22-year-old Hardik Patel, until recently an unknown name in the political and social scene in Gujarat, suddenly took centre stage and became the cynosure of all eyes, as his organisation Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) organised one of the largest gatherings ever of the Patel community in Ahmedabad on 25 August, to call for their inclusion in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) list.
For a young man just out of college and one who was a non-entity even within his own community just a few months back to suddenly become the voice of the ‘Patels’, has left many people gasping in the colorful political space in Gujarat. Yesterday’s rally was a clear announcement that this young man has arrived and was not going to let go the chance without ensuring his call for inclusion of the Patel community in the OBC list reached the right ears in Delhi.
His fiery speech yesterday saw an angry young man call out to his community for support while warning the powers that be in the state of Gujarat and the centre that he and his community were willing to go to any length for ensuring that their demands were met. Hitting out at the PM himself and the BJP, without mincing words he announced that the 2019 elections would not be won by the BJP unless they accept the Patel community’s demand for inclusion as OBC.
The rally was attended by over 3 lakh people, and on the back of a high decibel speech, tension was running high at the venue. The crowd grew restless and finally the Police had to swing into action with a lathicharge. Hardik Patel was arrested as a preventive measure but released by evening. However, the move backfired, triggering a series of spontaneous but violent protests in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Surat and Rajkot. Although, he was released the same evening, the damage had been done.
Modi’s entire effort of two terms as CM to portray Gujarat as a land that was peaceful, stable and business friendly was gone. Curfew has now been introduced in many parts and the Centre today was rushing in 5000 paramilitary forces to contain the situation from further deteriorating. All educational institutions have been shut today as a precautionary measure.
The seriousness of the threat of the situation getting out of hand can be gauged by the fact that PM Modi, who has recently been silent on most issues, has been forced to come out with a statement today to try and calm nerves and has called for restraint from all stakeholders.
Did anyone see this coming?
Well, this was exactly what the protestors spoke about when they violently protested against implementation the Mandal Commission recommendations. Since then, almost all communities have been demanding an inclusion into the OBC category just to avail the ‘reservation quota’ offered in the education and employment sectors.
While the initial rationale behind the Mandal Commission recommendations was to provide an opportunity to the traditionally weaker sections of SC/ST and OBC categories to uplift their lives through reservation in education and employment sectors. However, as time has shown, economically successful communities like the Jats who dominate Haryana on all parameters of political, social and economic success, have pushed their way into the reservation category. And the message that has gone out is that using all forms of violent street agitation including Rail roko, Rasta roko etc, is the surest way to getting included in the OBC sector.
Communities have also figured out that the threat of political vote bank playing against the ruling party, especially as elections draw close, has worked very well. So no one can really blame Hardik Patel in leading his community to follow on the same strategy. Not unique but a highly effective weapon in a liberal democratic country like ours, where street violence delivers faster results than academic debates by civil society.
So who are the Patels and is their call for OBC status justified?
The demand is indeed surprising given the most successful and affluent community in Gujarat and overseas, the Patels, are today clamoring for OBC status! This is a community that comprises 15% of the total population of 6.27 crore in Gujarat and leads in representation in industry, trade, politics and landholding and its members are already accepted in India and overseas, as one of the most affluent, therefore this sharp and loud call for inclusion as OBC does make one question the logic and reasoning behind the demand. The community has thrown up 4 Chief Ministers out of 15 appointed till date and they are Babubhai Patel, Chimanbhai Patel, Keshubhai Patel and the current Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.
The Patel community is known for their significant landholding that has also been a major source for creating wealth. The very successful diamond cutting and polishing business is dominated by the Patel community and as much as 70% of the total 4,000 units involved is owned by the community.
The enterprising community was the first to migrate out of Gujarat over 100 years ago and settle in far off places like Africa, United States and South East Asia. In Africa for instance, the community went through tremendous hardships to start and build their small trading businesses that have now grown into some of the largest business houses, across several African nations.
In the US, the motel business is dominated by the Patel community, so much so that they are often referred as the Motel Patels. Same is true for several Gas stations and Convenience stores, across the US.
If the community lacked in people representation, the current list of portfolios proves otherwise. Today, there are 4 Cabinet Ministers, 4 Ministers of State, 5 Lok Sabha MPs and 44 MLAs belonging to the Patel community. And most inspiring of them all, Sardar Patel has been their tallest leader yet.
So how does Hardik Patel rise up from nowhere to claim ‘backward’ status for the Patel community? And does the call merit attention?
India is the only country where communities are fighting to be declared ‘backward’! This dichotomy in a supposedly ‘progressive’ country racing to be declared a ‘developed’ nation must be leaving many a western analyst highly amused and a tad disappointed.
There is little rationale in the Patel community joining the OBC list but that was true for the Jats as well. So where do you draw the line? And one must not be surprised if tomorrow the Brahmins, Rajputs, Bhumihars, and any other community left out, take to the streets claiming OBC status.
The Patel community carries tremendous political and economic clout and if they take to the streets any more than they already have, PM Modi will have a very serious situation on hand. He has little choice but to give in, just as various governments before his gave in to demands of various communities, if he hopes to get his party another term in Gujarat. But that is a price to pay when you open a Pandora’s Box that you are not sure of. The box was opened in 1989 and India is still discovering the price.
Where next, is a question best left till tomorrow? For today, let’s just handle the crisis. Sounds familiar?
Patel community called for ‘Gujarat Bandh’ on 18 April 2016
After a massive influx of violence in parts of Gujarat and a huge Patel community rally held in Mehsana, the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) and Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) called for a ‘Gujarat Bandh’ on 18 April 2016. In view of this, the state government decided to deploy five companies of Rapid Action Force (RAF) in three Gujarat cities viz: Ahmedabad, Mehsana and Surat. Additionally, 20 companies of the State Reserve Police (SRP) were also deployed across Gujarat.
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