After spending around nine months behind bars on charges of sedition, Hardik Patel finally got bail from Gujarat High Court on Friday. Patel had spearheaded a movement in Gujarat last year, demanding the Patidar caste to be given Other Backward Class (OBC) status that would eventually qualify it for reserved quotas in education and government jobs.
Patel has been granted bail on a condition that he will remain outside Gujarat for at least six months. Adding to this rider is another fact that will not allow Patel an immediate release. He cannot move out of jail till 11 July when the hearing is to take place for the other case, in which he is charged with the act of vandalising a legislator’s office.
The charges of sedition were levelled against him by the Gujarat government. The 22-year-old Patel youth leader had drawn the attention of the government and people when he started his agitation under the banner Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), demanding reservation for Patels in government jobs and seats in colleges. The agitation led by Hardik Patel and his group sparked off violence in various parts of the state.
The Patidars seen as one of the most powerful and traditionally rich castes, protested for OBC status because they felt that only a small section of their community, especially those trading in diamonds and engaged in farming, could progress, while others would remain neglected.
Though his arrest had sparked off large scale arson and violence unleashed by his supporters, Patel himself has assured that once freed, he will continue with his agitation, albeit peacefully. To pacify the agitating Patels, the state government has proposed a 10 percent reservation in government jobs and colleges for the economically backward sections.
PAAS spokesperson Brijesh Patel, however, had expressed his dissatisfaction then, and had stressed upon their original demand, which was to include Patels in the OBC for reservation or provide a separate quota for the community, just like Haryana did for the Jats.
Politics has ensued following the agitation and Patel's arrest, and has continued for all these months. Last month, NCP leader Praful Patel met a key aide of Hardik Patel, and expressed solidarity with their then jailed leader while extending support to the Patel community over their demand for reservation. Elections in Gujarat are due next year and the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had already lent support to the Hardik Patel’s ‘cause’.
Earlier in the same month, as reported by PTI, Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela, who is also the leader of opposition in the Gujarat Assembly, assured that his party will strive to give 20 percent reservation for the Economically Backward Classes (EBC) in the general category, against the 10 percent announced by the BJP government, if his party came to power in Gujarat.
With assembly elections a year away, the ruling BJP, which has already lost the rural areas in the recently-concluded local elections, does not want to lose further ground in urban and semi-urban areas. Home state to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah, the ruling BJP, which has been in power since 1996, will not want to lose ground any further.
The Patels have been traditionally BJP supporters post Madhavsinh Solanki's successful experimentation with the (Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis, Muslim) KHAM formula in the state. That one move took the Patels away from the Congress and towards the BJP. The BJP, however, does not want to lose out on the support of the rich and influential community. Hence moves such as inducting two Patel leaders — Puroshottam Rupala and Mansukh Mandvadiya — during the recent Cabinet reshuffle are indicators that the BJP does not want to distance itself from the Patels.