Stung by Groupism and Stalled by Old Guard, Hardik Patel Says Final Call on Future After Meeting Rahul Gandhi

Gujarat Congress working president Hardik Patel has been in the news recently for his “tiff” with the party after he claimed he was being sidelined ahead of elections in the state this year, prompting Rahul Gandhi to intervene and placate the Patidar leader. While Patel has shot down the possibility of joining hands with the BJP, in an exclusive interview to CNN-News18, he pointed out the flaws of the Grand Old Party and discussed the chances of the party clinching a victory in Gujarat amid a rising AAP.

Edited excerpts:

What is this hide and seek that you are playing with your party? Luka Chuppi ka kya khel chal raha hai?

There is no hide and seek at play. It is natural that such discussions happen in a party and family. Getting angry and consoling is part of being a family. So there is no such hide and seek going on. However, it is obvious that when rumours are spread, people make it a game of hide and seek.

Toh yahaan pe naraaz kaun hai aur kisko manaya ja raha hai? [So who’s angry here and who’s being placated?]

See, if there is a party, then there are people with different opinions who put forth their views differently. Elections will be held in Gujarat in the next six months. We discuss our party’s strategy, systems of campaigning, how elections will be fought, how to go to the people and fulfil their expectations. It is obvious that 4-5 leaders remain present during the deliberations and they all have different views so some people feel that they are not being heard. This is what it’s all about. I believe that in the coming days in Gujarat, a new battle will be fought by remaining united for the benefit of people of the state and we will fulfil their expectations.

Issi baat-cheet ke liye to aapko ‘Chintan Shivir’ mein bulaya gaya tha. Aap gaye kyun nahi Udaipur? [It was for these deliberations that you were called to the ‘Chintan Shivir’. Why didn’t you go to Udaipur?]

Look, I had a public programme on Thursday and another one on Friday. These programmes were scheduled long ago. I will reach Udaipur on Saturday. I was about to go there on Friday itself but it is late now.

Toh aap ab ‘Chintan Shivir’ jaa rahe hain aur attend karenge Udaipur mein? [So you are going to Udaipur to attend the ‘Chintan Shivir’ now?]

Absolutely. The ‘Chintin Shivir’ organised by the party will discuss what we can do for the country in the coming days and how we can strengthen the structure of the Congress. It is obvious that we also want to strengthen the party’s structure and the expectations people have from us. We all know that a hope should emerge across the country and if we work on those hopes, we will definitely get the love and support of people.

Hardik, yeh kaise mumkin hai ki Rahul Gandhi apne party ke working president se milne ka samay nahi de paaye? Yeh toh open snub bola ja raha hai. [Hardik, how is it that Rahul Gandhi doesn’t have time to meet the working president of his own party? People are calling it an open snub.]

I don’t know. You people are saying things like he didn’t give time. During Rahul Gandhi ji’s programme in Gujarat’s Dahod, which lasted 4-5 hours, there was a public rally that lasted for two hours, then a one-to-one meeting with MLAs, followed by a meeting with prominent leaders of the tribal community. It was obvious that he was busy so we didn’t meet. We will definitely talk once this ‘Chintan Shivir’ gets over and we will take positive decisions on various issues related to Gujarat.

Kyunki chunaav Gujarat mein 6 mahine mein hone waala hai aur aap working president hain Congress ke toh aapke kya kya demands the? Aap kya chaahte hain ki Congress kya kare taaki woh takkar mein aa jaaye BJP ke? [Elections are scheduled in Gujarat in the next 6 months and as working president, what are your demands? What do you feel the Congress should do to put up a strong front against the BJP?]

First of all, I am not a politician who tries to gain personal benefits by putting forth demands to pressure the party when elections are around. I am not one of those politicians. I don’t have any political background but even then, we are standing strongly in Gujarat and have got the love of the people.

If I am a working president, then my responsibilities should be decided. It has been two years since I assumed the role but so far, responsibilities have not been allocated. I may be the first politician who is saying work should be given. You tell me; if a 5-6-km-long padyatra has to be taken out in 4-5 districts and they make me in-charge of Youth NSUI, then isn’t it my responsibility to look for young people? So, this is a simple demand within the party that tasks should be assigned.

If we fight powerfully, aggressively and with speed in the next six months, we will be able to get the support of the youth. I was just 21 years old when Narendra Modi-ji became the prime minister from Gujarat in 2014. In 2015, there was a big protest and we established a connect with the youth. The reason behind it was that if you talk about the hopes that people have and work on them, you will get the support of people.

Toh kya abhi Congress logon ki ummeedon pe khari nahi utar rahi hai? Yeh ek sawal hai aur doosra ye bhi hai Hardik ki jis tarah internal fight multiple state units me dekha jaa raha hai, ussi ki wajah se shayad Congress chunaav bhi haar rahi hai. Dekhiye kya hua Punjab mein, Uttarakhand mein; dono states Congress isliye bhi haari kyunki wahaan par kheencha-taani chal rahi thi. Kya aap yeh maante hain ki jab tak Congress apne internal differences ko sort out nahi karegi tab tak external enemy ko takeover kaise karegi?

[So is the Congress not fulfilling the expectations of the people right now? Also, maybe the party is losing because of the internal fights in multiple units. See what happened in Punjab and Uttarakhand, both states where a power tussle was going on. Do you agree that the Congress can’t tackle an external enemy unless it resolves its internal tiffs?]

Look, in every state, politics between senior and junior leaders is distributed deliberately. In reality, wherever there is a senior leadership, they have their experiences and stronghold over the state so, in such cases, if there is a consensus between senior and junior leaders, we can achieve results.

