September 13, 2015

Patel Quota Agitation: Failure of Gujarat Model of Development

Arun Mehta

THE widespread agitation for reservation for the Patel community is a clear indication of the failure of the so-called Gujarat model of development. The stir was the outcome of lack of employment opportunities, agrarian crisis and low social development indicators in the state. As the Modi government’s promise of “acchhe din” turned out to be an illusion, frustrated and ambitious youths of the community turned their focus on ‘anamat’ (reservation) as the only solution to their problems of joblessness and lack of education opportunities. Cashing in on the prevailing situation, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, led by Hardik Patel, united a large number of youths and spearheaded the campaign for inclusion of the community in the OBC category.

Of Gujarat’s total six crore population, the Patel community accounts for nearly 15 per cent. Patels, or Patidars, claim themselves to be descendants of Lord Ram. They are divided into two main sub-castes: Leuva and Kadva – the descendants of Ram’s twins Luv and Kush, respectively. There is a widespread perception in the state as well as across the country that those belonging to the Patel community are rich, whereas the reality is that only 15 per cent of the community members are wealthy and the rest 85 per cent are poor -- farmers, self-employed or casual labourers. The Patidar community is also such a big force because out of 6,164 industrial units with investments of more than Rs 10 crore, 1,700 belong to the Patels.

Till late 1970s, the community had been largely associated with the Congress. But after the Congress forged an alliance of Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims, popularly known as KHAM, in the 1980s, the Patel community shifted their allegiance to BJP and had been strongly behind Narendra Modi and BJP since then. While a small section of the community members have prospered in the past decades, even establishing successful business ventures in countries like the UK and the US, majority of them remained in the poor and lower middle classes. In urban areas, except for a few well-established professionals and entrepreneurs, the majority are white- or blue-collar employees, or self-employed or casual, skilled labourers in textile or diamond factories. But for the last several months, the industry has been in deep crisis. Several units have closed down, and a large number of diamond workers have been retrenched, which has contributed to the current unrest in the Patidar community.

The crisis in the agricultural sector added to the discontent among the community members, a large number of whom is small and marginal farmers. This was highlighted by a supporter of PASS movement: “My father had 25 bighas of land three years ago. But due to soaring prices of agricultural inputs, my father had to sell 15 bighas two years ago... So our land possession came down to 10 bighas only. Again this year, he had to sell more land as he could not make any money from agriculture and we now own only two bighas of land… The government does not pay sufficiently for crop procurement so youths are running away from agriculture to cities and towns. But there too is strong competition. The result is increasing number of suicides… Besides, a Patel wants a proud position of employment, particularly in government service, therefore, this demand of inclusion in OBC category!”

The discontent among the Patel youths was initially overlooked by the Anandiben Patel-led BJP government in the state. There are six Patidars in the present cabinet and 37 of the state’s 182 MLAs are from the community. So the state government played soft on the Patel agitation so much so that for the August 25 Kranti Rally in Ahmedabad, the chief minister waived toll tax for those coming to attend the rally. Even till the evening of August 25, the government did not collect charge for the venue. And the rally went off peacefully and Hardik Patel issued a statement saying, “this anamat andolan is not against the government but against the system only”. Prime Minister Narendra Modi too kept complete silence. But things changed after the police force and state administration misread the situation. And as the time of the permission ended, the police entered the venue, turned off lights and arrested Hardik Patel and three others who were on a fast to press their f\demand for reservation.

The news of Hardik Patel’s arrest spread like wildfire sparking violence across the state. Police tried to correct the mistake by saying that they did not arrest Hardik Patel, but only covered him for a while. However, Hardik replied by saying that he was not only arrested but also physically lifted. Now even the Gujarat High Court has condemned the atrocious attitude of police force. Prime Minister Modi, who was completely silent hitherto, also sent 133 Army detachments to Gujarat for quelling the Patel upsurge.

The Patel agitation highlighted the failure of the so-called Gujarat model of development and the need for inclusive development. (END)