Rationalizing Reservation: Patidar Agitation For Quota

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The unprecedented mobilisation of the Patidar community for the inclusion in the caste-based reservation turned out to repudiate the precondition for nationhood which sustains establishing the community of formal equals.This whole demonstration was oriented by Hardik Patel, who under the bannership of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) gathered around 5 lac odd overtly anxious Patels to be a part of his campaign which later witnessed violent clashes between the State machinery and the local groups. The police resorted to baton-charging and lobbying the teargas shells in order to control the dramatic situation as the protestors of the community allegedly vandalized shops and buses at various places.

The reason behind such agitation has been the failure of Government authorities to protect this agrarian community. Thereby serious indictments on the political as well as economic policies of the previous BJP led government in the State were made. The notion of the success story of the Gujarat has been contended to be a myth which was repeated to the extent till it was assumed to be true. Though the question still prevails as to whether the approach in pursuance of claiming such rights were made rationally or was it a mere unplanned attempt made in haste for redressing their issues as they deemed fit. In order to deal with this standpoint we need to move beyond factual interpretation of this incident to the ideological framework adopted by such groups.

The idea of reservation from the constitutional perspective has the pre-requisite of discrimination or social backwardness for the purpose of inclusion in the under-privileged sections of the society. This construction implies that the reservation policy is exclusively redressing the caste based inequality and discrimination. Though the prevalent outlook substantiates that if there is an electorally notable population, the ability to assemble the community and achieve media attention, is considerable enough to persuade the State machinery to achieve reservation as the same might not be problematic.

Further, it is pertinent to note that this was not the foremost agitation by Patidars, as in the late 1980s the Congress government forged alliance with KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) which followed a period of great social unrest. But then those were the anti-reservation movements which targeted the lower strata of the society, which has now though transformed into demanding rights of their own. Afterwards, a Commission was appointed to recommend the communities for Gujarat’s OBC list wherein 82 such communities were recognised in the report. At present the State has its permanent OBC Commission headed by former Gujarat High Court Judge Hon’ble Justice Sugnya Bhatt.

Though the Supreme Court through various judicial pronouncements has established that the reservations in any State cannot exceed the 50% mark, it is pertinent to mention that Gujarat has already reached the limit so any further demand by the Patels for the inclusion in the affixed 27% OBC reservation would have consequences which is evident from the opposing statements of the 146 other groups already in the backward list. This depicts that in such a society which is communally divided and deeply-caste ridden, regardless of its substantial economic growth cannot reach state of harmonization in near future.

The propagation of this economically and politically influential community posed a reason for background check as to the historical pre-condition of this community. It is notable that the term ‘Patidar’ means one who owns a strip of land. Technically, the members of these communities were among the industrious farmers wherein the erstwhile rulers of princely States appointed them as tenants of their lands. After the independence, these tenants acquired ownership rights and thereon Patidars became the owner of large strips of agricultural lands. Despite of them being in such an advantageous position, the demand for their inclusion in the OBC strata, presumably has some queer reasoning.

The justifications sought by the Patidars for this claim was primarily unemployment and increased competition in the professional educational, but these are hardly distinctive from the demands of other groups. Also, as there has been an absence of any systematic exertion to present instances of backwardness or discrimination which has already been discussed, these are requirements justifiable for reservation claims. The reservation based on caste-system thereby needs to be revisited with shouldered responsibility and in proper structured manner in order to cope up with the raise in demands at every possible juncture.

The attempts to turn this agitation into a nationwide stir led Hardik Patel to meet the representatives of the other OBC communities to seek their support or rather to present his approach in a manner avoiding further disputes between the groups. The indirect support shown to this Patidar agitation by the Bihar Chief Minister, Nitish Kumar, indicates that there are still several hidden and unknown political forces backing up this movement in order to suffice their political interests.

Thus it can be ensured that the truth enfolding the agitation will be publicised in near future but before that there is still lot of drama as to whether this movement will invoke national interest or support from unforeseen quarters that might spice up this movement. But amongst these uncertain revelations, there is one thing which is for sure that, yet again, the issue relating to reservation policy is going to draw the swords of public interest.

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