Patidar campaigner Hardik Patel today delivered a public reminder to the Congress that the grace period to come clean on how the party would give Patidars reservation had a short expiry date, warning that his group would protest Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's visit to south Gujarat's Surat on Friday if the issue wasn't sorted out quickly.
- Congress ready to accept four of five demands
- Demands include special team to probe excesses on Patidar protesters
- Giving reservation for Patidars was still a sticking point
The cautionary note from the 24-year-old face of the Patidar agitation came hours after a three-hour meeting between six representatives of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) that he leads and the Congress' state leadership.
At the end of this marathon meeting, the Congress had promised to right away accept four of the five demands that include forming a special team to probe excesses on Patidar protesters during the 2015 agitation and withdrawing cases registered against them.
The violence and the police cases have been a recurring theme of his campaign, where his group reminds the community not to get distracted by issues raised by the BJP but only remember the atrocities that the protesters had to face during the reservation quota.
Giving reservation for Patidars, or Patels under the Other Backward Class, or OBC quota was still a sticking point.
"We want clarity on that (how to give Patidars reservation benefit) in the next meeting with Congress ... failing which we will protest Rahul Gandhi's next event," said Mr Patel, who had denied a quiet meeting with the Congress vice president during his last visit to Ahmedabad till CCTV footage was leaked, said.
But there were hints that Hardik Patel's stern warning may not have only been meant for the Congress but the ruling BJP that accuses him of having become the Congress' B-team, and his own supporters.
Mr Patel has indirectly expressed his backhanded support to the Congress at a recent rally, saying "If you have to bring down a maha chor (mega thief) it doesn't matter if a chor (thief) is helped".
Also, hours before Mr Patel's reminder, Alpesh Kathiriya, a key aide who had participated in today's negotiations, had called the discussions "positive".
"But to ensure that there are no legal hurdles, we would like to consult legal and constitutional experts to see how the reservation can be taken care of. In the days to come, we will hold more meetings with Congress party on the issue," said Mr Kathiriya.
The Congress, which has been out of power in the state for over two decades, will have to walk a tightrope on this. If it were to promise giving Patidars benefit of the 27 per cent OBC quotas, it would jeopardise the bridge that it has been trying to build with voters from the backward classes when it inducted OBC leader Alpesh Thakore.
The Congress has offered to create a new 20 per cent reservation quota for economically backward classes from the forward castes. "We want to see how we can help them out," said Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki.