JP chief Amit Shah’s meeting with leaders of the Patidar community in Surat turned into chaos today as supporters of Hardik Patel went on a rampage, chanting his name and vandalizing the furniture.
Mr Shah was in Surat to attend a huge rally by the BJP to honour the new Patel ministers in the government led by Chief Minister Vijay Rupani. The rally was seen as not only a show of strength by the BJP in the state heading for elections but also a gesture to reconnect with the Patidar community – traditional BJP supporters who had been on a collision course with the government over their demand for quota in jobs and education.
The unrest — which took place at a felicitation programme organised by some Patidar leaders — started as Mr Shah came on the stage and Union minister Purshottam Rupala was speaking. The crowds in the back row started chanting “Hardik, Hardik” and soon they were breaking chairs.
The police was called in and they physically removed the trouble-makers from the venue. Mr Shah spoke for only 6 minutes, by which time, only 20 per cent of the audience remained. Around 40 Patidar leaders were detained.
The red-faced party accused the Congress of creating trouble. “The programme went on smoothly, only a handful of unruly elements instigated by the Congress tried to disrupt it,” said senior state BJP leader KC Patel.
But Hardik Patel, whose name the crowd was chanting, was the face of the agitation that shook the state for over 40 days last year. At the time, the 23-year-old had challenged the BJP government, saying “If you hurt this community, the government will collapse”.
In a Facebook post, he had even issued a challenge to Mr Shah, saying, “I request Amit Shah to stay away from the Patel community’s agitation to get reservation. We will not stop it just because you want it. The agitation will not stop till I am alive. And if you still want to crush the stir by force, then you will have to kill me.”
A section of leaders said Mr Rupani – close to Mr Shah — was brought in to replace Anandiben Patel, then chief minister, partly for her mishandling of the crisis.