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Gujarat caste war: SCs, STs & OBCs close ranks to take on Patel power

Darshan Desai | Updated on: 27 August 2015, 6:00 IST

The standoff

  • Patels want OBC status. They have planned a massive rally of 40 lakh on 25 August
  • Gujarat government has formed a committee under Nitin Patel to negotiate with the Patels
  • But efforts to strike a deal ahead of the rally, failed
  • Now Patels want to expand their agitation to the national level

The reaction

  • Prospect of a Patel quota has forced SCs, STs and OBCs to unite
  • They claim Patels are affluent and control the government, cooperatives and businesses
  • Both sides are threatening to bring down the BJP government if \"their rights are taken away\"

Gujarat is on the brink of a caste war. On one side is the powerful Patel community, which is set to organise a massive rally of 40 lakh people in Ahmedabad on 25 August to demand OBC status.On the other side are communities which are incensed at the prospect of the Patels being given reservation.

They have formed a Gujarat OBC Ekta Manch to take on the Patels. Representatives of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes are also backing this outfit.

Deal or no deal

The Gujarat government, which is dominated by Patels like Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, has formed a seven-member high-level ministerial committee to deal with the Patel agitation. It is led by senior cabinet minister Nitin Patel.

How can affluent Patels be compared to OBCs, many of whom don't even get 2 meals a day, ask OBC leaders

But the committee has failed to cut much ice with the agitating Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), which is led by youngsters in their early twenties. Official sources claimed that a deal would be struck by the evening of 24 August to prevent next day's massive rally. But the negotiations don't seem to have lead anywhere.

CM Anandiben Patel appealed to the agitators against precipitating a caste war but she categorically stated that a quota for Patels was not possible.

PAAS leader, 21-year-old Hardik Patel, is now threatening to take his agitation to the national level. Kirori Singh Bainsla, the leader of the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, is expected to take part in the Patel rally.

The reaction

As the quantum of reservation cannot exceed 50%, a quota for Patels will have to be from within the existing quota for OBCs. This will directly impact communities that are presently categorised as OBC.

A large number of people covered under OBC, SC and ST communities gathered near Sabarmati Ashram on 23 August and threatened the government of adverse consequences of the Patels' demands are met.

Alpesh Thakor, convener of the newly formed Gujarat OBC Ekta Manch, said it is "unfortunate that Gujarat's most-affluent Patidar community is demanding a share in the OBC quota".

He said that Patels can never be compared to OBCs, many of whom don't even getting two square meals a day.

"Out of the 27% quota for OBCs, less than 18% actually gets filled. Most of the ministries, government positions, cooperative bodies, businesses and industries are with the Patidars," he said.

Patels force the others to unite

Thakor does give Patels the credit for one thing: they have compelled the unorganised SCs, STs and OBCs to unite and fight for their rights. "Patels claim that due to reservations, an OBC student with 40% marks can become a doctor while a Patel student with 80% doesn't get admission into a medical college. I challenge them to show a single such instance," he said. Patel agitators plan to go national. Gujjar leader Kirori Singh Bainsla is expected to join Tuesday's rallyHe threatened that any move by the government to snatch away the rights of SCs, STs and OBCs will "force the working class to take up Naxalism in the state".

"They (Patidars) speak of throwing out this government in 2017. But if the government takes a step against us, we won't let it survive even in 2016," he said.

Bharat Chaudhary, a leader of the Chaudhary community, points out the complete inequality between Patels on one hand and SCs, STs and OBCs on the other.

"How many BMWs or helicopters do SCs, STs and OBCs own? Patels are just 12% of the population but they enjoy 70% of the power. Their influence is at every level," Chaudhary says.

"We won't let them snatch our rights. We (SCs, STs and OBCs) are 78% and we will take our full share.''

First published: 27 August 2015, 6:00 IST