Thousands of Patidars, an influential Patel community, on Tuesday took part in a mega rally in Ahmedabad in Gujarat demanding reservations under the Other Backward Caste (OBC) quota.
What seems to have caught many by surprise is the unexpected rise of Hardik Patel, the convener of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), who is spearheading the movement.
Why the resurgence?
Elaborating the views of Ahmedabad-based social scientist Achyut Yagnik, a NDTV report states that the Patels want their children to get technical education which will enable them to get jobs in the country or even migrate outside. The Patels, who have mostly chosen to work in traditional businesses, are now looking for a change. "Because somewhere the Vibrant Gujarat story has disappointed even the most ardent BJP fans in the community, particularly amongst the youth," Shikha Trivedi writes in the report. A large section of the lower and middle class Patels has invested in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) but the government has been rather focussing on big investements in the state.
The diamond industry in Surat, which is run by the Patels of Saurashtra, has been also witnessing a sharp decline leading to over 10,000 workers being laid off in the sector and 150 units being shut down in the last six months.
The Kadvas and Leuvas are the two major sub-castes of the Patels. The Anjanas are the third but smaller group which were considered socially backward and last year in a government recruitment drive they beneffited from permanent teaching posts in several government departments including schools and the police force. This made the "growing army of unemployed" Kadvas and Leuvas feel left out. This is said to have set off the first protests in the region, adds the report.
Who is Hardik Patel?
A 22-year-old Commerce graduate, Patel reportedly graduated with 50% marks from Ahmedabad's Sahajanand College. Hailing from a middle-class family from Viramgam, near Ahmedabad, Patel used to assist his father in running a small submersible-pumps business.
Almost two months ago, the Patidars started their agitation demanding reservation in educational institutions and government jobs and the young Patel is said to have "galvanised" the Patel population in the state.
"A Patidar student with 90% marks does not get admission in an MBBS course, while SC/ST or OBC students get it with 45% marks," Patel told The Times of India adding that they were not against reservation for the SC/ST and OBC communities.
He has reportedly travelled to 12 districts in Gujarat for the movement and a staggering 4.5 lakh people from the community attended his rally at Navlakhi compound in Vadodara on Monday. He is also fighting for five percent quota for farm labourers who do not owe any land.
Patel was earlier the president of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG)'s Viramgam unit. He was reportedly removed from the post because the leader of the SPG, which is a Patidar youth body, did not like the idea of Hardik promoting PAAS among its members. An FIR has also been lodged against him by SPG leaders accusing him of not returning Rs 2 lakh he owed to the group.
Though the Patidar community forms just around 14-15 percent of the state's population, they wield immense financial and political power in the state. They have also been a huge support to the BJP for several decades now, which is why his stand against the party could be seen as a potential threat.
Formed in July, the PAAS has been holding rallies for the past two months in the state and Patel has even warned that they can "make and break governments in Gujarat."
Patel, who is also referred to as the "face of the movement", is at present on fast-unto-death until CM Anandiben Patel looks into the issue personally.
"We are following the way shown by Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, but we can also go the Bhagat Singh way. The state government would be responsible if our August 25 rally turns violent," a report in The Wire quotes him as saying.
"We can make or break governments. If the government doesnâ€™t agree to our demands, we will scale it up to a Gujjar-style stir in Gujarat. Ignoring our demand may cost the ruling party heavily in the October elections (to 493 municipal bodies, including municipal corporations of all major cities)," he added.