Nearly six months after the Patidar quota leader Hardik Patel was sent to jail under sedition charges, the agitation that looked like it was being frittered away in events like a unity march through Saurashtra, relay fasts, and even a feast of lapsi (a traditional sweet of wheat granules, ghee and jaggery), has exploded once again.
The impetus seems to have come from the BJP government in Haryana, led by Manohar Lal Khattar, giving into the Jats’ agitation and passed a draft bill granting them reservation. On May 10, the Jats have planned a demonstration in Delhi to demand a similar quota for Jats across India.
In Gujarat, reaching a compromise has not been as easy. The day the Haryana government announced the quota for Jats, Vitthal Radadiya, a BJP MP and Patidar leader from Saurashtra became a mediator and met Hardik twice. He took his list of 27 demands to the Gujarat government and gave assurances that there would be a compromise and the cases against the Patidars would be withdrawn. Radadiya’s intervention came after the panel of seven ministers led by Nitin Patel, failed to come to a compromise.
Meanwhile, a new body of Patidars, the wealthy among them, and purportedly backed by the RSS, rose in Surat under the banner of the “Patidar Sangh” founded by Dinesh Navadia, president of the Surat Diamond Association who is also a VHP member. A protest fast by them last week, saw the participation of Patidar BJP functionaries, primarily demanding the release of Patidars still in jail.
The Patidars, including Hardik, are booked under a charge as serious as sedition, and the case is now in the courts for a decision, and no longer in the control of the political executive. The Patidars are also upset that the Anandi Patel government has not stopped looking at their movement as “anti-national”.
Last week, the Mehsana mamlatdar issued orders saying that the Jail bharo andolan to be launched by the Patidars demanding the release of their leaders, on Sunday in Mehsana and Surat, was “illegal and anti-national”. The notification went viral on social media pages controlled by Patidar groups with these words highlighted.
Anandiben talked peace on Twitter but her comment to the media at a government event in south Gujarat on the day the Patidars courted arrest – “Agitations will go on, our job is to serve” – also annoyed the Patidars. The Patidars’ focus on Mehsana is strategic because it is not only the home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi but also that of the CM and several ministers in the Gujarat government.
Last week, the Gujarat government removed its police chief, DGP PC Thakur, quite unceremoniously – a move widely seen to be due to the “bad handling” of the Patidar agitation. A section of the BJP is of the view that sedition was too harsh a charge to slap on a community which has been its loyal vote bank, and that it could prove fatal for the BJP looking to fight its first assembly election in 2017, post Narendra Modi, where caste and community equations will have to be delicately balanced.
The main demands of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) and Sardar Patel Group led by Lalji Patel are the formation of a Patidar Aayog (a commission for the welfare of the community), release of their leaders from jails, the withdrawal of cases against them, and construction of schools and colleges for Patidar students in all talukas.
This second round of alleged “Patidar-police clashes” with pictures of bloodied Patidar leaders circulated on social media, are signs of continuing unease in the search for compromise between the state and the agitators.