The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), the organisation floated by Hardik Patel and his supporters to press for reservation for the Patidar community, has now sunk into oblivion. The PAAS had spearheaded the reservation movement since 2015 until earlier this year.
According to Hardik, who joined the Congress last month in the presence of Rahul Gandhi in Ahmedabad, the main objective of the movement had been achieved and once criminal cases registered against Patidars during the quota stir are withdrawn, the organisation will be dissolved.
"The main demand of the PAAS was to ensure reservation for the community and that has been achieved. All the financially backward communities in the country are now entitled to 10 per cent reservation because of our agitation… So, once the issue of withdrawal of criminal cases registered against Patidars is resolved, the PAAS will be dissolved," 25-year-old Hardik told The Indian Express.
It was the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) led by Lalji Patel, which had launched the Patidar agitation from Mehsana in July 2015. Hardik was then an active member of the group. However, later that year, he and his supporters had broken away, forming the PAAS.
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A conviction in a case of violence on July 23, 2015, at the office of a BJP MLA means Hardik will not be able to contest the elections. While that may seem a setback for the plans of the Congress, which is dreaming of a revival since the 2017 Assembly elections, party leaders claim this is actually a blessing in disguise.
Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said, "The party wanted him to fight the elections. While due to a legal issue, he will not be able to, this will allow him to campaign for the party on all the 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat and also other parts of the country. The party will gain from that."
The PAAS's disintegration in the political scene has been gradual. The organisation is currently not holding any public agitation. Also, at one point, apart from Hardik, the organisation had a number of prominent leaders like Varun Patel, Ketan Patel, Chirag Patel, Kirit Patel, Lalit Vasoya and others from different parts of the state.
However, with time, many of these leaders quit the PAAS to join other parties. While Chirag Patel, Ketan Patel and Varun Patel joined the BJP, Vasoya and Kirit Patel joined the Congress. Last month, it was Hardik who took a similar path.
Few clues from 2017 elections
With his presence in the Congress, Hardik has raised the number of tickets for the community in the party. However, it is to be seen if his results in Patidar votes for the party. In the 2017 Assembly polls, while the Congress had managed to get the Patidar votes in the rural areas, it had failed to do so in urban pockets.
This election, many believe, is going to be a litmus test to see if Hardik's decision to join the Congress has worked in the favour of the party. Although, at times, the 25-year-old has faced resistance from groups in the community, he has largely been successful in drawing crowds to the Congress's rallies in the state.
According to Doshi, the party is hopeful that the Patidar community will vote for Congress this time.
"Patidar is a progressive community. It is one of the major castes in Gujarat with significant contribution to the development of the state. And Rahulji and the Congress have addressed their issues quite effectively," he said, adding, "Hardik joining the Congress will strengthen the party. It is due to Hardik and his team that the BJP government, which was initially opposed to reservation for Patidars, agreed to 10 per cent reservation. He will help the Congress spread words of its policies effectively."
According to PAAS leader Manoj Panara, there are over 1,000 active PAAS workers in Gujarat and around 330 criminal cases are pending against the Patidars in Gujarat.