Hardik Patel: Reservation or Revolution?
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 30 Aug 2015 5 Comments
Within the span of barely a month, a previously unknown 22-year old has become a nationwide sensation with a protest (that turned violent) demanding education and job reservation for the Patel community by inclusion in the OBC list. Yes, the politically and financially powerful Patel community.


Hailing from Virangam in Ahmadabad district, Hardik Patel floated a movement called the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) in early July and has since been organising rallies to garner support. Not only has he galvanised the entire community, but has brought the youth out on the streets to support the demand vociferously, and now also violently.


The rise of Hardik Patel is baffling. Yet it is clearly guided by hidden benefactors with deep pockets. In Arvind Kejriwal style, he has tapped into the non-directional energy of the youth to give vim and vigour to his agitation. The question naturally arises: what is the final objective here?


Looking back at 2011-2012, an unassuming Anna Hazare became the face of an agitation against corruption in public life and the need for accountability in the corridors of power. A well organised, high decibel campaign, led to a surge in mass appeal and people gathered in support in hundreds and thousands, cheerfully donning the ‘Anna topi’. But the mastermind behind it all was the Magsaysay awardee, Arvind Kejriwal, who quickly carved out an impressive political career for himself. Anna was eclipsed and Kejriwal happily announced his new political party with an established vote-bank in the national capital.


That rattled the social organisations whose political analysts thought that supporting the agitation would give them a leg up against the incumbent Congress. The young Hardik Patel, too, may soon find himself eclipsed as more seasoned players step up now that the Patel community has been galvanised. It is highly unlikely that he had the funds and organisational ability to mobilise such huge crowds within a span of a few weeks. The management of a crowd three to five lakh strong shows expert guidance behind the ‘movement’ that bears uncanny resemblance to a coloured revolution.


This is clearly a dangerous trend. It shows that in select pockets in the country, populist agitations can be staged to capture the imagination of unemployed and semi-educated youth for destructive issues. In the case of Gujarat, there is simply no justification for reservations for the Patel community. The great Sardar, whose name is invoked at many rallies, would have been aghast. Indeed, the Sardar Patel group from Kheda district, that had attended the PAAS rally at Mehsana on July 23, dissociated itself from Hardik Patel as soon as that rally turned violent.


Ironically, thirty years ago, the Patidars took the streets to protest against the grant of reservations in government jobs and educational institutions to OBCs.


The Patels are an empowered community, with financial interests in textiles, diamonds and other industries, as well as cash-crops. They have always been well represented politically. The present Gujarat Chief Minister and senior cabinet colleagues hail from the same community.


The rich Indian diaspora, too, is led by the Patels. In fact, an astonishing aspect of the Ahmadabad rally was the fact that many supporters arrived in expensive cars – arrangements for parking were piously made – and yet the community demanded reservations on grounds of backwardness. Something is truly amiss here.


Some have argued that the Patel community is now keen to send its youth for professional education, in view of the ups and downs in the world of business. As this is a new field for them, they wish to cushion the way with the demand for reservation in educational seats and government jobs. But it is not possible for the nation to recklessly add communities to the reservation pie. Privileged and locally dominant castes like the Patels make a mockery of the logic of reservations.


If for some reason, Delhi’s historic trader community, that has generally followed the practice of children joining the family business, faces an economic downturn, it too, will naturally turn towards formal and professional education as the way ahead for the youth. But since the community has long been rich and privileged, it cannot legitimately claim reservations because of educational backwardness on account of pursuing the profitable family trade. Such backwardness is relative and disappears in just one generation, which is why traditional business castes in northern India have prospered in the professions. Doubtless this is the situation in other parts of the country where too, communities adjusted to changing times.


The larger problem with reservations in educational institutions, particularly professional institutions, is that they are not merit-based. Admission standards have been lowered to accommodate groups to which reservation is provided. This is now manifesting in the problem of children who have secured admission through tutoring in coaching schools not being able to cope with the curriculum, leading to high drop-outs.


The quest to include communities in the reserved quota is essentially a political tool to consolidate vote-banks. The quota is often cornered by the upper crust of the reserved communities, rather than the deserving and truly under-privileged.


There is a need to completely overhaul the system of reservations from caste-based to economic-based. It is enervating to see a spoilt brat in an SUV manage admission to a prestigious professional course because of caste.


Hardik Patel has expressed ambitions to go national, with plans to arrive at Jantar Mantar in the capital. He has claimed that Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandra Babu Naidu and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar are members of his Patidar community, and expects them to support his movement. Nitish Kumar has been quick to use the occasion to taunt the Prime Minister ahead of the Bihar assembly elections. The fate of the municipal body elections in Gujarat are now a question mark.


But reservations cannot be handed out at political will. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court scrapped a notification by the UPA government granting backward class status to the Jat community. This, however, did not affect their inclusion in OBC lists notified by various States; only the notification bringing them under the Central List was quashed. The apex court said that the government ought not to have rejected the recommendation of the National Commission for Backward Classes, which found no merit in the claim that Jats were inadequately represented, and asserted that the community was not socially backward.


It follows that the Supreme Court will not uphold a move to extend reservations to Patels and similar historically endowed communities. This makes the agitation by PAAS all the more suspect, as huge financial and managerial resources have gone into its rapid spread from district to district. The reservation pie needs a strong relook. At the very least, it must be based on a family’s financial status, not caste, and should not compromise the merit criteria for admission to professional institutions.


The author can be followed on twitter: @therijuluppal 

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