Hours after the Anandiben Patel government sent written invitation to the agitating Patidars for talks over their demand for OBC status, it met disappointment as Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) core committee, led by Hardik Patel, gave a miss to the meeting scheduled at 6 pm on Saturday at the residence of Health Minister Nitin Patel. The government, which wants to see the August 25 massive rally in Ahmedabad cancelled, is likely to try once again to arrange the meeting by a high-level committee comprising seven ministers on Sunday. The committee, led by Nitin Patel, has been appointed by Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. Hardik Patel, PAAS convener, said, “We have not received any written invite.”
The government sent an invite at short notice, through a circular by the General Administration Department (GAD), around noon for the meeting in the evening in Gandhinagar. When the Patidars did not turn up, seven ministers waited for around an hour and then left for another meeting called by the CM at her residence. Other senior ministers were also part of this meeting.
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The government had earlier not sent the invite with names. However, following a meeting at the CM’s residence late on Friday night, it decided to invite the emerging new leaders of the Patidars — 22-year-old Hardik Patel and five others. PAAS has also maintained that the government’s invite was nothing but a ploy to avoid the August 25 rally. Given the massive mobilisation and preparations at the GMDC ground in Ahmedabad and across the state for the rally, the government that has come under tremendous pressure by the community known as the BJP loyalist, was left with no choice but to invite the PAAS leaders. Earlier, on August 17, the high-level committee had held talks with senior Patidar leaders, who declared it a “failure”.
For the government, it looks like a tough battle. For the Patels don’t seem to relent. “Kadva nahin, Leuva nahi, P for Patidar” scream the placards at the Patidar rallies, suggesting how the two rival sects of Patels — the landowner and farming community — have come together to declare themselves as “backward” to get reservation benefits in higher education and government jobs.
Even as the Gujarat government, led by a Patel chief minister, appears to be challenged by her own community, it seems keen to arrest the mega August 25 rally in Ahmedabad. The agitation think tank has invoked Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel for inspiration. The control centre for the agitation, ironically, is set up in Sola area of Ahmedabad — which falls in Anandiben’s assembly constituency, Ghatlodia, also because it is an area of Patel clout. Hardik Patel, the 22-year old face of the agitation, belongs to Viramgam, a taluka in Ahmedabad.
The Patidars have used every possible social media to mobilise the community to reach Ahmedabad in order to gather 40 lakh people for the Tuesday rally. It is believed that those coming from outside for the rally will not have to pay toll tax: “Our ancestors gave the land and the government carved a road.”
The PAAS rally, galvanised by Hardik, president of Sardar Patel Sevadal in Viramgam, had a face-off with the government which refused to allow the rally to be organised on the Sabarmati Riverfront. Instead, permission was granted for the GMDC ground. But the Patels are adamant about gathering on the Sabarmati Riverfront, along the Ashram road.
Jignesh Patel, an Ahmedabad-based businessman, said, “People, who are coming from far-flung places, have been asked to bring less vehicles so as not to crowd areas on Ashram road. The rally will see double the turnout than the Surat rally (reportedly four-and-a-half lakh). A lot of people from Mehsana, the home district of the CM, and Visnagar will be arriving on that day. There are Patel lobbies in Ahmedabad in areas like Ghatlodia, Ranip, Maninagar, Mahemdabad and Isanpur which will be activated. Most communication for the rally is done through social media groups. There are plans to organise caps and special dresses for that day.” Rallies in Bardoli, Vadodara and Surendranagar saw several participants dressed completely in white, sporting caps that said, “I am Patidar”.
Clearly delighted at the huge turnout at the recent Surat rally, Vipul Patel, a school teacher at Vande Mataram Higher Secondary School in Amraiwadi, who is in-charge of organising 600 jugs of 20 litres of water each, says, “I will be leading around 100 families of Choryasi village in Panchmahal who reside in Ahmedabad. Anjaana and Kunbi Patels have got reservation and are in the OBC category. Why not Leuva and Kadva Patels too? Since this movement has spread to taluka and panchayat level, CM Anandiben Patel may be under pressure to respond to our demands. May be we will be offered less percentage of reservation. Something can be worked out.”
