Challenged by the Patidar agitation demanding OBC status there is little that the Gujarat government can do, technically, to meet the demand.
Patidars are traditional landowners and considered wealthy. The two Patel groups – Kadva and Leuvas — commonly go by the surname of Patel, and together constitute nearly 20 per cent of Gujarat’s population.
Gujarat already has 146 castes and communities on its OBC list, defined by their socially and educationally backward status. The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) led mostly by youth leaders — largely businessmen – want the inclusion of Patels in the OBC list to avail 27 per cent reservation in professional colleges and government jobs.
However, to be included in that category, they would have to fit into the definition of “socially and educationally backward” which will be decided by the OBC commission. The best that the Anandiben government could do is to release the data of the socio-economic and caste census of 2011 to determine where exactly the Patels stand and propose a formula to take care of the “poor, backward Patidars”.
The Patidars argue that one section of Patels — the Anjana Chaudhary Patels mostly of north Gujarat who are agrarian — have OBC status, so they should get OBC reservation.
Their campaign, run mostly on social media, appeals more at the emotional level than technical. Sample some of its rhetoric on Facebook and Twitter: Patels were forced to leave their motherland and settle abroad because of lack of opportunities at home (Patels are the largest community of Indian diaspora especially in the UK and US). One Patel twitter handle says, “The three mistakes of my life: Gender: Male, Category: General, Qualification: Engineer”.
On the other hand, sample the mobilisation of the August 25 maha rally in Ahmedabad: one Patidar website listing out the logistics for the rally has named at least 25 community halls run by the community where the participants could stay; it announces a free ride to Ahmedabad for those using luxury buses run by ‘Patel Travels’, a private firm, and there is also a list of places where food will be served.
Anandiben, herself a Leuva Patel from Mehsana (the agitation has roots there), has repeatedly cited the Supreme Court ruling of 1992 that no state could have reservations of more than 50 per cent. Gujarat has a 49 per cent reservation (27 for OBC, 7 for ST and 15 for SC).
Patels have been a formidable vote bank for the BJP. The sheer number of people who have participated in the rallies across the state and who are expected to turn out on August 25, is alarming. It threatens to create a law and order problem in Ahmedabad.
The government does not seem to have the wherewithal to counter or pacify the Patidars, notwithstanding the number of Patels in the decision-making process — six ministers in the current state government, excluding Anandiben, 44 MLAs (37 from BJP and rest from Congress), five of 26 MPs. Also, the BJP Gujarat chief Ranchhodas Faldu and one of its national vice-presidents Purshottam Rupala, are Patels.
A share of the political pie, is not what the Patidar appears to be demanding — right now, at least. This Patidar uprising is very different from the last one of 2012 led under the banner of the Khodaldham trust that seemed to challenge former CM Narendra Modi and remained confined to politicians from BJP and Congress.
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