‘Other communities are also equally frustrated, but they have not been able to put up a front so far. Now a wind of change is blowing,’ says Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia.
Right ahead of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti leader Hardik Patel's 'reverse Dandi march' demanding other backward class quota for the Patidar community, opposition parties in Gujarat have been calling for a re-look at caste-based politics.
Senior Gujarat Congress leader Arjun Modhwadia believes that the creation of quotas irrespective of castes for economically backward sections, while keeping the original caste-based quotas intact, could be a possible way out.
Modhwadia feels while the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sanghhave always been against reservation, it was not politically suitable for the BJP to adopt an anti-reservation strategy.
Modhwadia, image, below, tells Sohini Das that slow progress in job creation in the state and policies that favour industry rather than labour have led to frustration among Gujarat's youth. He believes this could pave the way for revival of Congress in the state.
The Patidars used to be BJP supporters. So, how did this agitation happen?
Why has a community, which has been with the BJP so far, got so agitated? That's the main question.
If we look at history, the RSS has always opposed caste-based reservation. They (RSS) were of the opinion that this is disparity, and a hindrance in the way of equality. The BJP had followed that policy. During the 1980s, the BJP and RSS were behind the anti-reservation agitation in Gujarat, and the Madhavsinh Solanki government was overturned. At that time, OBCs were not aware as such as to what were the benefits of reservation.
However, while the BJP was against reservation, they could not do without the votes of these communities either. Therefore, they came up with the Hindutva strategy. During the 1990s, they incited communal violence on the pretext of the Ram Mandir issue, and then again in Gujarat in 2002, which saw a violent communal clash between Hindu and Muslim communities. They were able to draw all the Hindus towards them. The anti-reservation sentiment was always there at the back of their mind, but it was not politically suitable for them.
Do you think government policies are to blame for the pent-up frustration among the youth?
The right wing policy commercialised education and made it unaffordable for the poorer youth. Earlier, the poor were at least able to get proper education, and even secure jobs. Even if jobs didn't come by, the cost of education was low. The BJP government has not focused on affordable education, and as seats have increased, so have the fees.
At the same time, job creation in the government has virtually stopped. Whatever new posts come up, are contractual. In the private sector, the Congress government in Gujarat had strictly implemented labour laws. We saw to it that anyone who finished 240 days at a factory set-up, would become permanent. The BJP has favoured contractual employment, and did not implement the minimum wages criteria.
Frustration is building among the people. While the unemployed are obviously frustrated, those who are employed, too, are frustrated as they have no job security or good wages. This agitation has been an outburst of that pent-up frustration.
Have the pro-industry policies backfired?
The living conditions of workers in industrial belts such as Shahpar-Veraval are inhuman. Most jobs are contractual, with no guarantee of getting absorbed. The state government tries to scuttle industrial strikes whenever those happen. The policies are not balanced. This is not about being pro-industry. Here, industry is only drafting policies. While industry needs to come up, one has to uphold labour laws as well.
Will this agitation spread to other communities as well?
The Patidars educated, prosperous and also united. When such issues arise, they are easily able to congregate. Other communities are also equally frustrated, but they have not been able to put up a front so far. Now a wind of change is blowing. The government would perhaps bring a package.
Among the Patidars, the Aanjana Patels were included in the OBC category because of an element social backwardness. Now, while they were socially, and economically at par with the Patidars, youth from this community managed to bag jobs thanks to reservation. This has left the Patidars more frustrated.
Has the administration failed to tackle the situation properly?
The administration -- led by Narendra Modi (when he was chief minister) and now Anandiben Patel -- was arrogant. Hardik Patel's family was with the BJP earlier, but they fell out. He even campaigned for one of our candidates in 2012, he did not join the Congress. He was active on social media and in 2014, he also campaigned for the Aam Aadmi Party on social media. He eventually associated with the Sardar Patel Group.
One of their rallies, which saw some violence, got the media's attention. Hardik is articulate and he used the social media to his advantage. However, he is still a young boy. He will have to be mature in the way he takes this forward.
What are options before the Gujarat government now, and will this impact the results in the municipal elections?
The government ideally should come out with a package that would cater to their demands. This does not mean they would tamper with the existing reservation quota of 49 per cent, but create an additional quota for those who are economically backward irrespective of their caste.
The Patidars might stop supporting the BJP, or they might refrain from casting their votes. They have a strong presence in around 60 constituencies. Among Patidars, if the masses believe strongly in something, the leaders would have to go with them. They contribute for the community's welfare, and they are also good at raising funds. They, however, are unlikely to arm-twist the government on this issue. Now the BJP cannot ignore the support of the SCs, STs and OBC.
There would be some impact during the municipal elections. The entire Patidar community would earlier come out as workers for the BJP, not just as voters. That used to make the difference. This would not happen this time. We are also working at the grass roots level.
However, we do not wish to get in between the BJP and the Patidars; it is an issue they would have to settle. We believe there is a lot of frustration, and some sort of a package needs to be worked out.