- Hardik Patel was addressing a "Jan Akrosh" rally in Surendranagar
- He was stunned by the blow before recovering and confronting his attacker
- The attacker, Tarun Gajjar, later called Hardik Patel "Gujarat's Hitler"
Congress leader Hardik Patel was slapped by a man later identified as Tarun Gajjar while addressing a "Jan Akrosh" (public anger) rally in Surendranagar in Gujarat on Friday.
Hardik Patel, who only recently joined the Congress, was stunned by the blow before recovering and confronting his attacker. The video of the assault then shows the man being overpowered and dragged away. He has filed a police complaint against his attacker, who has been admitted to hospital.
Hardik Patel blamed the BJP for the attack on him. "The party may someday send someone to shoot me but our fight will continue," he said.
Speaking to ANI after the incident, the attacker explained his actions, saying the Hardik Patel-led agitation in the state had affected the health of his wife and child.
He said, "My wife was pregnant when Patidar agitation happened. I had faced problems then, I had decided then, I'll hit this man. I have to teach him a lesson anyhow".
"Then again during his rally in Ahmedabad when I had gone to get medicine for my child, everything was shut down. He shuts down the roads, he shuts down Gujarat whenever he wants to, What is he? Gujarat's hitler?"
The young politician joined the Congress, in the presence of Rahul Gandhi, in March, having campaigned for the party during the 2017 state elections. He was keen on contesting the ongoing Lok Sabha elections from the Jamnagar constituency in Gujarat but was unable to do so because of a conviction in a 2015 rioting case.
As a result, he has become a star campaigner for the Congress and, on this occasion, was campaigning for Soma Das, the party candidate from the Surendranagar seat, when he was assaulted.
Hardik Patel rose to prominence in the national political scene after starting a quota stir in Gujarat in 2015, leading the Patidars against the state's BJP government. The Patidars were, up till then, considered strong BJP supporters.
The Patidar leader's activism led to the Congress gaining 16 seats in 2017 assembly polls compared to what it won in 2012; 15 of these came from the Saurashtra region of the state, which is also where the Surendranagar seat is located. The district is also where over 50 per cent of all Patel voters in the state are registered and 73 per cent of voters are farmers.
The Congress will be hoping the issue of the Patidars' demands and farmers worries could impact the outcome of election results in the state in their favour. However, the ruling BJP is confident this will not be the case, pointing to the party's Rs 6,000 annual income scheme for farmers and the implementation of 10 percent quota for general category poor.
The slap on Hardik Patel comes a day after a man identified as Shakti Bhargava threw a shoe at BJP leaders GVL Narasimha Rao and Bhupendra Yadav during a press conference at the party headquarters in New Delhi.
Responding to the incident in Gujarat, senior Congress leader Kapil Sibal told ANI it was a reflection of troubles faced by all those who opposed the ruling party.
The BJP won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in Gujarat and will be hoping for a similar result this year.
Surendranagar constituency is set to go to polls on April 23, with the rest of Gujarat. The seat was won by the BJP's Devajibhai Fatepara in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
Election results will be declared on May 23.