AHMEDABAD: A few hours after he was welcomed into the BJP on Sunday, Narendra Patel, a Patidar or Patel leader from north Gujarat appeared on camera with wads of cash and alleged that he had been offered a crore by the state’s ruling party to cross over to it. Narendra Patel is a senior member of a group led by 24-year-old activist Hardik Patel, the face of the massive Patel agitation for reservation in government colleges and jobs.
The BJP has dismissed Narendra Patel’s allegation as a Congress conspiracy to draw the support of the powerful Patel community ahead of key assembly elections in the state, to be held by December this year.
Narendra Patel, who is the convenor of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti or PAAS in north Gujarat, alleged at a late night press conference on Sunday that he was offered money by the BJP through Varun Patel, a close aide of Hardik Patel who had joined the party a day earlier.
“Varun Patel made a Rs. 1 crore-deal with the BJP for me. He gave 10 lakh rupees in advance. They are going to be give me Rs. 90 lakh rupees tomorrow but even if they give me the entire Reserve Bank (of India) they will not be able to buy me,” Narendra Patel said, dramatically spreading out bundles of cash that he said were given to him to switch sides.
He claimed that he had decided to take the money to prove that he was being bribed and expose Varun Patel and the BJP, describing how he was taken to capital Gandhinagar to meet the BJP’s Gujarat chief Jitubhai Vaghani and other leaders in a blur of hectic activity on Sunday and allegedly offered the money.
Varun Patel, who joined the BJP on Saturday, shot back, “Instead of 10 lakhs, Narendra Patel should have taken the entire 1 crore rupees he claims he was offered and then done the press conference. Why did he just take 10 lakhs, is he that crazy?”
He added that the Patel community is moving back to the BJP, which they have loyally supported for years but were upset with recently for not extending the benefits of reservation to them. “The Congress is scared because Patels are moving towards the BJP and no Patel will attend Rahul Gandhi’s rally on Monday. The Congress now knows that the BJP will sweep majority seats.”
BJP spokesperson Bharat Pandya said Narendra Patel has made a “false accusation,” adding, “First, he came out and declared he is joining BJP. After 2-3 hours he does this drama… The Congress cannot sway Gujarat’s populace with this kind of drama.”
Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, who will hold another election rally in the state today, has gone all out to woo Patels, accusing the BJP of shortchanging the community and promising to fulfil their demands if his party returns to power in Gujarat, ruled by the BJP for the last two decades.
The BJP has been galvanised into damage control with senior ministers meeting leaders of the Patel agitation, including Hardik Patel in the last few weeks to discuss their demands.
Varun Patel and another prominent member of Hardik Patel’s PAAS, Reshma Patel, joined the BJP on Saturday alleging that the Congress is trying to hijack the community’s reservation stir. Their crossover raised the BJP’s hope of containing the damage done to BJP-Patel relations. Last year the party replaced Anandiben Patel, seen to have alienated the Patidars with her handling of the agitation, with Vijay Rupani as Chief Minister.