In first remarks by a Congress leader on the Patidar agitation for OBC status and reservation in Gujarat, veteran party leader Madhavsinh Solanki, a four-time Chief Minister who rode to power on the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) coalition he stitched in the 1980s and thereby alienated upper castes in the state, said he is confident it will fizzle out “because truth has no role in it”.
While he did not name Hardik Patel who is spearheading the Patidar agitation, Solanki, now 88, said: “This agitation in Gujarat will not last long because truth has no role in it.”
Solanki told The Indian Express Tuesday that the ongoing agitation for OBC status lacked legal sanctity. “Our action (reservation for OBC) was based on provisions of the Constitution of India which provides reservation for backward classes. I only went by the Constitution,” he said.
“You must remember that at that time, people of Gujarat supported reservation for OBCs. In the 1985 election, I got a massive majority in the Gujarat assembly, winning 149 (of 182) seats. Unfortunately, after the election, my own partymen injected communal elements in the anti-reservation agitation. In spite of the historic verdict, I offered to resign.”
Asked why a Patidar agitation now, Solanki said: “Those castes who have got reservation in education and government jobs are getting college admissions and jobs faster than others. The upper castes are seeing how OBC, Dalits and tribals are sharing the pie which was exclusively theirs before reservation. This has created jealousy. The upper castes are asking, why are they taking away what was owned by us.”
“Upper castes in Gujarat (Patels, Brahmins and Baniyas) who are 25 per cent have issues with the other 75 per cent of the people… Patels have never asked for reservation before. To get reservation, one has to apply as a ‘lower caste’. They have never considered themselves neechali jaat.”
In mercantile-dominated Gujarat, 10 per cent reservation for 81 economically and socially backward classes (ESBCs) in the 1980s was not accepted by upper castes students. In later years, reservation on basis of economic parameters was recommended by the Rane Commission but rejected by the Solanki government. Over the years, the list of OBCs has increased to 146 with 27 per cent reservation.
Solanki stitched the KHAM alliance before the 1980 election that completely shifted the power balance from Patel-Brahmins-Baniyas to OBCs, Dalits and tribals in the caste constellation of Gujarat. To counter Solanki’s OBC and KHAM politics, the upwardly mobile Patel community nurtured the BJP.
A lawyer by profession and Kshatriya from Borsad town near Anand, Solanki first became Chief Minister for a brief period in 1977. In the 1980 assembly election, the party won handsomely — 141 of the 182 seats — and the BJP managed only nine.
It was the start of the era of caste-based alliances, the beginning of a process to empower marginal backward classes like never before.
In 1981, when the upper castes led by Patels agitated for two months against his government and the OBC reservation, Solanki met then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
“When Harijans were attacked in Gujarat, Mrs Gandhi asked me about it. She heard my side of the story and said, ‘This is unjustified agitation. Don’t submit.’ She was so supportive of my stand that she arranged to send special police forces in special planes from neighbouring states when Harijans were attacked by upper castes. In early 1982, I could bring back peace for a while.”
In February 1985, when Congress won 149 seats and BJP only 11, it upset the upper castes and the BJP. Non-upper castes votes had all gone into the Congress kitty. Yet this very caste-based victory become Solanki’s nemesis. Patels and other upper castes took to the streets and the situation turned ugly and communal.
“I was told by leaders in Delhi that Pakistan will feel Muslims in Gujarat are not safe and might go to the United Nations. During the crisis, I met V P Singh, then Finance Minister, in New Delhi. He said I faced such a situation in UP and dealt with it. I understood what he meant. I asked for a chit of paper. I wrote that I hereby tender my resignation.”
“Rajiv Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, offered me a post in the central cabinet which I rejected. He sent Arjun Singh to cajole me to accept the post of J&K Governor. But I only asked for a diplomatic passport to visit Europe for six months. I left Gujarat and travelled extensively in Europe.”
In the Narasimha Rao government, Solanki was Foreign Minister. He kicked up a row when, during a visit to Switzerland in 1992, he allegedly met the Swiss foreign minister and told him that inquiries into the Bofors scandal in India had not produced any result, and that politics was behind the Indian request for assistance in the probe.