In terms of immediate impact, single-agenda social movements are often more effective than multi-dimensional political parties. That the >Patel reservation agitation managed, within a short time, to mobilise large sections of the Patel community in support of a separate reservation quota for it is in no small measure owing to the singular focus on a pressing demand. What drew many youth to the movement, and to its >leader Hardik Patel , was the prospect of a quick realisation of the demand for reservation in education and jobs, not any desire for long-term political change. By seeking to expand the role of the movement by launching a political party, the Akhil Bharatiya Patel Navnirman Sena, Hardik Patel is thus taking a big gamble. True, the reservation movement was unable to make any headway despite having forced the Gujarat government to offer financial assistance for higher education and relax the age limit for government employment. But there is no way the new party can immediately advance the cause of the community’s demand for reservation. That Mr. Patel is intent on expanding the scope of the agitation even without anything to show for all his efforts thus far, betrays a political ambition that wants to vault over ground realities. While the reservation agitation found the backing of Patels affiliated to different political formations, this will not be the case with the new party. Many among the community who have been traditional supporters of the BJP will doubtless see this as counter-productive. Instead of being able to pressure the BJP government in Gujarat to back their demand, the Patels could now find themselves further alienated from the power centres. The new Sena would have to adopt an all-or-nothing political strategy while taking on the BJP.
While Patels account for more than 10 per cent of Gujarat’s population, they do not have the numbers to elect a government on their own. If political power is what >Hardik Patel is after, he would have to build political alliances. That he is trying to cut himself loose from the BJP was clear from his stated support for Nitish Kumar in Bihar. His party wants to negotiate with the Gujarat government from a position of strength, not as a supplicant. But as an active political player it would lose its ability to negotiate with parties. Networking with other caste groups such as Kurmis and Gujjars can only offer limited political purchase. If the new outfit enters the electoral fray, that would be at the cost of the efficacy of the reservation movement that Hardik Patel helped build. There is no way he can be both apolitical lobbyist and partisan politician.