A demand by Gujarat’s financially strong Patel community for reservation under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota before the 2017 state elections has put the government in a bind.
Members of the Patel community in the western Indian state of Gujarat have been holding massive rallies in different parts of the state to press for their demands for the last couple of months, with one turning violent in Vijapur.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the state has accused the opposition Congress of encouraging the OBC quota reservation agitation, which is inspired by the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan.
The Congress, however, has refuted the allegation, saying there was no question of supporting the cause as the Patels had not approached them.
The Patel community, which makes up around 20 per cent of the population in Gujarat, has been a strong supporter of the BJP for the past two decades, and the party cannot afford to ignore its demands.
The convener of the agitation, Hardik Patel, said although his community is considered financially well-off, a large number of them, about 40 per cent, are not, and the government should give them reservation under the OBC quota.
“The government should give a promise to include us in the OBC quota for reservations by 2017. Else, we will intensify our agitation,” Patel said.
Maintaining that their agitation is ‘non-political’, he demanded that politicians belonging to Patel community should resign from both the BJP and Congress in support of the cause.
Meanwhile, union minister Mohan Kundariya, a politician representing the Patels, said it was the Congress which was backing the agitation.
“There is a Congress hand in the agitation. Congress is favouring the stir as they failed to come to power (in the state) for the last 25 years. It is clear the cap for reservation is 50 per cent and we cannot give beyond that,” Kundariya said in Rajkot
The Congress, however, has distanced itself from the issue, questioning the rationale behind the move when the Patel community is already “very progressive”.
“Though we are not concerned in any way with Patel community’s agitation, we would like to ask why the Patels, who are considered to be very progressive, have come out to the streets with such a demand,” Congress spokesperson Manish Doshi said.
“What has happened under BJP’s last 15-20 year rule? Are the youth of the community not getting jobs, education? Are they not getting proper income from agriculture, do they have to close their businesses? Why has this progressive community come out on the streets demanding reservation? We want to ask these questions to the BJP,” he said.
The Patels are considered to be the most influential community financially and politically in Gujarat as they are the main farming community, control various businesses, including big industries, and have dominated the political scene in the state.