Patidar reservation agitation: Student holds a system to ransom
A youth without the academic ability to secure even qualifying marks ignites Gujarat over the issue of reservation for a community that is anything but backward
Vijay Sanghvi Delhi
Gujarat is once again in flames over the sensitive issue of reservations, though not so much for jobs in the government as for admission to higher technical education institutes. For the middle classes it is an incendiary issue as it has the potential to make or mar the future of the young generation. They remember the ease with which they secured admission to engineering colleges even with 80 per cent marks before the reservations were scaled up to 49 per cent with a quota of 27 per cent for Other Backward Classes in 1985. Now, even with 94 per cent marks in board examinations, admission-seekers worry about whether they can get into a quality institution. This is the major reason for the anger that spilled onto the streets on August 25 in Ahmedabad.
Over the years, reservations may have demolished the disadvantages of social, educational and economic backwardness by admitting even those students who did not secure qualifying marks. Not many Dalits or backwards may have benefitted from these reservations, but it certainly frustrated the dreams of several thousand aspirants from the upper strata who had only revulsion for the reservation policy of the government. Their contempt for reservation often converted into hatred for these castes as they felt that lower-strata youngsters benefitted at their cost.
Twenty-two-year-old Hardik Patel from a village in Mehsana district of Gujarat was also frustrated as he could not get admission to either an engineering college or a medical college because of his low marks. Instead of blaming himself for not getting qualifying marks, he held the entire system responsible and resorted to demonstration and violence. He has no ideology or even understanding of socio-economic norms guiding society. His experience in politics was limited to outbursts against politicians from the platform of the Aam Aadmi Party in the last Lok Sabha election.
Patel decided to rouse passion by using his gift for the gab. He was aware that his demand for abolition of reservation would not be acceptable as it might invite the wrath of the deprived classes and the Dalit as it had in 1985. He trained his guns on demanding reservation for his community by treating them on a par with Other Backward Classes. It was not a just demand for the Patel community, as ‘Patel’ is not a community but a word that signifies the higher status of a person in rural society owing to his resources and wisdom, and Patidar means lease-holder or landlord. Patels are not socially, educationally or economically backward – the criteria for inclusion in the reserved category. Large numbers of Patels settle in North America as well as in England and Africa, which is evidence of their progressed status.
They are listed as a wealthy ethnic community in the US and many multi-millionaires among them were driven out of Zimbabwe and other African countries during anti-India violence. One must remember that without social, educational and economic status, they would not have flourished in their adopted lands. Village after village in Charotar region of Gujarat boasts of many multi-millionaire Patidar families. The person they idolise, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, had opposed the concept of reservation to help the poor as discriminatory. However, the concept was adopted after his death in 1950. Instead, the Sardar had inspired his followers to organise cooperatives, particularly to enable the depressed classes in the Charotar region, mostly cowherders, to earn dignity with income from animal husbandry. The Kaira District Co-opeative Milk Producers’ Union Ltd at Anand is a symbol of his inspiration, sustaining millions of families who live lives of dignity. On no count can Patidars justify their claim to be treated as backward and be awarded reservation.
Yet, Hardik Patel was able to draw huge crowds in 22 rallies that he addressed in the state from the first week of July. His words were sharp and biting, regaling the crowds as he hit out at the powers that be. Bharatiya Janata Party insiders, displeased with the present regime of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, a direct nominee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, were happy that young Hardik was becoming a thorn in her side. But none came forward either to support his demand or oppose it. The Congress also preferred to remain silent on the issue. However, many believed that the mass demonstration and revolt by the Patels was the outcome of the internal feud in the ruling party in the state as well as an expression of anger against the
But politics has been reduced to entertaining suspicion amongst leaders. The media also sees a big conspiracy in the agitation to derail the BJP government or economy of the state. Some even found evidence to support their belief that it was an inside job to distract the Prime Minister and frustrate his plans to rope in huge foreign investment to accelerate the pace of economic development. People resorted to convoluted logic to suggest that the Sangh Parivar and the Congress had joined hands to fan the riot in Gujarat to put Modi on
These suspicions and theories were without foundation. No party has the capability or resources to mobilise millions. The organisers’ claim that 13 lakh people attended the rally in Ahmedabad lacks credibility as the city has no grounds to accommodate such a huge number. The number may not have exceeded even three lakh but the mobilisation was not through organised effort. The social media played a big role again.
The youth of other upper castes opposed to reservation converged at the rally to swell the numbers. Strangely, Hardik chose to speak in Hindi to an audience comprised only of Gujarati-speaking people. Not only in Ahmedabad, at virtually every rally he spoke in Hindi. It may mean that he was addressing the audience that depends on television networks and lives outside Gujarat. It may be that he was entertaining notions of a political future for himself. He denied close association with Arvind Kejriwal even though a photo of him riding in a car with Kejriwal during the latter’s Gujarat visit was presented to nail his lie.
Isaac Newton said that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The reaction to the demonstation was violence. Hardik’s fiery words were enough to cause consternation and anger in the classes that were under threat of being deprived of their reservation quotas. Violence erupted simultaneously in 12 small and large towns of Gujarat within hours of the conclusion of the rally. The police was merciless and chased rioters to their homes to cane them. On their part, the policemen may have had a reason to be angry at fiery demands for a share in reservation benefits for new entrants. Hardik claimed to believe in non-violent methods but his words resonated a different belief.