'Had I met Rahul, I would have met him in public'

AHMEDABAD: Patidar leader Hardik Patel reportedly met Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, for about 40 minutes at The Ummed hotel in the city on Monday, triggering speculation that the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener might join a “broader” anti-BJP alliance. On the same day, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor joined the Congress at a rally in Gandhinagar.

The “secret” meeting reportedly took place after Hardik had claimed that he would not be able to meet the Gandhi scion on Monday morning as he would be at a public function in Mandal town, 87km from Ahmedabad. Hardik reached Mandal around 7.30pm on Monday to address the meeting and apologized for the delay.

Five CCTV clips, recorded between 11.53pm on Sunday night and 4.14pm on Monday, showed Hardik entering and leaving the hotel. Gandhi was at The Ummed from Monday morning, while AICC member in-charge of Gujarat, Ashok Gehlot, had been holding meetings there since late Sunday evening.

Sources confirmed that Rahul met Hardik at the hotel along with Nikhil Savani, the PAAS co-convener who quit the BJP on Monday, Alpesh, Gehlot and Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki.

After the CCTV footage surfaced, Hardik said he had met Congress leaders but denied having met Rahul on Monday. “I have not met Rahul Gandhi, but I met Ashok Gehlot and Gujarat Congress president Bharatsinh Solanki to discuss the issues affecting the Patidar community, including OBC quota,” the 24-year-old said.

“Had I met Rahul, I would have met him in public, which would give me more mileage. Why should I meet Rahul secretly?” he asked.

Solanki corroborated the statement, saying, “Hardik met me, Ashok Gehlot and other Congress leaders but not Rahul Gandhi. Though both were in the same hotel, they did not meet.”

In the first two videos, Hardik is seen at the hotel entrance and then entering the elevator at 11.53pm on Sunday with three others and exiting at 12.22am on Monday. Hardik returns to the hotel at 1.53am and is seen exiting the hotel accompanied by two other individuals at 4.14pm on Monday. The fifth clip shows a person, who seems to be Hardik, seated in the backseat of a car, exiting the gate while covering his face with a handkerchief.

In a series of tweets late Monday evening, Gehlot accused the Gujarat government of spying. “I condemn all the surveillance being done on the BJP’s orders,” Gehlot said, asking, “Why did the police take CCTV footage from the hotel?”

Speaking in the same vein, Gehlot tweeted, “Is the right to privacy, sole proprietorship of Jay Shah?” He later tweeted, “Are Hardik Patel and Jignesh Mevani criminals or absconders? If that is so, BJP must clear its stand.”

Gehlot asked, “When they (Hardik and Jignesh) met BJP leaders, then their offices were not checked. Why is it being done now?”

“The rooms which have been booked in my name are being checked. We are openly saying we have met them and will keep meeting them in future too. I met Hardik and Jignesh in Ummed Hotel. IB, police are checking hotel rooms. @PMOIndia @narendramodi ji what is happening in Gandhiji’s Gujarat?” Gehlot added.

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