Violence in Mehsana: Success of Jat stir revives Patel quota agitation in Gujarat

Revival of the agitation by Patels for reservation was guaranteed the day Mohan Lal Khattar's Haryana government genuflected in front of the Jats.

By accepting the demands of Jats for reservation, the Haryana government reinforced the old adage: Jiski laathi uski bhains (in this case reservation). The Patels of Gujarat are simply following in the footsteps of the Jats, angered by the BJP's double speak on quota, buoyed by its political chicanery in Haryana.

Five months ago, when the Gujarat government slapped sedition charges on Patidar leader Hardik Patel and sent him to jail with some of his associates, it seemed the BJP was willing to defy the politically-influential community.

At the height of the Patel agitation in August 2015, Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel clearly stated that the community does not qualify for quota benefits. With the government taking a tough stand and its leaders in jail, the agitation seemed to be dying down.

Patels are demanding 10 percent reservation in education institutions and governmental jobs. The state government has rejected the demand citing the 49 percent reservation cap imposed by Supreme Court, a factor that has been ignored in Haryana while extending quota benefits to Jats after their violent stir earlier this year.

Haryana has, naturally, given Patidars a second wind. On Sunday, when the Patels spilled over into the streets of Mehsana, home district of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for a jail bharo stir, it was clear Haryana is their latest inspiration. "The BJP accepted the demands of Jats of Haryana. But our plea for reservation was ignored. We will not accept these double standards. How are we different from the Jats?" Patidar leader Lal ji Bhai Patel roared.

With elections in Gujarat on the horizon, the BJP will have to find a quick answer to this question. Patels are nearly 15 percent of Gujarat's population. Like Jats, they do not fulfill the criteria for inclusion among OBCs. But, since Khattar accepted the demands of the Jats, Patels are convinced a mass agitation in Gujarat will bring the BJP down on its knees.

There are, of course, the inner dynamics of the BJP at play in Gujarat. Dozens of messages on social media sites and apps suggest the decisive battle between rival groups led by the CM and Amit Shah has begun.

"The leader behind the lathicharge on Patels during their protest meeting in Ahmedabad's (August 2015) has not yet been exposed," says one message exhorting the community to participate.

It is widely believed that Shah was the driving force behind the tough stand against the agitation and its leaders, including the sedition charges against Hardik Patel.

A few days ago, when the Gujarat DGP was shifted abruptly, it was speculated that he had been shunted out by the CM for ''mishandling" the stir.

Patels are keen to get their leader Hardik Patel out of jail. But, since he is facing sedition charges, his fate can now be decided only by the courts. The government, even if it wishes to appease the Patidars by releasing him, is helpless. So, their only option at the moment is to revive the agitation and work up public fury and outrage.

The CM's tepid response to Sunday's jail bharo stir also indicates Patel is not keen to take on people from her own community and may not be keen to keep Hardik in jail. On the eve of the protest, Patel, who was in Surat, said agitations are part of politics and her job is to do seva. She later tweeted out an appeal for maintaining peace.

Just a few months ago, the Patidars appeared divided into several groups. Hardik, who was once a part of Lalji Patel's Sardar Patel Group (SPG), had developed differences with his erstwhile mentor. He appeared keen to interact with another influential Patel leader Vithal Radadiya. But, the guru — who was injured in clashes with cops on Sunday — and his disciple seem to have buried their differences.

With Haryana providing the inspiration and BJP's internal politics the fuel, the Patidars may just be getting for their second battle in Gujarat.

The resistance will come from the OBCs led by their budding leader Alpesh Thakur, the anti-addiction crusader whose popularity rivals that of Hardik Patel.

But that is a story for tomorrow.

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Updated Date: Apr 18, 2016 14:58:47 IST

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