A day after violence marred the rally by the Patels for OBC status, the Gujarat government on Friday denied permission for a similar agitation on Monday, even as it remained wary of taking head-on the community, considered to be powerful and wealthy.
Since the beginning of this months, youths belonging to the Patidar or Patel community have been holding rallies demanding OBC status and reservation in government jobs. Following a clash between the agitators and police in Visnagar, Mehsana, on Thursday, the government withdrew its nod for a rally by the community members in Vijapur, also in the same district.
“The group was earlier given the permission for a rally in Vijapur(Mehsana district) for July 27. But following violent incidents on Thursday, it has been cancelled,” said Vijapur Mamlatdar D B Tank. However, the authorities, so far, have not decided to stop the Patels for taking out rallies scheduled for August 3 in Gandhinagar and August 4 in Kadai.
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Sardar Patel Sevadal, which identifies itself as a non-political organisation protecting rights and interests of the Patels, supported such agitations in six cities, including Rajkot and Vadodara, but unlike Visnagar where reportedly around 30,000 people joined the demonstration, the response in other places was lukewarm. The Sevadal claims to have roots in Mehsana, the home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief Minster Anandiben Patel and BJP president Amit Shah.
Police, on the basis of a complaint by a journalist injured in the violence, have registered a case of against the organisers of the rally, even as Visnagar MLA Rishikesh Patel, whose office was ransacked during the agitation by the members of both Leuva and Kadva Patels, decided not to lodge an FIR in this connection.
Though the two sub-communities — Leuva and Kadva — are traditionally competitors, the Sevadal led by a local, Lalji Patel, is trying to bring them together. It is this unity that can be a threat for BJP, which for over two decades now has loyalty of the Patidars.
“To allow a rally or not, is in purview of local administration and they should decide it,” said MoS for Home Rajnikant Patel, who also hails from Mehsana district and represents Becharaji constituency.
Claiming ignorance over the stand taken by the Visnagar MLA, Rajnikant Patel said: “I have ordered police to register an FIR in what happened in the event of rally. They have been asked to check CCTV footage.” Anandiben herself holds the cabinet-level portfolio for the home department.
On demand from his community for the OBC status, the home minister said, “It is a constitutional matter. The government is for everyone. If they will come and talk, the government will see what can be done.”
Meanwhile, Lalji Patel, who was taken ill on Friday, said the Patels would be taking the agitation further.”We will be going ahead with it, though we no longer have the permission,” said Rakesh Patel, Mehsana district president of the Sevadal, on the behalf of Lalji Patel.
The Patels’ protest, however, remained subtle as it was during the rule of Narendra Modi. Their slogans or banners avoided direct attack on any political leader. While the seeming discontent protests against Modi were rooted in Saurashtra, this one purported against the current government is rooted in their home district of Mehsana.
The government has seven Patel ministers and 44 of the total 182 MLAs in the Assembly are from the community.
But, the recent protest does not have any apparent support of a political leader — this agitation appears from the grassroots and is run by little known faces. What could hurt the image of the Chief Minister just before the local body elections is the fact that the agitation has roots in her own district and by both the groups, the Leuvas as well as the Kadvas.
Even, Modi had to fight such rebellion in Saurashtra, but it was only by the Leuvas.
The Sevadal, which has formed its own emergency response service called SPS-108, strongly denies intention to form any political alliances even in the future. “Its a social and not political movement. No one from us is ever going to contest any elections or join political party,” said Rakesh Patel.
Meanwhile, the Visnagar police registered on Friday a case in connection with the violence under Section 395 (dacoity), 435 (mischief by fire or explosive substance with intent to cause damage), 427 (mischief causing damage) 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others) of the Indian Penal Code and the Bombay Police Act.
Visnagar Inspector M H Vaghela said, “On the basis of the complaint of the journalist (Suresh Vanol), we have booked the main persons who organised the rally that turned violent. The case has been booked against A K Patel (convenor of the Patidar Anamat Samiti), Krunal Patel (NSUI member), Parth Patel (NSUI president), Hardik Patel, Lalji Patel (both from the Sevadal), Rajendra Patel, Hemant Ramnik of Visnagar and a mob of around 500 persons.”
With inputs from Ujjwala Nayudu