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Gujarat govt turns the screws on Hardik's movement

Rathin Das | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 4:16 IST

Path blocked

  • Patel agitators are having difficulty in finding venues to hold meetings
  • They were even denied permission to organise a press conference at a mall
  • Authorities have denied them permission to take out a \'reverse\' Dandi march

The fallout

  • It looks like the govt has succeeded in neutralising Hardik Patel and his PAAS
  • The Gujarat govt had employed similar tactics with activists raising their voices against the 2002 riots
  • However, it\'s true that there may be a security issue with the march
  • OBCs living in coastal areas are ready to counter the Patels\' demands for reservation

Analysts are still trying to find an authentic answer to 'why' the socially, politically and economically influential Patels of 'developed' Gujarat should have launched an agitation to demand reservations in jobs and educational institutions.

In the meantime, the BJP-controlled state government appears to have effectively neutralised the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) spearheading the stir.

The government's success in isolating PAAS and its leader Hardik Patel is evident from the fact that the agitators are now unable to find any place to hold their meetings or even press conferences.

Reverse Dandi Yatra

Hardik wanted to take out a 'reverse Dandi Yatra', from Dandi to Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad.

The Navsari district administration denied permission to the march. And it had a valid reason, as several villages en route have a sizable Other Backward Class (OBC) population, who too threatened to take out a counter march on the same day and time.

The counter march by the coastal villages' OBCs, who see the Patels' quota stir as a threat to their slice of the reservation cake, could have sparked off a caste riot near Dandi, a place of historic significance to the country's freedom struggle.

But that wasn't all.

A farm house in Surat didn't allow Hardik to hold a press conference on his proposed march. Thereafter, authorities of a mall too denied him permission to hold a press meet, following which Hardik addressed the media on the road outside.

Repeat of 2002

This is a situation very similar to hotels, farm houses and halls refusing to let out their premises for meetings or press conferences to NGOs and activists espousing the cause of victims and survivors of the 2002 riots.

Consequently, secular activists were left with less than half-a-dozen places for their interactions, including the Gujarat Vidyapith and the Mehdi Nawaz Hall. Even the last one, named after Gujarat's first governor, Mehdi Nawaz Jung, cannot be hired now unless activists give a prior undertaking that no utterances would be made there against the government in the state and at the Centre.

That the owners of these spots, who had been hand-in-glove with the BJP government in implementing the 'space squeeze' against secular activists, would do the same with a Patel outfit is an indication that the government has been able to drive a wedge within the community.

A divided house

Denial of space to PAAS means that the Patels have been divided, said People's Union for Civil Liberties leader Gautam Thakkar.

He added that the Kadva Patels (Hardik) and Leuva Patels (Lalji, heading the Sardar Patel Group) cannot live together for a long time.

In Thakkar's opinion, some denials of permission may simply be due to fear of law and order problems, but some are definitely linked to pressure from 'above' or intra-caste rivalry.

Many venues have refused to allow the Patel agitatators to hold press conferences all over Gujarat

He predicted that the Patels' agitation would soon fizzle out, as "the forces which propped up Hardik would also rein him in" if the agitation becomes a real threat to the ruling party.

On the other hand, PAAS has tried to frighten the BJP by hinting that some Patels may contest the forthcoming municipal elections with the specific objective of ensuring the defeat of the saffron party's nominees.

Crucial week coming up

But Hardik's threat has no real value now as the Supreme Court last week stayed the municipal election process in response to a petition challenging the multiple ward system.

The apex court stay on the municipal polls itself has come as a blessing in disguise for the BJP, some political observers believe, because the party has lost sufficient ground in the last few months.

As of now, the PAAS has postponed its 'reverse Dandi Yatra' to Sunday, 13 September, because the District Collector didn't give permission for it to go ahead.

But the next seven days in the run up to the march may be very crucial to PAAS and Hardik, as multiple agencies may launch a pincer attack on him. Indications of this have started coming in the form of complaints filed against him for trespassing and old business associates charging him of cheating.

The same kind of treatment is still being tried against human rights activists like Teesta Setalvad and retired IPS officer RB Sreekumar, who had taken up cudgels on behalf of victims of the 2002 carnage.

First published: 7 September 2015, 8:47 IST