Ahmedabad: Less than four months ago, a 22-year-old from Ahmedabad's backyard burst on Gujarat's political horizon like a bolt from the blue with his demand for job quotas for the Patel community. But the agitation that shook the ruling BJP seems to be tottering.
The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) launched by Hardik Patel, a commerce graduate and son of BJP worker Bharat Patel, caught the imagination of youngsters from his community who thronged his rallies across the state in hundreds of thousands.
And for a state known for peace, 12 people were killed as large-scale violence erupted during a police crackdown on the agitators. Patel wants his community to be included among the Other Backward Classes (OBC) who enjoy 27 percent quota in jobs and educational institutions.
The agitation that shook the Bharatiya Janata Party government now seems to be tottering as quickly as it began, thanks to Hardik Patel's inability to handle the unexpected power the Patel youth handed over to him. This is besides the re-grouping and consolidation of the OBCs backed by Dalits and tribes who would not part with a share from their quota.
After initial procrastination, the Anandiben Patel government cracked the whip. Hardik Patel faces the law for every mistake he made. These are being attributed to his losing the massive support that he got from July.
The sequence of events, since Chief Minister Anandiben Patel set up a seven-member panel headed by seniormost cabinet minister Nitin Patel and invited the Patel youngsters for talks, tells the story.
First, Hardik Patel and his group did not mention their reservation demand and instead sought action against 4,200 policemen who, they said, had unleashed violence, leaving 12 dead after his Ahmedabad rally.
He wanted Minister of State for Home Rajnikant Patel sacked. Driven to the wall, a confused government sought 10 days' time.
Then, Patel announced a "reverse" Dandi march from south Gujarat to Gandhinagar to press for the reservation demand.
Anandiben Patel ordered police to clamp prohibitory orders at all places where Hardik Patel and his supporters planned rallies in a bid to crush the agitation.
Hardik Patel kept changing the venue of the 'yatra' till the last minute before looking for a safe sanctuary in Surat's Patel-majority Varachha area. But here too hardly 50 people came. When he ended his speech, police whisked him away with 30 others.
More than the fear of arrest, it was the threat by the newly-formed OBC Ekta Manch to counter the Patels in OBC-dominated 90 villages that unnerved the Patels. The Patidars (Kadwa Patels and Leuva Patels) have a huge population in Surat city but not much outside.
Days later, Hardik Patel organised a rally in Aravali district, some 40 km from Ahmedabad, without seeking police permission. He addressed about 2,000 people and escaped in a cavalcade of cars. On finding police blockades on all roads leading to the highway, he ran through the fields.
Later that night, his supporters claimed he was missing and filed a habeas corpus petition in the Gujarat High Court.
The next day, Hardik Patel told a TV channel that he was kidnapped by plainclothes policemen and left on a highway 100 km from Ahmedabad. He and his lawyer were pulled up by the court for taking it for a ride.
On October 4, Patel made his controversial remarks that "courageous Patels" should kill a policeman or two instead of committing suicide. For this, Patel now faces a sedition charge.
Subsequently, he threatened to disrupt the India-South Africa one-day cricket match in Rajkot by mobilizing 50,000 people. Hardly 50 gathered, and they were rounded up much before the match began.
Here, he was charged with insulting the national flag which he held upside down before he was picked up by police.
During all these events, there was no public outburst or gathering in his support -- unlike at the August 26 Ahmedabad rally.
But the government is not writing off Hardik Patel, as is evident from its desire to put off elections to over 300 local self-government bodies.
The government has also announced it would initiate steps to empower the economically weaker sections (EWS) from all communities, including Patels, set up an autonomous development board for EWS, give scholarships for meritorious students and free-ship in self-finance medical and engineering colleges.
(Darshan Desai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)