Politics of PATEL-PATIDAR Agitation

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(Brig (retd) GB Reddi)

Politics of Patel-Patidar agitations, as per media reports, is likely to play a significant role in the outcome of current round of Gujarat elections. Not as simplistic as partisan media suggests! Is the agitation a prelude to “Storm before the Storm” or “Strom before the Calm”?

Hardik Patel, leader of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), has demanded Rahul Ghandy (RG) to unconditionally declare his party’s commitment to meet all PAAS demands. Will RG agree at the cost of spiral of such demands in other States and its backlash? If he does agree, it would be the most opportunistic move with dangerous consequences to follow not only in Gujarat but also set a chain-cycle reaction of upper castes demands and spiral violent protests in almost all other states.

Less debated are the real issues of PAAS agitation and their implications on the social security issues? As usual, partisan, fictional and fake media news coverage is sensationalizing the agitation. Admittedly, media has built up Hardik Patel, a mid 20’s youth, into ‘bigger than life size” personality by extensive and exhaustive coverage just like it did so in the case of Kanhaiya Kumar of JNU sailing on Rohit Vemula’s suicide. Build up of such divisive ‘Icons” does not augur well for nations unity.

Let me attempt to provide a balanced perspective of the PAAS agitation.  One may not help, at least partly, agreeing with those belonging to the OBC, SC and ST groups drubbing politicization of PASS demands for reservations as the most heinous fraud committed on internal national security.

In contrast, one cannot also but help agreeing with the other side belonging to the upper castes condemning the ongoing fraud of reservations even after 70 years also as the most heinous fraud since majority of their brethren suffer from poverty and unemployment particularly in rural areas. In retrospect, both the anti reservation and pro reservation groups are pursuing their groups vested interests.  Naturally, both groups can start protests and violent agitations at the drop of coin.

Let me review the issue from the constitutional view point. By conception, reservation is explicitly and exclusively about redressing caste historic deprivation, discrimination and inequality due to accident of birth. Evidence of discrimination or backwardness is mandatory. So, reservation is ruled out for the dominant castes; but limited initially for only 10 year period. Now, it is ad infinitum.

Meanwhile, over the past 70 years, the Great Indian Pluralist Society has and is undergoing dynamic changes. Those few belonging to deprived sections of society have become rich and super rich – creamy layer – exploiting the benefits of reservations not only for themselves and for their progeny for eternity. In doing so, they have left majority of their ilk in absolute poverty.

Meanwhile, the state of ‘Upper castes’ in society (Gujarat being no exception) has undergone dramatic change. Contrary to popular perception, only 15 per cent of the Patels are rich in Gujarat. As per by the Patidar leaders, nearly 60 per cent of Patidar’s live in villages; of them about 30 per cent have landholdings of less than 10 bighas. No longer, agriculture is considered lucrative. Such farmers look for options other than agriculture for livelihoods. Tremendous uncertainty stares at them.

Ipso facto, flight of land owner families from rural areas to cities is real. And, their children having pursued education in towns and cities do not want to go back to villages.  The more successful ones have migrated to alien countries. Shrinking economic opportunities and downward social mobility are real. And, youth mostly want government jobs. Other avocations do not guarantee life-long security.

Similarly, it is the plight with Reddy’s, Khammas and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh and also the status of upper castes in other states. Many of them had been landlords in bygone days, but the average landholding size has reduced with every passing generation. None want to return to villages.

However, the dominant view today seems to be that any caste can get reservation if it can bend the state to its will. No wonder, the Patidar’s like their counterparts in other parts under different caste labels, are agitating to become the sons-in-law of the State. This bizarre demand is flummoxing political parties without exception at wits end to manage chain-cycle demands and violent protests by disgruntled elements all over the country – reservation and anti reservation violent protests.

For example, over the past two decades, the Jat community of UP and Haryana had been indulging in Road and Rail Rasta Roko agitations. Even the Andhra Pradesh based organization Agra Kula Ikya Vedika, a forum of upper castes, with representatives from Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vysya, Kamma, Reddy, Velama, and Kapu communities, met and demanded that the reservation be based on economic status instead of caste and religion on 14 September 2015. In September 2016, an agitation for reservation for Maratha in Maharashtra intensified. Soon upper castes all over would rise.

Today, Patidar’s represents 12.3% of the population of Gujarat. They can swing the election results in as much as 75-80 assembly constituencies. Even their counterparts like Reddy’s, Khammas, and Kapus in Andhra Pradesh dominate sizeable number of seats in their respective regions.

In retrospect, the Patidar demand may be considered ridiculous. After all, they are descendents of Aryans; direct descendants of Ram’s son Lav and Kush as per one school; Kshatriya who first settled in Punjab;  known as (1) Rajan-Raj (2) Kshatriya (3) Kurmi-Kshatriya (not descendants of Ram’s son Lav and Kush); Kurri’s (land owners) migrated to Gujarat 400 to 700 A.D; no classes, no sub castes and no groups 500 years ago; origin of Patel traced to 300 years ago and Patidar during Aurangzeb’s time and those authorized to collect land revenue known as Amin; and Desai’s during Peshwa rule.

