Amid the demand by many communities for Other Backward Classes (OBC) status, the one made by Patels (Patidars), who have been on an agitation in Gujarat, stands out.
Apart from the main question of why a prosperous community would demand the status and job reservations, the timing and even the semantics of the agitation have raised questions.
While Janata Dal(U) leader and Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has supported the movement, many other OBC leaders are not so sanguine about the demand of Patels.
“I think this is a conspiracy, a way in which to eventually finish off OBC reservations in this country. Where is the space in this category? Why should an otherwise forward community like that of Patels demand reservations? Tomorrow Reddys from Telangana and Kammas from Andhra Pradesh may also make the demand. Why leave out Brahmins,” asked V. Hanumantha Rao, Congress Rajya Sabha member and convener of the parliamentary forum for OBCs since 2002.‘Take advantage of quota’
Mr. Rao said existing OBC communities need to do more to take advantage of reservation. “We have been raising our voice for according constitutional status to OBC reservations, and to extend the definition of creamy layer. Even after all these years, OBC representation in many spheres of government is just 8-9 per cent; we don’t want more additions before existing issues are sorted out,” he said.
His fear that the agitation might spread to other parts of the country with more and more communities demanding OBC status is endorsed by Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi, who, while hailing from Gujarat, is an MP from West Bengal. “The leader of this movement, Hardik Patel, chooses to speak mostly in Hindi. If this was only a localised movement, that would not be so,” he said.
The agitation is seen not just as one timed with the Bihar Assembly elections (where the BJP is locked in a tough contest against the JD(U) and the Rashtriya Janata Dal) in mind but also as a slow build-up of an anti-BJP assertion. “Visuals of the police crackdown on agitators will not go down well, when BJP president Amit Shah has already spoken of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India’s first OBC PM,” a senior BJP leader said.
Ghanshyam Shah, political scientist and author of Social Movements in India and The Plague in Surat , told The Hindu that he believed that “assertions of various kinds” had fed into this “spontaneous agitation.”