Hardik Patel, seemingly caught between a rock and a hard place, cancelled a press conference in Ahmedabad this morning that his closest aides had said he would hold. Yesterday he had cancelled a rally in Rajkot amid apparent chaos in his PAAS or Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti over a proposed seat-sharing deal with the Congress for next month's Gujarat elections.
- Hardik Patel cancels his press conference in Ahmedabad
- Congress scales down original offer of four seats for PAAS to one seat
- Speculations are rife Hardik Patel is considering rejig in PAAS core team
At both the public appearances that he cancelled, Mr Patel was expected to announce his pact with the Congress. But till Tuesday afternoon, there was no word on where the 24-year-old face of the Patel quota agitation was, as he scrambles to extract a better deal from the Congress before he makes an announcement.
The Congress, meanwhile, has scaled down its original offer of four seats for PAAS members to one seat for a member of Hardik Patel's organisation and one for a diamond merchant in Surat, backed by Mr Patel, in the lists of candidates it has announced so far.
The party is seen to be playing hardball now, sensing that Mr Patel's options are dwindling. Its first offer on Sunday was rejected by a key aide of the activist, Dinesh Bhambhani, who led angry members of PAAS in vandalizing Congress offices and clashing with the party workers, accusing it of including its leaders in the list without their consent.
But at the same time, another Hardik aide, Lalit Vasoya, filed his nomination papers as a Congress candidate, despite Mr Bhambhani announcing that no PAAS leader named in the Congress list would do so. Both said they were working under Hardik Patel's instructions.
In its revised offer yesterday, the Congress dropped all core PAAS members except Mr Vasoya, replacing two with Congress candidates. Hardik's team had reportedly demanded that the Congress field at least 12 PAAS members in the assembly elections, which the party has refused to do as it balances caste in its selection of candidates.
Already the party's high-octave engagement with Hardik Patel has other groups that the Congress hopes to get support from - like backward castes (OBCs) and its traditional voters like Dalits and Adivasis - worked up at what they say is its disproportionate attention to the Patels.
There is buzz that faced with a split within, Hardik Patel is contemplating rejigging his core PAAS team, now in disarray, before he makes any public announcement.
He can't announce a pact in which the Patel or Patidar community does not seem to benefit. Waiting to pounce is the BJP, which has fielded many Patidars for the elections and will attack Hardik Patel for any deal with the Congress that appears to compromise on his demand for a promise of reservation in government jobs and colleges. The party has accused Hardik Patel of using the agitation that gave him national fame to further his own political ambitions.
The powerful Patel community has so far loyally backed the BJP, in power in Gujarat for the last 22 years. In recent years it has complained about being deprived of job and education opportunities and has demanded reservations. Hardik Patel has vowed to ensure that the BJP's lack of support to the Patels' demands will cost the party.
In his negotiations with the Congress, he has demanded that the party pledge it will bring Patidars under the 27 per cent quota for Other Backward Classes, which the Congress is unwilling to do. Mr Patel has threatened the party with several ultimatums but has acted on none yet.
Gujarat will vote on December 9 and 14. Results will be announced on December 18.