Most importantly, Patel is renowned community in the world:  No.1 surname in Gujarat, No 2 surname in India, and No 11 in world. 1, 23,452 Patidar are living in Great Britain itself. In Leicester, Patel comes 1st, Wolverhampton comes 3rd and London comes 3rd. At one stage in 1960s, the community had a significant presence among East African coast countries. Today, they have a fair share in the industrial scene in Gujarat. India’s 15% of business and Gujarat’s 70% of business owners are Patel. World’s sixth richest surname that is PA’TEL.   Apart from big names like Karsanbhai Patel of Nirma, Pankaj Patel of Zydus Group, or Savji Dholakia of Harekrishna Diamonds, there are nearly 6,146 industrial units in Gujarat which have a turnover of over Rs 10 crore. Of this, nearly 1700 units belong to Patels, 720 belong to Jains, and 320 belong to Brahmins and the remaining to other castes, as per data in public domain.

Nonetheless, Patidar community also faces class-differentiation within the community. Since 1988, the Patidar ‘Panch’, which met in Daor with 10,000 representatives present, has been making efforts to remove the inequality among Patidar’s, but could not agree amongst themselves. As a result the Circle (Gors) (Lauva – Patidar’s) was established. Such internal divide is a factor to reckon with.

Furthermore, the caste based politicization of Gujarat and its linkages to reservation agitations is not a new phenomenon.  Political parties are squarely to be blamed for playing the diabolical game of caste politics particularly the Congress Party since 1960s. In 1967, Bhailal Patel mobilized Patidar’s and Kshatriya to give the Congress Party supremacy. In 1980s, the OBC leader Madhavsinh Solanki of Congress Party introduced reservation for socially and economically backward castes (SEBC) based on recommendations of Bakshi Commission. So, Rahul Ghandy (RG) cannot claim “holier than thou” stance.

Violent anti-reservation agitations across the state broke out that resulted in more than one hundred deaths. Solanki resigned in 1985 but returned to power based on KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims) alliance winning 149 out of 182 assembly seats. His Kham theory isolated the Patidar’s, who went to side with the BJP in the anti-reservation protests of the 1980’s. BJP brought in the Hindutva card (bringing all backward communities under the BJP umbrella) to counter the Kham effect.

Initially, the SEBC (later the OBC) list initially comprised 81 communities, which by 2014 had expanded to 146 communities. In the 1980s the proportion of reserved seats was 10%; by 2014 it had increased to 27%.

In 2015, drawing inspiration from the agitation by the Gujjar community in Rajasthan, the PAAS headed by Hardik Patel was formed supported by Sardar Patel Sevadal, an organization for community service. The organization described itself as apolitical. Social media helped to spread the protest quickly across the state. There were incidents of violence and arson across the state, resulting in curfews.

The government announced a scheme which offered scholarships and subsidies to general category students and uniforms and free books in school education on 24 September 2015 and a 10% quota of spaces reserved for economically backward classes in April 2016. The government also announced its intention to increase intake in medical and engineering education.

Hardik Patel called the scheme as a “lollipop” and launched a “lollipop movement” in which lollipops were distributed to community members across the state. Hardik Patel has famously said in one rally: “The lotus will not bloom in 2017”. Some Patidar leaders and organizations criticized Hardik Patel for his and PAAs tactics. Four major Patidar organizations denied any involvement in the agitation.

Sensing an electoral opportunity, RG blamed the Modi government and called the agitation a repercussion of the “politics of anger”.  On 1 October, 2015, Gurudas Kamat, General Secretary of the INC, announced its support for the agitation and demanded nationwide reservation for 15-20% population from the economically weaker section (EWS) of society.

When the petitions were filed against 10% EBC reservation, it was quashed by the Gujarat High Court in August 2016 citing it as unconstitutional. The government moved to the Supreme Court challenging the order. The Supreme Court gave an interim direction to not allow fresh admissions or recruitment under the EBC reservation. The ordinance for EBC reservation lapsed on 4 October.

Meanwhile, leaders of the communities already having OBC status opposed the agitation. OBC Ekta Manch along with Gujarat Kshatriya Thakor Sena held a counter-protest.  Furthermore, leaders of several other Gujarat communities, including the Brahmin, Thakors, Vaishnava, Rajput, Sindhi, Kansara, Soni and Raghuvanshi communities, also started agitation for reservation along similar lines.

Some media channels reported Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, as expressing solidarity with agitation, which he denied. Sharad Yadav advised dismissing the agitators’ demands, calling them unjustified, and said that the reason behind the agitation is a lack of job opportunities. Biju Janata Dal MP Baijayant Panda said the angst of the Patidar community is justified by the scarcity of jobs.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested a review of the effectiveness of reservations. In an interview in the RSS’s periodical Sadhna, national spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said that he supports the reservation given to SC and ST based on historical injustice, but criticized Hardik Patel for his speech and divisive tactics.

Contrary to predictions, in November 2016 local body elections, despite several Patidar leaders appeals  against BJP, yet, the BJP won 109 seats while INC won 17 seats, 39 less than the last elections.

As per experts, the idea of reservation is related to the idea of India. As an idea, reservation predates the nation. It was meant to establish the community of formal equals that is a precondition for nationhood – casteless society. And, it is forgotten due to lack of political consensus and will. As a result, economically backward upper castes deem it their right to seek reservations across the spectrum as a natural right of a “Welfare State”. So, they are pursuing their ends using their electorally significant population, and mobilization skills due to social media outreach and media manipulation to coerce the state to yield to their demands. Unemployment, lack of access to higher and professional education is means to justify ends.

How will it end? The results of Gujarat elections will determine its future course. After all, the final electoral results are culmination of interplay of highly complex variables. If there is backlash and polarization of the remaining over 85% of other castes and communities, then Hardik Patel and the PAAS may get consigned to the dust bin of history. Alternatively, spiral of divisive forces may be real.

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