Anatomy Of An Agitation
The demand of the Patidar (Patel) community for caste-based reservation under the Other Backward Classes(OBC) category has led to turmoil in Gujarat. And there is more in store. The community is seeking statutory guarantees for government jobs and admissions to educational institutions despite being numerically very strong and economically quite influential.
The Patels account for about 14 per cent of the 63 million population of the state.
Chief minister Anandiben Patel is from the community as is the president of the Gujarat BJP,R.C.Fardu. Seven of the 24 ministers and 42 of the 182 legislators in the Assembly are from the community. However, the Patels argue that it has become difficult to earn their livelihood. This they say is coupled with the lack of jobs and difficulty of getting admissions to educational institutions.
The leaders of the demonstrations have built up the agitation with amazing speed, fanning the sense of deprivation within the community to mount a statewide stir of mindboggling proportions. This is mirrored in the more than 300 meetings and rallies organized within 50 days beginning July 6 and culminating in the ‘maharally’ at Ahmedabad August 25.Hardik puts the number of people at this rally at 18 lakh, with the intelligence bureau stating it to be eight lakh. The resources required to transport, camp and feed this number is immense.
The questions that arise are what ignited the orgy of violence when the August 25 rally had passed off peacefully, who is behind this-both the agitation and the organization -and where is all this headed.
The ‘maharally’ was proceeding absolutely as planned when the 22 year old convenor of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti(PAAS), Hardik Patel, departed from the prepared script of handing over the charter of demands to the district collector and announced that the Chief Minister should come to the venue to receive it and he would sit on fast at the venue until she did so. This led to a crack between his PAAS and the Sardar Patel Group(SPG) which had jointly organised the rally. By nightfall there were just a thousand people left at the venue to give company to a fasting Hardik.
However, things took an ugly turn when police swooped down on the venue picking up Hardik and four others fasting with him..As the news of the police action spread, largescale violence broke out all over Gujarat. Soon the state was in flames with the police itself under attack. More than 300 buses and numerous government buildings and police stations had been torched or damaged. Railway tracks were uprooted throwing life totally out of gear. Consservative estimates put the overall loss during these 24 hours of mayhem at around Rs 25,000 crores. Additionally a dying agitation was resurrected.
“If Hardik and his supporters had been left alone that night, the morning after would well have ensured his total isolation”, says a top bureaucrat on condition of anonymity.
Home minister, Rajni Patel denies ordering the police action, as does the Chief Minister. Hushed whispers within the police hierarchy speak of orders from Delhi to a highly placed official in Gandhinagar who bypassed the official line-up. It also hints at a top person in the ruling party’s national hierarchy getting in touch with a favourite police officer crucially placed in the DGPs office ordering it. The Chief Minister has ordered an enquiry but little is expected to come out of it. It could be thus either a goof-up or that someone did not want the agitation to die down.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has very high stakes in Gujarat. Congress leader of the Opposition and his one-time colleague in the RSS, Shankersinh Vaghela is emphatic that nothing in the Gujarat government moves without Modi’s nod even today and such a key decision would not be possible without him knowing about it. However while he is known to favour a single point reservation for the economically backward and is also prone to experimentation with pilot projects of a political nature, Modi would not do anything that rocks Gujarat and exposes his ‘model’ to ridicule or failure. The present Chief Minister, Anandiben Patel is his chosen successor in the state and he would not endanger her position.
Hardik meanwhile , made it clear that he intends to scale up this stir to national levels.”We may be 1.80 crores in Gujarat but nationally we are 27 crores and account for two other chief ministers-Nitish Kumar of Bihar and Chandrababu Naidu of Andhra Pradesh- besides 117 MPs in Parliament”, he said. Nitish is a kurmi while Naidu is a kapu. Nitish had lent support to the Patidar stir but has equally quickly moved away realizing that his OBC vote bank in election bound Bihar may extract a very high price from him. The patels are also enlisting the support of the Gujjars of Rajasthan.
In anycase the Gujarat chief minister has made it adequately clear that the Supreme Court mandates no more than 50 per cent reservation and this quota having already been taken up, there is no scope for reservation for the Patels. The patidar agitation leaders are aware of this so obviously there goal is a national re-think on the whole issue which again would be an embarrassing headache for the prime minister if the issue takes off at the national level. The danger of a violent caste conflict is an ever present one running uniformly through the fabric of this quota stir.
While Sangh parivar organs are also not averse to a national debate on the issue,the present agitation hides more than it shows up. It was initiated by dissident Patidar elements within the Gujarat BJP who wanted to distabilise Patel. Aware that nothing else would work because of the Prime Minister’s support to her, they focused on a community uprising on this sensitive issue. However the speed with which it caught the imagination of the young, saw these elements soon becoming redundant .
Circumstantial evidence also points to a VHP connect to the stir. Gordhan Jhadapia has been the party pointsman to reach out to the Patidar clansmen in other parts of the country. Ahead of the 2014 elections he was posted to Uttar Pradesh to mobilize the Kurmis(Patels) and has ever since been touring various parts of the country for this purpose. He is known to be a diehard supporter of Pravin Togadia,the head honcho of the VHP. Modi and Togadia were close friends but fell out in the political journey after he became the Gujarat Chief Minister and have been bitter rivals ever since. Jhadapia had once publicly spurned a berth in the Modi cabinet at the swearing-in ceremony.
Both Togadia and Jhadapia are Patels. Jhadapia had quit the BJP in protest against Modi and floated his own regional outfit wherein party veteran Keshubhai Patel also quit to join in. Though this outfit did not make much a mark at the hustings but an analysis of the 2007 and 2012 results showed that it had significantly dented the BJPs Patel vote bank in Gujarat. The Chief Minister has also warned her community members on more than one occasion to see through the game aimed at destablising her government. Non-Patel BJP leaders also see in it an attempt to target Modi obliquely.
Varun Patel, chief spokesperson of SPG, the parent organization spearheading the agitation also hints at an unseen hand. He has gone on record to state in a media interview that “in the last ten days, a mastermind has emerged who is misleading Hardik and using him like a pawn. We made Hardik the face of the agitation but now the mastermind is doing Hardik’s makeover. What is his motive and why he is doing it is a different issue but for the moment it is helping push our demands and we are benefitting so it is alright”, he states. That there are powerful forces behind the scene at work, goes without saying. It will not be long before they are forced out into the open to be counted.