'This is not my age to be in politics'

Twenty three-year-old Hardik Patel shook the politics of the country, leading an agitation that demanded reservation for the Patel community in Gujarat in July 2015.

The young man has since become a headache for the ruling establishment, fuelling a series of agitations by other sections of the society. The government in Gujarat has tried to put curbs on him by booking him under multiple cases, including sedition. This saw him land behind the bar and even being sent out of the state for six months.

Despite his exile, little seems to have changed for this youngster who returned to Gujarat to pick up the threads of his stir. Patel spoke to Sunil Raghu of DH in an interview. Excerpts:
 
You say that your twin objectives are reservation and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ouster. Since when did Modi’s ouster make it to your agenda?

In Gujarat, if farmers ask water, they get lathis. Patels sought reservation and they got bullets. Innocents are framed, booked for sedition and sent to jail. Atrocities are committed on the Dalits and their voice suppressed. Police file false cases and pack anyone to jail. An atmosphere of fear permeates Gujarat where you are expected to keep quiet. This is the BJP we are opposing. The people need to be awakened to fill the streets and fight. Both the fights are important, especially the one for reservation.
 
How far have you come since you began this journey?

No one had the guts to speak up in Gujarat. We have no leadership, power or money. Today the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), Dalits and farmers are agitating for their rights. A youngster calls up senior ministers and seeks answers. Communities are united for their rights. There is a ray of hope for social and political change now. This is our achievement.
 
But is anyone listening?

Nobody is. Hence the change. We just want the ghost (of BJP) to leave. Even if the spirit comes instead, it is okay.
 
But the Patels have solidly backed the BJP for long.

Many got swayed by their sweet talk, including us. We too have drunk sweet juice of lotus but now we realise that too much of sweet is dangerous for health. It causes diabetes. We have woken up and through medication are trying to destroy diabetes.
 
To what extent can your opponents go to stop you?

A person can go to any extent to save power. But we, too, are strong and will resist them, in whatever form they want.
 
Through non-violence?

It depends on them.
 
Some Patels say that due to you, the first female Patel chief minister lost her post.
What about the 14 youngsters who lost their lives? Anandiben Patel did lose her home but has made millions. We don’t need politicians who do not work for the betterment of the community.
 
You said you will not join politics, but for any change, you have to turn political.

To be successful, any agitation eventually gets linked to politics. That, time would decide. This is not my age to be in politics. For now, our intent is to empower the six crore people of Gujarat and bring them on a single platform. The fight can wait.
 
What alternative do you suggest to the BJP?

In a democracy, such a suggestion would be autocratic. There will be no difference between me and Modi then. In the 2015 panchayat polls, the community decided what it wanted. It will decide again.
 
OBC leader Alpesh Thakor has hinted at a third political front in Gujarat, consisting of him, you, Jignesh Mevani (social activist) and perhaps Vanzara (former police officer) joining in?

No one should expect such a thing from me. Whoever even tries to form a party, best of luck to them. I don’t see any such thing taking shape.
 
Many have seen development in Gujarat. The people voted the BJP to power overwhelmingly. What is your take on that?

What development? I want development that provides employment to youth. Anyone can claim so-called development by raising debt. All that you are seeing around is the effort of people and not by any individual. I will see development when farmers say that they are happy with farming. When youngsters are satisfied with the employment they get. When women feel safe and secure.
 
But what about economic development?

I don’t see any.
 
What to you is patriotism and how do you see the sedition case against you?

You can call a terrorist anti-national. If youngsters raise voice to seek their rights and speak against the government or even revolt, it is anger. They are not anti-nationals.  Any jawan will tell you what patriotism is. We are worried about our country’s future. This is patriotism. But to work against the interests of the nation while sitting in the legislature or Parliament is being anti-national. I have no problem with the sedition case. Let them do what they want. They can send me to jail or hang me, but we have to fight and fight we will, till the end.
 
What is the end to all this? The 2017 Assembly polls or the 2019 Lok Sabha polls?

Only time will tell. However, to win the finals, you need to win the semi-final. And we need to win the semi-final. Even for our self-respect.
 
Which do you prefer as basis for reservation — caste or economic criteria?

It has to be caste. It should be commensurate with the size of the population of every particular caste. We will have to create a system for adequate benefits to each section of the society so that the people with resources do not walk away with all the benefits. Reservation is not alms. It is a system created to give adequate representation to different sections of the society. All the countries in the world have it.

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