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Patels’ quota demand poses challenge to Anandiben

The State-wide agitation launched by Gujarat’s economically and politically powerful Patidar community demanding reservation in education and government jobs from the Other Backward Classes quota has emerged as a challenge for the Anandiben Patel government, which apparently appears clueless on how to deal with the young agitators who have been receiving tremendous support from across the State.

On Monday, more than four lakh youth took out a huge rally in Surat, a stronghold of Patels, who dominate the city’s diamond and real estate business.

Meeting fails

In Gandhinagar, a seven-member ministerial committee, headed by Health Minister Nitin Patel, invited a few leaders of the agitation for talks, but community leaders told the media later that the meeting was a failure.

Now, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), led by 35-year-old Hardik Patel, plans to organise a rally of over a million community members in Ahmedabad.

The State authorities, however, have yet to give permission for the rally.

“Our demand is that the Patidars be recognised as an OBC community and must be given the benefits of reservation in education and government jobs,” Mr. Patel said ruling out any compromise till the primary demand is accepted.

Highly charged rallies have put the State government in a tight corner as any mishandling can result in the Patidar-dominated ruling party paying a heavy price in the local municipal and panchayat polls due later this year.

“It’s a big challenge for the government. It seems the party leadership did not take the issue seriously when the Patidars launched the agitation in early July and also did not envisage the kind of support it is getting now,” a senior BJP leader said.

Loyal to BJP

Patidars or Patels have stayed loyal to the ruling BJP and have been the backbone of its support base since it came to power first in 1995. The party’s top leaders including the Chief Minister, State party chief R.C. Faldu, seven top Ministers in the 27-member Cabinet, five MPs and over three dozen MLAs are from the community, which constitutes between 13-15 per cent of the population as per the 1931 census.

“The Patels have come full circle in the State with this agitation demanding OBC status and reservation benefits because in 1981 and 1985, Patels were at the forefront of the agitation against reservation to the OBCs introduced by the then Congress government led by Madhavsinh Solanki,” said noted social scientist Achyut Yagnik, who has written extensively on Gujarat and rise of the saffron forces in the State.

According to Mr. Yagnik, the Patels are used to wield disproportionate power but now their pie is shrinking, thanks to the rise of the OBCs. So they are upset.

“Despite their low share in the population, they are the most visible community owing to their domination in lucrative fields such as agriculture, small and medium enterprises, diamond, real estate, education and cooperatives, but now social dynamics are changing,” Mr. Yagnik added.

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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 5:20:57 AM |

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