If one were to enquire about Hardik Patel a couple of months ago, the counter enquiry would have been ‘Hardik who’? But today, if you do a quick online search and just type in ‘Hardik’, Patel is right up there too. That brings us to the question- what is this phenomenon called Hardik Patel. Is it the beginning of the Arab Spring of Gujarat or maybe a beginning of something huge to come across pan India?
Lot of questions come to my mind… Being in public life since mid-eighties I had the good fortune of being a part of many historical Andolans (movements). Be it ‘Jan Morcha’ (where I was a founder member) started by just a handful and led by VP Singh or Mamata Banerjee’s TMC which overthrew 35 years of CPM misrule.
To witness this mammoth crowd, estimated to be over a million, at the Ahmedabad rally organised by little known ‘Patidar Anamat Andolan Samity’ headed by a 21-year-old youngster called Hardik Patel, is astonishing to say the least. Gandhiji took years of planning and criss-crossing of the country before he could gather a decent number of people to listen to his message. VP Singh, in spite of being popular during his Jan Morcha Movement, could never gather such an impressive turnout. So what is it that Hardik has in him that puts him on the map on India within such a short time?
I would not take this movement lightly at all. It appears to have a deep rooted purpose to reach a particular goal not necessarily reservation alone. Then what could this goal or objective be?
1. Is it to remove Gujarat CM Anandiben Patel?
2. Is it to change the outcome of the local body elections about to take place in Gujarat, where BJP does not seem to be doing well?
3. Is the movement against or in support of BJP?
4. Does it have something to do with the outcome of Bihar elections in mind which is very crucial for India’s political future?
Patidar (Patel) community consists of Leva and Kadava Patels, that is about 12 per cent of Gujarat’s population. The common perception is that most of them are rich, hard working and self employed, be it in the farm sector or enterprise and at the same time politically very powerful. No political party can ever ignore them. There have been very powerful Patel political leaders starting with Vallabhbhai Patel, including many Chief Ministers of Gujarat like Babubhai Patel, Chimanbhai Patel, Keshubhai Patel and Anandiben herself, a Patel.
They are so enterprising a community that they are hardly interested in working for others. Even in USA, Patels have become a very popular community known for their hard work and peaceful coexistence. A community known for their enterprising skills. American motels are also nicknamed Potels as Patels owns many of the motels in America! They also own many other businesses like pharmaceuticals and retail outlets.
Then, the logical question is, why do they want reservation in OBC quota? Is that their real objective? On the surface, to me, it does not seem so, as they have been very big supporters of RSS and BJP. The Kisan Sangh consisting of Patels in Gujarat is the most powerful wing of BJP, so if they really wanted a share in OBC quota then they could have just walked to Prime Minister Modi’s residence and talked about it, as they also know that the real power of decision making is not with the CM of Gujarat, it is all concentrated at PM Modi’s doorstep.
That precisely is the reason why such questions arise about what could be the real objective of this movement. Hardik Patel’s message was loud and clear – either you scrap the entire reservation policy or give us also the same opportunity. The movement is gaining support of the upper castes as well who too feel that their children in spite of being meritorious but being poor, do not stand a chance in getting admission in colleges or government jobs. So it bring us to the next question – Is it the beginning of the clash of so called civilisation? Are we to see clashes on the streets? I pray not. How can we forget history that when VP Singh declared the implementation of Mandal Commission, his aim was more politically motivated than anything else as Mandal became his main plank though he won the elections on anti corruption (Bofors).
We also cannot forget that the BJP was quick to go on a so called Kamandal Yatra to counter Mandal and did not hesitate to pull the rug under VP’s government. BJP/RSS have always been against the policy of reservation and truly believe that it is hampering India’s progress.
To have such a mammoth rally needs the backing of not only money power but an experienced organisation to give effect to the cause. This leads to the third question that which could this organisation be? Could it be RSS? Or BJP? As no one else has such capability in Gujarat to support such a movement. The danger is, creating a Hardik Patel, a youth of 21 years, may be relatively easier but to tame a popular youth leader like him, after a mammoth and successful rally, could prove to be a difficult task. Have we not seen that in Punjab?
It is interesting to see that the icon of Narendra Modi and Hardik Patel is common-Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel! It is also of interest to note that young Hardik was delivering his speech in Hindi before a Gujarati crowd which again finds similarity with some of the speeches of Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Hence it is obvious that the message is to India and not to Gujarat alone.
I am sure truth will roll out sooner than later but before that there is a lot of drama to unfold pan India where Hardik will find support from unforeseen quarters. One thing is for sure, once again the issue of reservation policy is going to hog the limelight.
– The author is a former Union Minister and a current Lok Sabha MP representing Barrackore, West Bengal. The views expressed by the author are personal.