Nachiketa Desai: The “Jai Sardar” slogan popularized by the youth activists of the pro-quota Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) appears to be neutralizing the war cry of “Jai Shri Ram” of the Sangh Parivar that sharpened the Hindu-Muslim divide and drove the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to three successive assembly election victories in Gujarat since 2002.
Led by 24-year-old Hardik Patel, PAAS activists have given BJP poll campaigners a harrowing time, greeting them with protests and demonstrations while shouting “Jai Sardar.” The BJP members of the Gujarat legislative assembly (MLAs), municipal councillors and panchayat leaders have, as a result, been compelled to move about in their home constituencies under police protection.
Video clips of BJP poll campaigners facing a fusillade of rotten eggs have been widely distributed on social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and WhatsApp. Signboards—‘Section 144 of the CrPC is in force for BJP workers’—have been put up at 4,000 villages barring entry to poll campaigners and workers of the ruling party. (Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code prohibits the gathering of more than four people at a time in an area, with the aim of preventing unlawful assembly.)
Shaken by a series of memes, stand-up comedy acts, cartoons and photographs that have spread like wildfire on social media under the “Vikas gando thayo che” banner, directed at the Gujarat model of development promulgated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP, the ruling party began targeting youth leaders of the PAAS by levelling criminal charges against them.
Within hours of PAAS leaders saying they were willing to accept the Congress party’s formula that could guarantee reservation for the Patidar community without fear of it being struck down by the Supreme Court of India, a sex tape allegedly showing Patel with an unidentified woman was released on social media. Patel accused the BJP of releasing the clip to malign his image and referred to the matter as “filthy politics.”
The release of a sex tape in 2005 led to the resignation of Sanjay Joshi as the BJP’s national secretary. Joshi was reportedly in a spat with Modi. While the clip was later reported to have been doctored, it was another six years before Joshi would return to the party fold.
The PAAS convenor had pre-empted such a move, telling the media on 3 November that he anticipated the BJP launching “dirty political games” to discredit him, which included the possibility of sex videos being released.
Lalji Patel, convenor of the Sardar Patel Group, another Patidar organization involved in the pro-reservation agitation, also condemned the release of the video and demanded that it be tested by the Forensic Science Laboratory to prove its authenticity. Both Patidar leaders said the video would not discourage them from fighting from their community’s demands and that they would not be waylaid by such tactics.
Shaktisinh Gohil, the Congress’s Gujarat spokesperson, said the release of the video showed that the BJP was nervous ahead of the assembly elections, which will be held in two phases on 9 and 14 December, and that the ruling party was willing to go to any depth to discredit its opponents.
Without referring to the sex tape, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said at a rally in Mehsana that the BJP was trying to “silence” the voices of young leader by hook or by crook. “But they will never success. Even the mighty Britishers tried to suppress the voices of Indians, but they could not suppress two leaders from Gujarat, Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, and had to leave India,” he said.
Gandhi, who concluded a three-day campaign in north Gujarat on Monday, the day the video was released, referred to Patel, Other Backward Class leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani as the “voice of the oppressed.” Thakor joined the Congress last month in the presence of Gandhi, following an open invitation to the three young leaders from the party.
Now, what appears to have queered the pitch for the BJP in the run-up to the Gujarat assembly elections is Patel’s decision to come out openly in support of the Congress after the opposition party offered assurances that the Patidar community would be given the benefits of reservation in line with the Constitution. This opens up the possibility of Patidars, particularly the economically weak and those in rural areas, gravitating to the Congress in large numbers, seriously denting the BJP’s vote bank.
The Patidar community—most of whom go by the surname Patel—forms an estimated 15 percent of Gujarat’s population and has provided firm backing to the BJP in previous elections to the state assembly as well the Lok Sabha.
Nachiketa Desai is a senior journalist based in Ahmedabad. The views expressed are his own.