However, there are several states where leaders are very senior but they are not in a position to work and if the young leadership wants to work, then they’re not allowed to do so. I want that such groupism should be stopped and if, in the coming days, we are able to keep this groupism aside and stay united — as the saying goes that five fingers can become a fist and work together — then good results will be achieved.

You talked about Uttarakhand and Punjab. They had a different situation. I cannot go into details but if we talk about Gujarat, since we didn’t come to power for 30 years, there are several older PCC leaders and then there are young leaders like us. So, somewhere, that gap stays. Everybody should be made to sit together and talk and tasks should be assigned on the basis of an individual’s capacity for good results.

Hardik, jo gutbaazi ki baat aap kar rahe hain, sab states me gutbaazi dikh rahi hai. Aapka yeh bhi kehna hai ki old vs new hai, jo old guard hai, jiski umar 60 saal se upar hai, woh aap yuva log ko opportunity nahi de rahe. Yahi demand Sachin Pilot ki bhi hai Rajasthan me. Kya hum dekhenge ki aap log aapas mein baat-cheet karke kuch naya forum bana karke Congress president Sonia Gandhi ke paas jaayenge? [The groupism that you talk about is visible in all states. You also say that the old guard is not giving opportunities to the new turks. Sachin Pilot has the same grouse in Rajasthan. Is there a plan for you all to talk among yourselves and form a new forum to approach Congress president Sonia Gandhi?]

So far, no such discussion has happened. I don’t come from a political background to engage in talks like these. We are grounded people, leaders who go among the people, roam around villages, listen to people who express their problems and we convey the same to the party leadership. I keep doing that work. I cannot put forth my views by setting up these things [forums] because I am not that big a leader. I work in my state so that a new hope can rise in Gujarat.

Hardik, aapne yeh bhi kahaa ki Congress ko saare old aur new ko saath me bitha kar baat cheet karni chahiye. Toh kya ye baat-cheet nahi ho rahi hai? Kya Congress president se aapne milne ki koshish ki kyuki chunaav ab aa gaya hai; 6 mahine ka waqt zyaada waqt nahi hota hai. Agar iss tarah ka mann mutaav chal raha hai state unit mein toh uski wajah se result pe farak padega. [Hardik, does this mean there is no dialogue between the old and young leaders? Did you try and meet the Congress president because 6 months is not a long time and polls are right here. Tensions in the state unit may affect results.]

Look, I never sought time to meet Sonia Gandhi-ji because whatever I had to convey, I conveyed it through Rahul-ji and Priyanka Gandhi-ji and I believe they will help and protect us. I don’t ask party leadership to make me president, make me chief ministerial face; I never got involved in all this. I just keep saying that let me know what to do.

Suppose there were elections in other states, then we would want to strengthen the party and campaign for it there. I have given my 100 per cent to the party in Gujarat and not taken anything from the party. Whatever I had, I have always tried to dedicate it to the party. I believe that a good decision will be taken by the party for Gujarat. This is not about giving positions, but work should be assigned. We want this to happen; we are grounded leaders. I don’t want to prepare a draft by sitting in AC rooms. I want to listen to people by going to them and bringing solutions to them. I want to change the political discourse in the state on a large scale. I may have little differences over it but, at the same time, we have faith in the party.

Chaliye aapne yeh to kahaa ki naraazgi hai. Lekin kya Hardik Patel isliye naraaz hain kyonki Naresh Patel se beech me baat chal rahi thi? [Well at least you admitted you are upset. Is Hardik Patel also upset because there were talks with Naresh Patel?]

Let me tell you that if I can recommend the names of Jignesh Mevani and Kanhaiya Kumar who are my age, what problems will I have if Naresh Patel, who is 55-60 years old, joins the party? This is a baseless question.

Aakhiri sawaal yeh hoga ki kya Hardik Patel ab Congress mein rahenge? Jaise beech me baat-cheet chal rahi thi ki naraazgi itni ho gayi hai ki aap Congress party chhor karke kahin aur chale jayenge. [My last question is that will Hardik Patel stay with the Congress? Or will he leave, given the internal rift?]

No, no. Look, sometimes people said Hardik Patel is not well. I was very healthy till now but people kept asking and that led to my poor health. I am not going to take any political decision. I do something new every day in the state based on my preparations. I am busy in connecting people. This ‘Chintan Shivir’ will get over on May 16. I will try to meet Rahul-ji on 16th or 17th and tell him about my views. Then it is for him to decide what he wants to do with Gujarat. I believe that he will be excited about Gujarat so that some good things can be done in the state.

Hardik, aapko yeh lagta hai kya ki Congress thoda non-serious hai kyuki Mamata Banerjee ka bayaan dekhiye. Unn logon ka kehna hai ki Congress ab seriously nahi le rahi hai apna role as Opposition. Toh kya Congress ek non-serious player dikh rahi hai? [Do you feel that the Congress is coming across as a non-serious player? Look at Mamata Banerjee’s statement that the party is not taking its role as Opposition seriously.]

I believe that in a democracy, if a government is strong, then there should be an equally strong opposition. I feel proud to tell you this about Gujarat that before 2017, we had only 50 seats as opposition. Our protest was organised on a grand scale. Obviously, I wasn’t a part of it then, but Congress party benefitted directly or indirectly. And after 1990, for the first time, Congress got more than 80 seats. We couldn’t come back to power with just 10 seats. I am very proud that we helped Congress strengthen itself as an opposition without even being a part of it. If everything works out in Gujarat Congress, we will definitely get the love of the people.

Toh kya Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) Congress ki jagah le rahi hai Gujarat mein? [So is the AAP filling in for the Congress in Gujarat?]

Every party has the right to contest elections anywhere across the country but time will tell which party people support.

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