A crucial meeting between Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and PAAS leader Hardik Patel is likely next week
Ahmedabad: The Congress is close to striking a deal with the Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) for Gujarat elections, something that could potentially expand its social base in the state. A politically crucial meeting between Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and Hardik Patel is likely to take place next week.
A deal if clinched would be crucial as Patels, with a 12-14% vote share, can potentially influence election results in favour of a particular political party. The support of the community is also significant because the Patels have been key to the repeated wins by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) since 1995 in Gujarat. In the last few years, however, cracks have emerged in this relationship.
In a meeting between Congress and PAAS leaders this week, the former accepted three of the four demands put forward by the community including withdrawal of criminal cases against Patels, charges of sedition against Hardik Patel and setting up a high-level inquiry into the police action leading to the death of some of the protesters in August 2015.
A PAAS member when contacted said that on reservation, the Congress has sought time to consult legal experts.
The 24-year-old leader of the powerful Patidar community had earlier given an ultimatum to the Congress leaders to meet their demands or face the political ire of the community. Hardik Patel had asked Congress leaders to make their stand clear on how it can meet the demand for educational and job reservations for his community within the constitutional framework. The state elects a new assembly in a two-phased election to be held on 9 and 14 December. The results will be declared on 18 December.
On Saturday, Patel demanded the Congress clarify its stand by 3 November, when Rahul Gandhi addresses a rally in Surat. However, this deadline has now been extended to 7 November.
Gujarat Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said the party is willing to give 20% quota to Patidars and other economically backward communities and would introduce a bill if the party is elected in Gujarat. He said that the Congress would work to extend reservation to Patels without making any changes in the current quota limit of 49.5%.
Another Congress leader who did not wish to be named said the party would try to make constitutional amendments to provide for reservation in education and jobs to economically backward classes.
Hardik, who earlier said that he was open to an alliance with Congress, has even suggested in the past that they should be given reservation under the other backward classes (OBC) category. However, OBC leader Alpesh Thakor officially joined Congress in presence of Rahul Gandhi in Gandhinagar on 23 October and any move to appease the Patels by promising reservation under OBC quota will lead to a backlash from the community that forms about 40% of the state’s population.
In order to address the Patidars’ demand, the BJP government had declared 10% reservation for economically backward classes among the higher castes through an ordinance in May 2016. PAAS rejected it, calling it a “lollipop".
According to Alok Prasanna Kumar, visiting fellow at the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, an independent advisory group, the move to offer reservation on economic grounds was “pure tokenism".
“I don’t think a law granting reservations to Patels will stand scrutiny in courts simply because as it stands, there is no material to show Patels are educationally and socially backward. Furthermore, reservation on purely economic grounds is not permitted under the Constitution."