Mumbai civic polls: Shiv Sena parachutes Hardik Patel to woo Gujarati votes, wean off growing BJP influence


Mumbai: In a major boost to its campaign to win a fifth consecutive term at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Shiv Sena on Tuesday announced that leader of the Patidar community Hardik Patel will campaign for the party in the run-up to the crucial 21 February polls to the 227-seat corporation. Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray also declared Patel to be the face of the party in Gujarat for the forthcoming Assembly election.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray felicitates Patidar community leader Hardik Patel at his residence Matoshree at Bandra in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image courtesy Prabhakar Waradkar

Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray felicitates Patidar community leader Hardik Patel at his residence Matoshree at Bandra in Mumbai on Tuesday. Image courtesy Prabhakar Waradkar

Patel addressed a joint press conference with Thackeray at his Bandra residence, Matoshree on Tuesday.

The Gujarati vote is a major deciding factor in at least 40 seats, which the Sena fears may benefit the BJP. To counter BJP’s growing clout among the Gujarati community, Shiv Sena roped in Patel to campaign for Sena candidates in Mumbai’s Gujarati dominated areas.

Patel will be meeting his supporters in the suburbs of Dahisar, Borivali, Kandivali and Malad — all Gujarati-dominated areas — before heading to Goregaon to address a rally on Tuesday evening, where he will be campaigning for Shiv Sena candidate Biren Limbachaya. The rally will also be attended by Industries Minister Subhash Desai.

Talking to mediapersons, Patel took on the BJP and urged the Gujarati community to support Shiv Sena for the 21 February polls. “In the upcoming polls, the Gujarati community will stand with Shiv Sena. I will not participate in any campaign rallies directly but my community will support them,” Patel said.

During his interaction with the media, Patel reiterated his demand for Patidar reservation in Gujarat, while slamming Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah. “Narendra Modi and his government are scared of me. But unlike Modi or Amit Shah, I have nothing to fear or hide. I will finish the BJP in upcoming Gujarat assembly poll and will show the unity of the Patidar community,” he said.

Patel also lent his support to the Maratha reservation stir, “I am in Mumbai to support the demand for Maratha reservation too. Like the Patidar community, the Maratha community must also get reservation”, he said.

Stating that he is happy to be in Maharashtra, Patel said, “Like I admire Bhagat Singh, I am also a fan of the late Balasaheb Thackeray. At the same time, I am happy to be in the land of Veer Savarkar. I am inspired by all three leaders.”

Describing Patel as “a firebrand leader”, Thackeray said that the Patidar community leader “would be the face of the party in Gujarat.”

Blaming the Modi government for betraying the Gujarati community, Thackeray said, “Modi government has been ruthless on Gujarati businessmen. They all stood with BJP in the parliamentary and Assembly elections. But now they have realised their mistake. Many Gujarat leaders are now against Modi and BJP. We will unitedly fight against them.”

While welcoming Patel, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis however, dismissed his presence in Mumbai and exuded confidence of sweeping the polls.

According to sources, backdoor negotiations with Patel had begun on 19 January, when the Sena supremo had sent his close aide to hold talks with him. In the meeting, it is believed that Patel agreed to participate in Shiv Sena’s election campaign for the forthcoming polls.

The move to bring in Patel, just days before the election, should be seen in the context of BJP’s good performance in the Gujarati-dominated areas of Mumbai in the 2014 Assembly elections.

The Gujarati population comprises of 18 percent of the total electorate in Mumbai. In the last one month, Shiv Sena has successfully poached many Gujarati faces including leaders from Gujarat.

Patel became a community hero after leading a major quota agitation across Gujarat. He was jailed for his massive campaign to seek job quotas for the Patel community, which often turned violent. Patel had been exiled to Rajasthan for six months. However, last week, he returned to Gujarat.