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Patels hit Gujarat's streets again: what explains the agitation's revival?

Rathin Das | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST
The agitation
  • Patels of Gujarat have restarted their agitation, after a lull of 8 months
  • They are demanding the release of Hardik Patel
  • The Jat agitation in Haryana might have emboldened them
More in the story
  • How will Anandiben Patel respond?
  • Are her rivals at work?

The Gujarat bandh called by the agitating Patels' passed off nearly peacefully on Monday. But the re-eruption of the agitation by the politically and economically influential community has raised several questions about functioning of the BJP government in the state. It especially brings into focus the performance of Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, a close confidante of Prime Minister Narendra Modi who hand-picked her as his successor in the state.

There are multiple reasons behind the revival of the Patel agitation after a gap of 8 months. This time the demand isn't so much for reservation in government jobs and higher educational institutions, rather it is to secure the release of Patidar Anaamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, who is lodged in Surat jail since October last year.

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

A variety of events in the 8 months since the Patels' rally for in August last year, has sent confusing signals about the BJP government's real intentions with the community that had been the backbone of the party in the state for 3 decades now.

The Patels stood by the BJP through the anti-reservation agitation of the 1980s and the communal strife that followed, as well as the 2002 Gujarat riots. The community supported the BJP's social engineering experiments as well as its extravagant events showcasing the Gujarat as an ideal investment destination. Given this background, it was not possible for the Anandiben Patel dispensation to act harshly against the agitators in the first place.

Patels have stood by BJP for 3 decades. It 's isn't easy for them to ditch the party completely

Initially, the government was so lenient with the Patels assembling for their 25 August rally that it appeared that the agitation was stage-managed by the BJP itself in order to spark a nationwide debate on the futility of the reservations. This is a theme close to the heart of the RSS, which is evident by the statements made to that effect by Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat.

But the collapse of law and order situation and the enormous scale of damage to public transport and properties forced the police to take action, leading to a rupture in the Patel-BJP bonhomie.

Breaking ties with the BJP wasn't easy for the Patels either, as they had been beneficiaries of the 2 decade long BJP rule in the state.

Patels' weakness

This phenomenon of Patels' inherent 'weakness' for the BJP was evident in the results of the civic body elections in November when all the big urban centres reposed faith in the party even as their rural brethren expressed their displeasure.

Though there are several socio-economic factors behind the different electoral behaviour of rural and urban Patels in the local civic polls. The victory in the cities with a considerable Patel population helped the BJP discover the community's Achilles' Heels - their inherent weakness for the saffron political entity and the absence of an alternative.

Also read: How Hardik Patel ensured BJP's win in Patidar bastion 

Along with the revelation of the Patels' weakness for the BJP, the party's urban victory may have also proved that the Patels are no longer a numerically homogeneous force as they were earlier thought to be. This discovery might have emboldened the BJP to act tough against the Patel leaders by refusing to withdraw the sedition charges against Hardik Patel and others even while the cases against many agitators were weakened.

The mutual 'weakness' between the Patels and the ruling BJP was also reflected in the manner the government sent its emissaries to meet PAAS convenor Hardik Patel in Surat jail and willingly let him smuggle out his letters, appeals and ultimatums aimed at keeping the agitation alive.

That these negotiations would go wrong was a foregone conclusion because the person chosen as the emissary, BJP's Porbandar MP Vitthal Radadiya has no credibility. He hit the news for brandishing a gun at a toll plaza in the national highway and kicking an old man at a religious meet.

With Anandiben Patel declaring that she wouldn't be chief minister after the2017 assembly elections, the recent upheaval can also be linked to the growing ambitions of other Patels in the BJP ministry, says Prof Prakash Shah, eminent columnist and convenor of the Movement for Secular Democracy (MSD).

The Jat agitation's success was a slap in the face of Patels in Gujarat: Prof Prakash Shah

According to Shah, the revival of the agitation and the accompanying violence might have been fuelled by the success of the Jats in Haryana in securing a promise that some kind of reservation would be arranged for them.

"The Jat agitation's success was a slap in the face of Patels in Gujarat," he told Catch.

Social scientist and author Achyut Yagnik, however, pins the blame on the CM. He said that Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has "no vision, no strategy and no understanding of the social dynamics" of the problem.

Read more- Hardik Tapes: will BJP's bid to derail Patel stir backfire in civic polls? 

Yagnik also suggests that Sardar Patel Group leader Lalji Patel, who was seriously injured on Sunday, is probably trying to assert himself while Hardik is languishing in jail. It wouldn't be surprising if the Patels float a new party on the eve of the Assembly elections scheduled in December 2017.

Edited by Aditya Menon

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First published: 18 April 2016, 7:40 IST