Hardik Patel, the fiery leader of the Patidar community in Gujarat who has made it a mission to hurt the BJP hardest in its strongest state, on Tuesday said that the Supreme Court order widely seen as a setback for his plans to contest the Lok Sabha polls could spell more trouble for the ruling party.
The top court refused an urgent hearing in the Supreme Court on his request to hold his conviction so he can contest this month's polls. "What's the urgency now," the top court asked, pointing out that the conviction dated to 2015.
Hardik Patel, who joined the Congress last month, can't contest if the Supreme Court does not put his conviction on hold by April 4, which is the last date for the filing of nominations if he wants to contest in Gujarat, which votes on April 23.
Hardik Patel had moved the top court after the Gujarat High Court refused to stay his conviction. Last year, Hardik Patel was sentenced to two years in jail by a lower court in Gujarat for rioting and arson in 2015, during Patidar quota protests that he led.
But according to Mr Patel, the court's decision would mean more trouble for the BJP as he would invest his time in campaigning for the Congress and lacerating the ruling party.
"What setback? Setbacks are for people whose time in politics is over, my time has just begun... As far as contesting elections go, if a 25-year-old young man tours and campaigns villages, every Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha constituency, it would be more useful," he told NDTV.
"I will definitely campaign for the Congress, have been fighting those in power for three-and-a-half years. Now I have officially joined the [Congress] party. I'll focus on issues of farmers, employment, traders and women," Mr Patel added.
He said the Supreme Court's decision was "not a verdict" but the case will go on in court.
Mr Patel also fended off attacks from the BJP which said he had no support base and would have lost had he contested. "The court has now given him relief in a true sense else he would have got exposed (by losing the election had he contested)," Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani said.
Hardik Patel responded, "If I have no support then why are government lawyers fighting the case against me? Let me lose the election, let my political career end."