AHMEDABAD/NEW DELHI: The sex video does not seem to have taken away from Patidar leader Hardik Patel’s popularity, if the crowds then turn out to embrace him can be taken as any indication. Nor is he impacted by the individuals described by local newspapers as key aides, leaving him every now and again to join the BJP whom he dismisses as “inconsequential.”

As for the video that had made him defensive only for a few moments, Patel’s “ CD should show 22 years of growth under BJP, not a 22 year old boy” is going down well with the crowds, as they applaud and laugh on the sex tape that seems to have placed the BJP on the backfoot in the current election campaign. In fact BJP leaders are hastening to distance themselves from the CD, insisting they have little to do with its social media appearance.

Instead Patel’s indefatigable energy takes him through a ceaseless campaign, to Mansa that was considered almost out of bounds for the opposition, being the hometown of BJP president Amit Shah. For Hardik Patel, backed by the Patidar community and particularly youth, Mansa has been a target where he held a huge public rally in 2015 as part of the Patidar agitation.

He now returned to Mansa, and spoke for nearly an hour attacking Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also Shah. Here he did not leave out Congress leader Rajiv Gandhi and warned the people that they should keep away from celebrities such as these leaders. The crowd was enthusiastic, and responsive with his speech punctuated with applause and laughter from those who waited hours to listen to him.

"I appeal to you just don't keep on clapping for them. Ask them questions. Ask them what they had done for you. They should be made answerable for what they have done for our rights," Patel said speaking a language throughout the campaign that clearly bonds with the Patidar youth with their volunteers taking over the bandobast of his meetings, wearing caps, and informing reporters of how he is different, and how he is their leader.

Local media quoted these young people as saying in Mansa that they would defeat Amit Shah and the BJP in their home, and that the entire Patidar community is with Hardik Patel.

True or not, he is working around the clock, campaigning, addressing meetings, and denouncing the BJP and its leaders in unequivocal terms. The crowds are not hired, but local, as Patidars and others swarm around keen to listen to the young man whose oratory style is a mix of forthright views, hard facts, and a tendency to say it as he believes it in an approach that clearly interests and attracts the audience. There is a large turn out always, with local volunteers attacking themselves to the Hardik Patel brigade.

Hardik Patel does not shy away from issues, and speaks of the CD openly, “it is good they have come out with it while I am 22, if I was older no one would believe them”; and is clearly trying to strike an inclusive tone in his speeches speaking of the need for unity amongst all communities. He addresses the Patidars demand for reservation, but also now in speeches that are more substantive than before, speaks of the need to address all communities. He has been meeting the Muslims, the backwards, the Dalits along with the Patidars and the upper castes during the campaign.

Whether he has an impact or now, remains to be seen on polling day, but despite the huge pressure on him by the administrative machinery and the BJP with the video and by weaning away his aides, the young Patidar leader shows no sign of cracking. This is earning him new admiration, and a support from the youth who see him as courageous and direct. He also has the advantage of speaking from within, being a BJP supporter earlier, and comes from within the influential community that is in the process of making up its electoral mind.

Until then the Hardik Patel chariot chugs along, acquiring speed despite the stones being hurled its way.