Gandhinagar, Nov 25 The Gujarat government on Friday invited Patel agitation leader Hardik Patel for talks to reach an amicable solution to the community's demand for quotas in government jobs and educational institutions under the other backward classes (OBC) category.
"We are willing to hold talks with Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leaders, including Hardik Patel, to bring about a solution to this long-standing problem," said Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel.
"In the past too we have maintained that the issues can be resolved only through negotiations," he added.
The move is seen as an effort to resolve one of the toughest challenges faced by the ruling BJP since Narendra Modi shifted from state politics to become Prime Minister in 2014. The Patel agitation had seen the BJP lose its grip over 80 per cent of local self government bodies after a gap of two decades in December last year.
Hardik Patel has welcomed the decision by the Vijay Rupani government. "We will raise our two key demands of reservations for Patel community in government jobs and educational institutions as well as action against the policemen who treated our people in a high-handed manner during the agitation," he said.
Hardik at present remains exiled outside the state's geographical boundary for six months as ordered by Gujarat High Court under his bail conditions and the period gets over in January. Official say the talks can be held at Udaipur, where Hardik is stationed, Ahmedabad or state capital Gandhinagar.
"We have called a meeting of all our convenors to discuss whether to meet the government, when and whether it is in the interest of the community. But, one thing is clear that if the state government tries to play politics as it did in the past during the Anandiben regime, then it would backfire and we would re-launch the agitation with even more force," said PAAS spokesperson Varun Patel.
The Opposition Congress on its part called the invite by the government as a "desperate" move to save itself from losing the state in forthcoming elections.
"First they beat up people, including young and women, and now they are showing empathy. It is BJP government that has filed innumerable cases, including those of sedition, against so many youngsters. Talk of discussions is just another sham," said Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi.