After a mammoth rally organised by Gujarat’s economically and politically powerful Patel community demanding reservation in government jobs and education, the police cracked down on the organisers, briefly detaining 22-year-old Hardik Patel, the spearhead of the agitation, while severely beating up his supporters and media persons.
In a late-night operation, the police swooped down on the agitators led by Mr. Patel who were sitting on an indefinite fast after the rally, which had already turned violent with several incidents of group clashes and stone-throwing across the city.
“He has been arrested because the organisers had not taken permission to hold the fast. The police permission was only for the rally and the gathering during the day,” a senior police official told The Hindu .
The arrest sparked violence in the city, with Patel community members clashing with police and six buses being torched.
During the day, the police resorted to baton-charge and tear-gas as clashes broke out between members of the Patel community and local residents in several parts of the city.
Earlier, over half a million Patels thronged the Gujarat University ground for the rally, bringing the entire city to a standstill. “The lotus will not bloom in 2017 if the demand [for quota] is not heeded,” Mr. Patel warned the BJP government, which depends on support from the community.
Rally galvanises Patel community
Launched at a rally in Visnagar town of North Gujarat on July 6, the agitation of the Patels for OBC status has become a mass movement as thousands of people in Surat, Vadodara, Mehsana and in Ahmedabad filled the streets pressing the demand for quotas.
The movement appears as much against the government as against the established leaders of the community who are dominating the show in the ruling BJP. The Chief Minister, top seven Ministers, State party chief, half a dozen MPs and more than three dozen MLAs of the party belong to the Patel community, considered as affluent and influential in Gujarat.
After the rally, government spokesperson Nitin Patel said that except for a few untoward incidents, the entire rally was peaceful. However, the government did not say whether Chief Minister Anandiben Patel would go to meet Mr. Hardik Patel as demanded by his outfit, the Patel Andolan Anamat Samiti (PAAS).
In Gujarat, 146 castes including over a dozen castes from the minority community, are identified as socially and educationally backward castes, also known as OBCs, and enjoy 27% quota in the government jobs and education.
Rift comes to the fore
A rift between the two major groups of the Patel community seeking reservation came out into open on Tuesday with the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), led by Lalji Patel, distancing itself from the decision to go on a hunger strike by Mr. Hardik Patel, who is spearheading the agitation.
The SPG is the biggest Patel community social group in the State which had earlier supported Hardik’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti for organising Tuesday’s mega rally in support of their demand for inclusion of the community in the OBC category for reservation.
Mr. Hardik Patel had earlier on Tuesday said that he would sit on a hunger strike after the rally at the venue till Chief Minister Anandiben Patel came to accept a memorandum from them.
“Hardik’s decision of sitting on a hunger strike until the Chief Minister comes and takes memorandum from him is his individual decision, which is not supported by others,” Mr. Lalji Patel said.
When asked if his group was ready for talks with the government, he said, “We are always ready for it and we will go if the government invites us.”
Mr. Hardik Patel had earlier said that Patels would not hold any talks with the government.
Tuesday’s rally was marked by the young leader’s speech whereas Mr. Lalji Patel did not address the gathering.
Asked why he was not allowed to speak at the rally, Mr. Lalji Patel said, “The programme was planned by Hardik and his team and I don’t want to make any comment on this.”
Another leader of the SPG, Vinod Patel, termed Mr. Hardik Patel’s decision to sit on a hunger strike as “kiddish” and said his remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Chief Minister were “improper”.
Mr. Vinod Patel said they would make a representation to the State OBC Commission over the issue while Mr. Hardik Patel in the rally had said the decision of hunger strike was taken unanimously by the community and that he would stick to it.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hardik Patel said that he had the support of the people who want him to go ahead with the hunger strike.
“Some people (referring to Mr. Lalji Patel), who are separately addressing press conferences, must know that lakhs of people here (at GMDC ground) told us to sit on a hunger strike until our demand is fulfilled and until the Chief Minister comes and takes our memorandum of demands,” he said.