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The Patel Uprising: how Anandiben has been ambushed by her own side

Darshan Desai | Updated on: 13 February 2017, 3:47 IST

The agitation

  • Students from the Patel community are demanding reservation under the OBC category
  • Lakhs of people have joined the agitation over the last month

The demands

  • Part of the Patel community is classified as OBC, while influential Kadva and Leuva Patels are not
  • Students want to be included in the 27% reservation given to OBCs
  • They also want a 5% reservation for socially and educationally backward Patels

The significance

  • Patels form about 15% of Gujarat\'s population, and have been closely associated with the state BJP
  • Three of the last four CMs, apart from Modi, have been Patels
  • Patels had joined the BJP in protesting against reservation in the 1980s
  • With mass support, students are now threatening to thwart the BJP\'s ambitions

Since Narendra Modi left Gujarat to become the Prime Minister of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party government in the state has barely faced a problem. Until now.

It has been hit by a bolt from the blue - the powerful Patel community is up in arms. Its demand? To be granted reservation under the OBC category.

The agitation started as a small demand by a few politically insignificant youngsters. But within a month and after a handful of gatherings, it's now threatening to snowball into a statewide movement; ironically, against a government run and controlled by Patels.

A key demographic

Including Chief Minister Anandiben and her two key aides, Nitin and Saurabh, there are half a dozen Patel ministers in Gujarat. The community forms 14-15% of the state's population, but its social and financial muscle meant it was often the power behind Gujarat leaders, including Modi.

In the BJP itself, Modi's precedessor as CM was another Patel, Keshubhai. He served two terms as chief minister, and was the deputy CM under Chimanbhai Patel, who ran the regional outfit Janata Dal (Gujarat).

Patels control the diamond industry, real estate, money-making educational trusts and the groundnut oil lobby

The Patels control the diamond industry in Gujarat, which accounts for 80% of India's diamond exports. Patels also lord over the burgeoning real estate sector, own money-spinning educational trusts, and dominate the groundnut oil lobby. The largest number of landlords and cash crop-rich farmers in Gujarat are Patels.

This is why this surprise agitation has sent tremors in the government; because it is the BJP's key constituency that is taking on a government controlled by the same community.

This is for the first time in the history of Gujarat that Patels are taking to the streets for reservation, without any overt political backing.

Ironically, it was the leaders from this community, also called Patidars, who were with the BJP at the forefront of the violent anti-reservation agitations against OBCs in 1980 and 1985.

"This is a 180-degree turn by the Patels, who now wish to be part of the OBCs," points out political and social scientist Achyut Yagnik.

The agitation has shaken the state government to such an extent that it has formed a seven-member committee to resolve the issue.

The demands and the reasons behind them

The Nitin Patel-headed committee was constituted after a successful rally in Gandhinagar organised by Hardik Patel, a 21-year-old commerce graduate from Mehsana - the home district of Modi, Anandiben and BJP national president Amit Shah.

A vehicle rally was held in Surat on 17 August, where a staggering five lakh people joined in on motorbikes, cars, bicycles. Many even walked down the streets, even though it was raining.

patel rally

Photo: Hanif Sindhi / Catch News

In all, about a dozen rallies have already been organised in north Gujarat (Mehsana), Saurashtra region, central Gujarat. A huge rally with 40 lakh people has been planned in Ahmedabad city on 25 August.

"We have two specific demands: one, the inclusion of all the denominations of Patels (Kadva and Leuva) among the OBCs. OBCs right now are at 27% [reservation] and include 147 communities, including a section of 17 Muslim backward communities," says 22-year-old Alpesh Patel, a third-year law student and the son of a diamond-polishing worker in Surat who organised the rally.

"We are not asking for an increase in the 27%, but inclusion in it. This means, the government may have to split the quota accordingly. The second demand is the creation of a 5% socially and educationally backward category reservation."

Yagnik explains this demand as follows.

"The agitation began from north Gujarat, where the Kadva and Leuva Patels share neighbourhoods with Anjana Patels, who are already a part of the OBCs because of their socio-economic status. So, it pricks the other Patels when an Anjana Patel, with a lower educational score, pips the Kadvas and Leuvas to the post. But it should not be forgotten that the 'higher caste' Patels are richer landlords and the others are not," he says.

The direct threat

Hardik Patel, the son of a businessman who started the agitation, asserts: "We [Patels] can make governments and we can break them too. If the government doesn't agree to our demands, we will scale it up to a Gujjar-type of stir.

"We will go by the way taught by Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel, but it should not be forgotten, we could go the Bhagat Singh way too."

More significantly, he says, "This may cost the ruling party heavily in the October elections [to 315 municipal bodies]."

He can dare to say this because the rallies of his Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti have drawn crowds from all age groups and socio-economic background of Patels. Kadvas and Leuvas coming together, in itself, is an unusual development in Gujarat.

Speculation about political backing

It is as yet unknown which political leader is backing this agitation from behind the scenes. This has given rise to intense speculation.

BJP MLA Nalin Kotadiya, from Dhari in Saurashtra's Amreli district, has threatened to resign if an amicable solution is not arrived at. He says: "As many as 82% of my voters are Patels. I have to take a stance for a genuine demand."

Asked how the demand for reservation was genuine when Patels controlled virtually the entire state, Kotadiya says: "Such pitched agitations did not occur earlier because the education levels among the Patels were low. But they have improved now. So, if someone gets a job or college admission with 60% and another with 80% gets left out, it is going to pinch him. That is what is happening now."

As for political backing, neither Yagnik nor Kotadiya, also a Patel, hazards a guess.

However, a BJP insider told Catch, pleading anonymity, that it could be Amit Shah, who has traditionally been at loggerheads with Anandiben. It could also be Anandiben's lieutenant, Nitin Patel, who hails from Mehsana and may be looking for a brighter future.

Nobody agrees that the Congress may have any role in this, since it has other castes like Kshatriyas and Dalits, besides Muslims, to keep in good humour. And more importantly, it has no Patel leader of stature.

First published: 19 August 2015, 5:21 IST
Darshan Desai

The writer is Editor, Development News Network, Ahmedabad, and Director, Centre for Media Research Training and Advocacy