Among those convicted along with Independent MLA Jignesh Mevani by a magistrate’s court in Mesana Thursday on charges of assembly was Reshma Patel. The woman face of the 2015 Patidar quota agitation, the 35-year-old has since emerged as a determined leader to find her way in state politics, acknowledged by even her opponents for her feistiness.
Reshma Patel and the others were convicted for holding an ‘Azadi Kooch’ rally police permission, in July 2017, to commemorate a year of the assault on Dalits in Una. Apart from Mevani, Kanhaiya Kumar had been part of the rally.
A native of Bantiya village in Junagadh district of Saurashtra, Reshma had come to the limelight in 2015 when the Patidar quota agitation was at its peak and top leaders like Hardik Patel had been arrested. A 21-day fast she held, for the release of the Patidar agitators, had catapulted her to the core committee of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) founded by Hardik. She had also emerged as a vocal critic of the ruling BJP and its leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. She was herself imprisoned for around a month during the agitation.
Subsequently, Reshma developed differences with PAAS, especially Hardik. In October 2017, in the run-up to the Gujarat Assembly elections, she joined the BJP along with Varun Patel, another close aid of Hardik. At the time, Reshma called Hardik a “Congress agent”.
However, Reshma’s tryst with the BJP too lasted only around two years. In 2019, she parted ways, citing “unfulfilled promises” by the ruling party on the quota agitation. She also called the BJP a “marketing company” promoting “hollow schemes”.
After that, Reshma joined the NCP and fought the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Porbandar constituency as an Independent. She lost that, as well as a by-election to Manavadar Assembly constituency necessitated due to the resignation of Jawahar Chavda from the seat as a Congress candidate.
A single mother who is doing her graduation in political science, Reshma is currently the president of the NCP’s women’s wing and its spokesperson in Gujarat.
Dharmik Malaviya, the Surat convenor of PAAS who has been with the Patidar quota agitation since the beginning, says Reshma’s association with the movement had been a significant help. “After the arrest of Hardik and others in 2015, the quota agitation had slowed down. It was at that time that Reshma came forward openly in support. This helped since women from our community are not usually part of such agitations.”
Malviya says Reshma also expanded the scope of the agitation by taking it beyond the demand for a quota for Patidars. “She started targeting BJP leaders Narendra Modi and Amit Shah by naming them in public speeches, which added to her popularity.”
According to him, this is why, when Reshma moved to the BJP, the regard for her took a hit. “She joined a party which had been her main target during the agitation.” He thinks that it was not a surprise that a person of an “independent nature” like her couldn’t last in the BJP “when she realised that the BJP was not giving her much importance”.
Her changing political affiliations have given her diminishing returns, Malviya feels, pointing out that her latest party, the NCP, does not have much of an organization in Gujarat.
A BJP leader who wishes to remain anonymous, however, sees Reshma “updating herself politically” as a plus, second only to the fact that “she is very aggressive”. The leader also concedes that the BJP perhaps did not value her enough. “She quit PAAS since it had become too politicised. After joining the BJP, she realised that some commitments given by the party were not honored. And being of an independent mind, probably she felt suffocated in the disciplinary culture of the party.”
On her future, the leader says: “The popularity of every leader of the Patidar quota agitation has gone down, including Reshma… She is currently making efforts to establish herself in Junagadh.”
Reshma says she doesn’t regret her decisions. “I joined the rally (for which she has been convicted) because Jigneshbhai (Mevani) was fighting for the rights of deprived classes. And I believe it is our duty to raise the voice of deprived classes. Even today, that remains my stand… I did not even care to know if permission for the rally was obtained or not. The government does not give permission for such events and so, when the government does not give permission to fight democratically, there is no other way of revolting.”
Reshma also accuses the BJP of double standards over giving permission for rallies. “During the Covid pandemic, BJP (leaders) held a number of rallies and public meetings. Many of their leaders had big wedding functions. Who did they take action against?… Rules should be uniform for all,” she says.
Last month, amidst rumors of Hardik joining the BJP, Reshma, in an interview to a TV channel, Hardik advised “not to make the mistake of joining the BJP”.
Gujarat NCP president Jayant Patel ‘Bosky’ says they fully support Reshma. “We will go to the higher court (against her conviction). Yesterday, our top leaders Sharad Pawarji, Praful Patelji and Supriya (Sule) Tai contacted me and asked me to take the help of the party’s national legal team if required.”
But the NCP remains a party with only a limited presence in Gujarat, its best result being two seats in the 2012 Assembly elections, when it had a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. The ties between the two parties have deteriorated since the 2017 Rajya Sabha elections, when one of its two MLAs reportedly voted against the Congress’s Ahmed Patel, in a closely fought, high-stakes battle.
In the current Gujarat Assembly, the NCP has only one member, Kandhal Jadeja, the MLA from Kutiyana Assembly constituency in Porbandar district. On April 20, Jadeja, the son of the late Santokben aka Godmother, was convicted for escaping from a hospital in Rajkot while under judicial custody in connection with the alleged murder of a BJP leader in 2005.