Patel peeve

  • Fight continues: Patidars demanding reservation during a rally last year | Janak Patel
  • Young crusader: Members of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti holding a candlelight vigil in memory of Mayur Patel, who died in police firing | Janak patel

The death of an agitator revives the Patidars' demand for reservation

  • According to a Supreme Court directive, a state cannot have more than 50 per cent reservation. Gujarat already has 49.5 per cent reservation.

In the recent civic polls, the BJP government in Gujarat suffered major reverses, which were largely credited to the agitation by the Patidars, who have been demanding reservation.

However, the worst is not over yet for the government.The death of 22-year-old Mayur Patel of Mehsana, who suffered gunshots during the quota violence in August, has once again revived the agitation. After battling for life for four months, Mayur succumbed to his injuries on December 25. His funeral procession turned violent after a mob vandalised the BJP office.

Although Hardik Patel, who is the face of the agitation, is behind bars since October on charges of sedition, it hasn’t deterred the spirit of the Patidars. “Whenever my son comes out of the jail, he would rejoin the agitation,” said his father, Bharat Patel.

The other Patel leaders, too, are determined to fight till the end. “Let them put us behind bars, we do not fear anything,” said Lalji Patel, leader of Sardar Patel Group. “The agitation will continue till our demand for reservation is met and those in jails are released.”

Varun Patel, chief spokesperson for Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti headed by Hardik, said they had three demands: withdraw all cases against the Patidars, take action against police officers who assaulted the agitators and grant reservation. The Patel leaders are under pressure to stop the agitation. Many of them had got threatening messages on their cellphones, said Varun.

The demand has found support among the other communities, too. “Their demand is genuine,” said Tejas Joshi, a Brahmin. “Why talk of Patels alone. Even I have suffered because only certain castes enjoy reservation.”

Last year, ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US, the Gujarat government had announced a package for the economically backward communities, including Patels. The Patidars, however, rejected the package saying the government had not given them anything special. “The scheme is for the people of Gujarat and we would have got the benefits because we are also from Gujarat,” said Varun.

Realising that the Patidars would not fall for the bait, the government has decided to withdraw some cases against their leaders. Health Minister Nitin Patel said Chief Minister Anandiben Patel was reviewing the cases and some action could be expected soon.

So, what special package do the Patidars want? The government should bear the cost of education of our children, said Varun. He did not think much of the government's decision to provide free school uniforms to students. “So far, ten people have lost their lives in the agitation. Did they sacrifice their lives for a pair of uniform?” asked Varun. Mayur's family spent more than Rs30 lakh on his treatment. They took a bank loan and borrowed money from friends. The government gave the family close to Rs24 lakh. However, nothing could compensate the loss of life, said the Patel leaders.

The government has made it clear that it cannot go against the Supreme Court directive that a state cannot have more than 50 per cent reservation. Gujarat already has 49.5 per cent reservation, so there is really no scope for adding another community to the list.

The Patidars, however, are determined to get their way. Reshma Patel, 29, a resident of Vejalpur, went on a hunger strike on December 21 demanding the release of Hardik and other Patel leaders. She sent a letter to the district collector stating the Gujarat government would be responsible if anything happens to her. Reshma ended her fast after the Patel leaders gave her an assurance that they would secure the release of the arrested leaders.

With assembly elections due in 2017, the BJP would have to find a way to placate the Patidars to avert a repeat of the civic polls.

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