Hardik, Mevani term ‘forced’ police protection as surveillance tactic by BJP

Rashtriya Dalit Adhikar Manch convenor Jignesh Mevani and Patidar agitator Hardik Patel were accorded police protection on Sunday, days after the election commission declared December 9 and 14 as the polling dates for Gujarat.

However, as neither Patel nor Mevani had sought security cover from the government, the two termed the move as a “surveillance tactic” by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to rein in political opponents ahead of the assembly elections.

Both the emerging leaders have been warming up to the Congress in the run-up to the polls. The “unwelcome” security cover came within days of the two groups meeting Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi and other party leaders to discuss a possible electoral alliance.

Interestingly, both Mevani and members of Patel’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) were among those detained on numerous occasions before the poll schedule for Gujarat was announced. Preventive detentions were carried out especially before events featuring Prime Minister Narendra Modi, under the pretext that they may create disruptions.

Both Patel and Mevani slammed the unsought security cover, stating that it was enforced with the sole intention of keeping an eye on them.

“This is not police protection, but a means of spying. I feel that the police would be better off working for the people of Gujarat than moving around with me everywhere,” said Patel, adding that the security cover was withdrawn on Monday morning after he sought its withdrawal from the control room.

Patel said nobody contacted him before sending the policemen to his doorstep on Sunday. Mevani was also surprised to find to guards equipped with machine guns at his disposal the same day.

Ahmedabad police commissioner AK Singh was unavailable for comment.

Patidar agitators associated with Patel were taken into custody before as many as 20-odd trips made by Modi to his home state since 2015. The Patidar leader himself was imprisoned in a Surat jail for nine months starting October that year, and then exiled for six months. He returned to Gujarat only in January.

PAAS is currently in its final stage of negotiations with the Congress party over its demand for reservation benefits in government jobs and college admissions. The group’s two-year-old agitation has left the BJP unsure about Patidar support for the party for the first time in a couple of decades. The community constitutes 12% of the state’s over 60 million-odd population, and can influence the results in over 60 of its 182 constituencies.

Patel had earlier alleged that the BJP government leaked CCTV footage from a luxury hotel in Ahmedabad, where he met Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, last month. Gandhi was also present in the same hotel at the time. The BJP has accused Patel of misleading the community by meeting Gandhi in secret.

Mevani had held talks with Gandhi in Navsari on November 3, while the Congress leader was undertaking the three-day Navsarjan Yatra in south Gujarat. He predicted the defeat of the `janvidrohi’ (anti-people) BJP government in the state soon afterwards.