RAJEEV KHANNA | 19 AUGUST, 2015
Gujarat Chief Minister with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
AHMEDABAD: The agitation started by the economically and politically influential Patel community in Gujarat has rattled the state government which is grappling to contain it. Experts are of the view that this may lead to a caste war in rural Gujarat if it spreads to the countryside.
The Patels or Patidars, as they are locally known, are seeking reservation under the Other Backward Class (OBC) category. Having held a massive rally in Varaccha area of Surat two days ago, they plan to hold a major show of strength on the Sabarmati Riverfront on August 25.
Observers feel that the issue has the potential to snowball into a major socio-political issue that could spell major embarrassment for the BJP in its citadel of Gujarat.
While efforts are being made to decipher the developments through a political prism, experts and observers are trying to interpret the socio-economic developments that have led to this agitation by a community which is seen as the closest ally of the Sangh Parivar in Gujarat.
Eminent sociologist Gaurang Jani told this correspondent, “ Patels seeking reservation meant for economically and educationally backward sections is a contradiction in itself. The development has all the potential to turn into a caste war in rural Gujarat whereby the Patels would be pitted against backward communities like Rabaris, Chaudharys and Thakores. The other backward communities are coming together against Patels.”
Ironically, 56 members of the 182 member state assembly are from the Kaduva and Leuva Patel community. Gujarat Chief minister Anandiben Patel has no less than half a dozen ministers in her cabinet from the community.
“What is surprising is that the government has not come out with a single advertisement in the media educating the people on OBC reservations. Neither has Anandiben Patel said anything on the issue,” Jani said. He said that the issue seemed to be set to move forward, although this was at best a guess at this moment.
Sources disclosed that there are some vested interests from within the two major parties, the BJP and the Congress, with regards to the developments. A section within the BJP supported the movement in the beginning with a view to curtail the unbridled powers of Anandiben Patel. But it has gone out of hands very fast.
Now different voices are being heard at different level within the BJP and the government even as the state government has constituted a six member committee under finance minister Nitin Patel to look into the matter.
Jani also disclosed that the Patels are also agitated at the shrinking number of government jobs over the last few years. In North Gujarat they have been vying for benefits with Aanjna community which enjoys the OBC status.
Observers say that the ceramic industry in Morbi and Than in Saurashtra along with the diamond industry in Surat and Saurashtra has been facing the fallout of a massive recession. The owners and workforce in these industries is primarily from the Patel community and they stand disillusioned at the present.
It is also being pointed that there is a disparity in the economic status of people within the community. On one side are the Patels of NRI belt of Charotar region along with the diamond barons and industrialists in South Gujarat while on the other there are Patel farmers of semi arid North Gujarat and Saurashtra along with the workers in the diamond polishing and ceramic industry.
Jani gave another dimension to the issue saying that most of the self finance professional educational institutions are being owned and run by Patels. At present majority of the self finance seats in professional courses stand vacant. He pointed that through the demand for reservation in education institutions, the Patels might also be eyeing revival of these institutions through government sops.
Political observers say that Patels along with Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and OBCs form the major chunk of BJPs Hindutva vote bank. Although it is a very remote possibility but if thePatels with their approximate 15 per cent population of the state and 21 per cent voter representation decide to move away from the BJP, it could spell major trouble for the ruling party. The state is heading for the civic body polls in another two months.
Meanwhile, there are reports of the agitating Patels getting support from their overseas community members spread around the globe. In addition to this, the community has launched a fierce campaign in the social media. The community already has sufficient economic and political clout.