Since the beginning of July, youths belonging to Gujarat’s economically and politically influential Patidar or Patel community have been agitating for OBC status that would give them quotas in college admissions and government jobs. After covering a dozen major centres, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) held a large rally in Gandhinagar on August 3. Their leader, 21-year-old Hardik Patel, a Mehsana businessman, has threatened to escalate the agitation to the levels of the Gujjar protests in Rajasthan.
The government sat up after a rally in Visnagar, Mehsana, turned violent and journalists were attacked. In a first, the Mehsana police booked 152 Patels for violating prohibitory orders, after they took out a rally in Vijapur recently. The protesters have attempted to co-opt Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel as a ‘Patel icon’. On August 4, PAAS leaders took umbrage at the Surat police allegedly asking them if they had “mistresses and girlfriends”. Their rally in Surat, planned for August 17, is yet to be cleared by the police.
What is the protesters’ argument?
They want “backward” status for the landed Patels because, they claim, they do not have the backing of any political party. According to them, a vulnerable section of the community has been suffering as a result of reservations for other communities. Patels are around 20% of Gujarat’s population.
What is the history of OBC quotas?
The idea of quotas was mooted in 1973, 13 years after the formation of the state, by Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki of the Congress, who was himself an OBC. Solanki appointed a three-member commission led by Justice (retd) Anantprasad R Bakshi, and comprising Dr Taraben Patel, a professor of sociology from Gujarat University, and C N Vakil, a professor of economics from MS University, to recommend communities for Gujarat’s OBC list. The commission submitted its report in 1976, after which 82 communities were recognised as OBCs. In 1981, the state announced a 10% quota for OBCs. The state subsequently appointed the Gopal Krishna Commission and Rane Commission, which added communities to the Bakshi Commission’s list. Gujarat now has a permanent OBC Commission in Gandhinagar, headed by former Gujarat High Court judge Sugnya Bhatt.
How many communities are on the OBC list currently?
According to sociologist Prof Gaurang Jani, Gujarat now has 146 notified OBCs. The last community to be added to the list was ‘Darjis’ or tailors. The Modh Ghanchi community to which Prime Minister Narendra Modi belongs, is on the list. Seventeen of these 146 communities are Muslim, such as Sipai, Pinjara, Muslim Ghanchi, etc.
How does a community get OBC status?
A community or its members can approach the OBC Commission with an application, supported by material to back their claim. This could be old documents, and even legends. The Commission orders a census of the community to check their numbers, and social and educational status. Literacy levels, especially among women, are a key indicator. If it is convinced of the claim, it may recommend OBC status for the community, and the government then issues a notification.