A court in Mehsana in Gujarat sentenced Patidar reservation stir leader Hardik Patel and two others to two years' jail in a case of rioting and arson, while acquitting 14 others, on Wednesday.
The trio was granted bail soon after the order. Reacting to the order, Hardik said he was a criminal if it was a crime to fight for social justice and rights, and a rebel if someone fighting a battle of truth and right. “I will continue to raise my voice for truth, farmers, youths and poor. The Hitlershahi of BJP will not be able to suppress it,” he wrote on Twitter.
The Visnagar court found Hardik Patel, Sardar Patel Group (SPG) leader Lalji Patel, and one AK Patel guilty under various IPC sections pertaining to rioting, arson, damage to property, mischief, and unlawful assembly, and sentenced them to two years' imprisonment. The court also directed them to pay a fine of Rs 50,000 each. Hardik and the other accused were present in the courtroom when the sentenced was pronounced.
The conviction is a huge setback for Hardik, who turned 25 a couple of days ago. Though Hardik has maintained that he would keep away from politics for some more time, there have been speculations that he may contest in 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
However, today's conviction means he stands automatically disqualified from contesting polls, unless his conviction is overturned by a higher court.
The court ordered compensation of Rs 10,000 to the complainant and compensation of Rs1 lakh to the owner of the damaged car. However, 14 other accused persons were acquitted for want of sufficient evidence. Hardik and the two other convicts were granted bail by the court soon after the announcement of the sentence.
Hardik, Lalji, and 15 others were booked for various offences related to rioting after protestors vandalised the office of Visnagar MLA Rushikesh Patel on July 23, 2015.
The incident had taken place after a rally organised to press for quota in government jobs and higher education for Patidar community turned violent.
The MLA's absence from his office when the protestors went there sparked the violence, in which a car was also damaged, and some media-persons assaulted.
Hardik had also announced recently that he would go on an indefinite fast from August 25 to mark the third anniversary of the Patidar Maharally in Ahmedabad.
Violence had erupted at several places in the state, especially in Patidar dominated areas, after the rally. Hundreds of police cases were registered against the protestors, many of which were later withdrawn by the government.