The PAAS has created several Facebook pages and an equal number of WhatsApp groups to send across the details of Ahmedabad rally, which they have been calling “August Kranti Rally” (August Revolution Rally). The PAAS members in Ahmedabad have also been holding ward-wise meetings to spread the message. These meetings are being held by local residents in their mohallas and societies in the evenings. College students are being mobilised and they are hoping that colleges will declare August 25 a holiday so that they can take part in the Ahmedabad rally. The PAAS is hopeful that college administrations across Gujarat will adhere to their request.
“Those who want to participate have been asked to reach Ahmedabad a day before,” said Chirag Patel, a PAAS member. The Patidars,whose number in Ahmedabad city could be around 20 lakh, have been asked to open their homes to visitors from other places. Besides, the community members are arranging lodging and boarding in the community halls in the city. In Surat and surrounding districts, the focus is on mobilising the diamond and textile units, which are run by Patels, mostly having roots in Saurashtra.
More than two lakh Patidars from Surat and its neighbouring villages are expected to join the upcoming mega rally of Patidars in Ahmedabad on August 25.
Alpesh Katheriya, Surat convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Committee, said, “All the luxury buses in Surat have been booked on August 24-25 for Ahmedabad from Surat. People will also travel by cars, bikes and trains. Over 1,000 volunteers from Surat will work in coordination with Ahmedabad PAAS. We have also been given the responsibility to arrange for drone cameras and video recording of the Ahmedabad rally.”
In Saurashtra, the leaders are confident. “Rallies have been held at district and taluka levels in Saurashtra to mobilise people. At least 3,500 volunteers from Saurashtra will reach Ahmedabad ahead of the rally,” Ashwin Sorathiya, Sardar Patel Group convener for Saurashtra, said on Wednesday.
But chinks are appearing in the region among groups leading the agitation. In Amreli, the district overwhelmingly dominated by Patidars, Sardar Patel Group (SPG) and All Amreli District Patidar Samaj (AADPS) are not co-ordinated. AADPS convener Haresh Bavishi said that they were targeting to send around 20,000 people to Ahmedabad. “Our target is to send a bus from each village of Amreli. We have activated our teams at taluka levels. We are in the process of booking buses. Every individual willing to participate in the rally will have to pay Rs 500 towards travelling expenses,” Bavishi said.
Sorathiya said that these 3,500 volunteers will be from district and taluka teams of the SPG. “These volunteers will start reaching Ahmedabad from Thursday and will stay there till August 26. We shall erect tents to accommodate them,” Sorathiya, who has been assigned the job of preparing and distributing food-packets to people at the rally, further said.
He further claimed that these 3,500 volunteers had become members of the SPG. However, Amreli district convener for SPG, Parth Dhanani, said they were not coordinating with AADPS and that they will attend the rally only if organisers in Ahmedabad issued proper guidelines for the rally and assure that there will be no violence. “Patels are intelligent community and we don’t want to look bad in the public eye,” he said. Incidentally, AADPS had taken out a rally in Amreli on August 10 but had not displayed any banner of SPG or PAAS.
In Vadodara, around 50 luxury buses and 1,000 cars have been arranged to take the community members to Ahmedabad for the August 25 rally. Committee member Kundan Patel said. “Since our members are coming forward to join the rally every day, the number might increase. The community units in the district areas have decided to arrange their private transport to reach Ahmedabad. We are expecting a turnout of at least 20,000 people from Vadodara itself.”
Members say Hardik visited each area and held meetings. “We all understand the importance of being united at this time and showing support at the rally is only a matter of duty,” said a member.
In Anand, too, young members of the community have taken it upon themselves to ensure a massive participation in the August 25 rally in Ahmedabad, especially after ex-vice-chairman, Amul, Gordhan Patel, died while addressing a Patidar rally last week.
Chetan Patel, the convener of Borsad Taluka Patidar Reservation Committee, said, “We held a gathering of the community members on Monday in Petlad, in which we lost our beloved Gordhanbhai Patel, while he was delivering a message to the youngsters. We have now decided that this fight will continue until the government concedes this reservation and we will not let Gordhanbhai’s death go in vain.”
With inputs from Hiral Dave, Lakshmi Ajay, Gopal Kateshiya, Kamaal Saiyed & Aditi Raja