Gujarat: Hardik Patel, the 24-year-old Patidar leader who is leading a campaign against the BJP in Gujarat, says he is ready to surrender if the police want to arrest him but stressed that the agitation he is leading would continue even he was put behind bars. "I am ready to surrender if police wants to arrest me," the young leader told news channel NDTV hours after a court issued non-bailable arrest warrants against him for absenting from a hearing earlier in the day.
Hardik Patel faces several police cases for the violence during the agitation to demand quotas in government jobs and education institutions for Gujarat's Patidar, or the Patel community, in north Gujarat's Mehsana district that was the epicentre of the agitation. Mr Patel is among the 6 activists accused of ransacking the office of a BJP legislator in Mehsana's Visnagar city during protests in 2015.
They were granted bail in the case but asked to attend court proceedings. When Mr Patel did not appear in court today, an angry judge issued the warrant for his arrest. Twice before he did not answer court summons and his lawyer has repeatedly pleaded for exemption from personal appearance, which the court has denied.
The same court had earlier rejected Hardik Patel's petition seeking entry into Mehsana district, the epicentre of the massive Patel stir of two years ago. The young activist had requested the court to allow him to enter the district by relaxing bail conditions prescribed by the Gujarat High Court.
Responding to reports that the police could soon arrest him, Mr Patel told NDTV that it shows how scared the BJP is of the agitation.
A senior police officer, however, suggest that the Patidar leader was reading too much into the police action that would merely act on the court's direction.
"Once we receive the warrant from court, we will have to arrest him and present him before the Visnagar court. Then court would decide whether to give him bail or remand him in judicial custody," a senior Gujarat police officer said, adding that the police would act only after receiving the court order.
Hardik Patel's close aide Dinesh Bambhania said, "On the one hand the BJP government in the state talks about withdrawing cases against Patel activists and on the other this happens." He was referring to the state government's recent outreach to leaders of the Patel or Patidar agitation at a meeting called by Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel and attended also by Hardik Patel.
The meeting was seen as an attempt by the BJP to build bridges ahead of assembly elections with the powerful Patel community which has been a loyal support base of the party for years, but is upset at its demand for reservation not being met.
Hardik Patel, who spent months in jail on stringent charges like sedition after widespread protests in the state, was released last year on bail on the condition that he would not enter Gujarat for six months. That deadline ended early this year and he has since intensified his attacks on the BJP.
For the last three days the activist has been in the headlines as he resolutely denies that he met Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi at a five-star hotel in Gujarat on Monday, despite CCTV footage that places him at the hotel.
Both Hardik Patel and the Congress have denied such a meeting and have accused the BJP of "espionage."
The state BJP has denied that it is trying to capitalize on a "secret meeting" between the two and is therefore circulating leaked footage. "The media has highlighted the meeting. We had no role in the CCTV footage leak. But we want to ask Hardik why he is hiding it. There is something sinister in it,'' said Gujarat Chief Minister Vijay Rupani today.