naresh Patel (joining a party) has been going on, but the Congress has been unable to come to a decision. If you cannot respect a community, you have no right to insult it either.”

Hardik raised reports in the media quoting Congress leaders as saying “that Naresh Patel has made certain demands and conditions before joining the party”. “Naresh bhai has not made any such demands,” he said.

Reiterating his desire to contest the elections, Hardik, who was below the 25 age limit during the 2017 polls, said: “If I can work for the welfare of people without being in power, then with the affections of people, I can go to the Vidhan Sabha and do better work. I can make laws and work for the welfare of youth, farmers, women and villages of Gujarat.”

Hardik said he wasn’t hankering for a post. “My priority is to fight for the people of Gujarat, be it as working president or just a Congress worker.”

Hardik’s statements could damage the Congress at a time when it is struggling to mount a challenge to the BJP in Gujarat, even as a resurgent Aam Aadmi Party is waiting in the wings to take its space.

In July 2018, a Sessions Court at Visnagar had sentenced Hardik to two years’ imprisonment for rioting and arson during the 2015 Patidar quota stir. The Gujarat High Court gave him bail in August 2018. The Supreme Court has now stayed conviction in the case.

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