Patel protests for OBC quota a new dilemma for BJP2 min read . Updated: 26 Aug 2015, 11:48 AM IST
21-year-old Hardik Patel, who was leading the Patel rally for reservation, was briefly detained even as the mob resorted to violence in the city
Ahmedabad: As Prime Minister Narendra Modi leads his party’s campaign for the assembly polls in Bihar, in his home state of Gujarat, the prosperous and influential Patel community is stepping up a campaign to be granted the status of an Other Backward Class (OBC), and the benefits that go with it.
On Tuesday, 21-year-old Hardik Patel addressed a crowd of over half a million people at the sprawling Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation (GMDC) grounds in Ahmedabad to press the demand.
Patel, a commerce graduate, has emerged as the face of the campaign by the community that traditionally has backed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Modi.
His demand: include the Patels among the OBCs or scrap the reservation system entirely.
The Patel community took to the streets of Ahmedabad donning white caps reminiscent of the ones worn during the anti-corruption movement led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal at Delhi’s Ramlila grounds in 2011.
Invoking Sardar Patel, India’s first home minister, Patel chanted the slogan “Har Ghar Sardar", similar to the “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi" slogan intoned by followers of Modi in the 2014 general election campaign.
Patel, who is a member of the Patidar Aarakshan Andolan Samiti that’s spearheading the campaign for OBC status for the Patels, said that if the demand is not met, the BJP would be voted out in Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections. “If there is no quota for us, we will not allow the lotus (the election symbol of the BJP) to bloom," he said.
Later in the day, several incidents of violence were reported in Ahmedabad and Gujarat, even as police resorted to lathicharge and lobbed teargas shells to control the situation. Buses were torched and the mob took to stone-pelting to counter the police. Gujarat home minister Rajnikant Patel’s house in Mehsana was burnt down. Violence was reported in Surat as well.
Hardik Patel, who sat on a hunger strike during the day was detained briefly by the police. After his release, he accused the police of terrorising Patels to suppress the agitation.
The Patels constitute about 14% of Gujarat’s population. The community, primarily agriculturists, also have influence in various sectors such as dairy farming, textiles and diamonds. In the ruling BJP, the chief minister, seven other top ministers, the state party unit chief, six members of Parliament from Gujarat and about two dozen state legislators are from the Patel community.
A worried Gujarat government has formed a seven-member committee to handle the issue.
On Monday, Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel said that as per the Constitution and judgements of Supreme Court, “the government cannot make any changes in the structure of reservations for SCs (Scheduled Castes), STs (Scheduled Tribes) and OBCs, nor can the government give reservation beyond 50%". Gujarat has already reached this prescribed limit.
Modi, who was chief minister of Gujarat from 2001 to 2014, has rarely invoked his OBC status in his public speeches, using promises of development and good governance instead to appeal to the electorate.
The agitation comes amid a demand for the release of caste census data by the centre that could form the basis for increased reservations of university seats and government jobs for the marginalized and downtrodden and lead to separate outlays for welfare programmes for them.
“The agitation by the Patels can be blessing in disguise for the centre that is soon to come out with its census report. The government needs a context in case the caste census ignites demand for enhanced reservation," said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.