Defusing the Patel bomb: Gujarat govt placates Patidars with Rs 1,000 cr package for 'weaker sections'

By Swati Bhan

In a bid to puncture the agitation led by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) fighting for reservations for Patels, the Gujarat government on Thursday declared an economic package of Rs 1,000 crore for all economically backward classes.

The Anandiben Patel-led Gujarat government had already made it clear that her government would not give into the demand of the Patidar community by giving them reservations. By announcing this package, the BJP has also ensured that voices of resentment from other backward castes would also be negated. Speaking to reporters, government spokesman and senior cabinet minister Nitin Patel said,''Any family from any caste with an annual income of 4.5 lakh per annum can apply for this scholarship.''

Patel also added that the decision of announcing this package was taken after consulting representatives of all castes. The members of PAAS and Sardar Patel Group, however, stayed away from these discussions.

Hardik Patel arrives at the Gujarat HC on Thursday. PTI

Hardik Patel arrives at the Gujarat HC on Thursday. PTI

The Gujarat government's decision comes at a time when Prime Minister Narendra Modi is on a crucial visit to New York. As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in New York, a section of the Patel community called off a planned protest, saying they would welcome him.

The government and BJP must have heaved a sigh of relief because even a small protest would have been amplified by the media taking the spotlight away from a high-stakes visit.

"We never spoke of protests, always spoke of a welcome rally," Alpesh Patel, spokesperson of the group that had reportedly planned a show of support for Hardik Patel, who is leading a campaign in Gujarat for reservation for the powerful Patel community, told NDTV.

Extending support to the PM, who will attend the United Nations General Assembly session and will also meet President Barack Obama during his five-day trip, Patidar Samaj of Gujarat on Saturday issued a press release in the name of Baldev Thakor from North Carolina.

"The community of the US has unanimously opposed the proposed rally against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the UN on 25th September. As members of the overseas Patidar community, we condemn it (the proposed rally). This is an exercise in political mud-slinging and we do not want to be a part of it. The group believes that the agitations in India and now in the US are politically motivated and these protests do not represent the voice of the entire Patidars, Thakor was quoted as saying by The Indian Express.

While Patels contribute 14 percent of the population, as per the last caste census OBCs count up to 40 percent of the total population. The Opposition Congress meanwhile has preferred to stay away from any debate in this whole agitation, fearing that their core vote bank like the Thakores too would distance themselves from the party if they take a stand in favour of the Patel reservation.

Gujarat's move to placate the forward castes comes days after the Rajasthan government passed an act to provide 14% reservations for economically weaker sections in education and government jobs across all castes not previously covered under quotas.

This thus is the second BJP government to move in the direction of addressing the rising anger of forward castes against reservations. A direction that RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat had suggested when he said the effectiveness of reservations needed to be reviewed.

That kicked up a lot of political dust, especially in poll-bound Bihar, though it is too early to surmise that the moves by Rajasthan and Gujarat are a piece of the RSS line of thinking or just political expediency.

Updated Date: Sep 25, 2015 12:07 PM

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