The Patels of Gujarat are seething. They have warned Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Anandiben Patel of consequences if their demands for reservations are not met. Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com reports from the mega rally in Ahmedabad
"Jai Sardar, Jai Patidar," shouted hundreds and thousands of Patidars (commonly known as Patels), an influential Gujarati community, as they descended on the Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation grounds in Ahmedabad early Tuesday morning to join an agitation demanding reservations for the community. They had little clue of how the demonstration would end.
Their common grouse was that the Patels of Gujarat were victims of government apathy and injustice. Nobody paid heed to their demand of inclusion in the Other Backward Class category, they complained.
The anger against the state government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was palpable. Protester after protester echoed that if their demand was not met before the next assembly elections in 2017 or by Lok Sabha elections in 2019, they will ensure that both Anandiben Patel and Narendra bhai will face the consequences.
The agitation remained peaceful throughout the morning, apart from the sloganeering by charged up Patidars, mostly youth, from rural Gujarat who had travelled from their villages to Ahmedabad. In shrill voices, they expressed their displeasure against the CM and six other cabinet ministers, all from the Patel community.
“What’s the use of having seven Patels in the Gujarat cabinet?” asked Hardik Patel, a commerce graduate. A namesake of the young businessman, who recently shot to fame as the leader of the Patel agitation, this 19 year old travelled 74 km from Mehsana to Ahmedabad on a bike with dozen more from his village.
“We will demolish this government if our demands are not met. So what, if there are Patels in the cabinet who will be shamed,” he said expressing his anger against the ministers.
“This is our fight for just rights. This is our fight against injustice,” added Harsh Patel, one of the four from a group studying medicine at the Gujarat Cancer Society in Ahmedabad. They skipped college to stand up against what they feel is "systemic injustice" against their community.
“We are not opposing others benefiting from OBC quotas. We are only asking for Patidars to be included in that list,” demanded Harshil Patel.
The four including Akshar Patel and Harshvardhan Patel, who came dressed in aprons, were part of the huge crowd that had gathered to demand reservations for Patidars.
“We will not ask for reservations if the government cancels quotas for all. Let all of us get admission based on our merit and talent and not reservations. Let everybody be treated with equality when it comes to jobs and admissions,” pleaded Harshvardhan.
While lakhs of Patidars listened intently to their leader Hardik Patel, lakhs of others who could not be accommodated on the ground filled in the streets.
The bridge before the GMDC ground is choc-a-bloc with Patidars. Children and women, young and old, made a beeline on this bridge that connects to the ground where Hardik, the 21-year-old convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, was delivering his challenge to the Anandiben Patel government.
The crowds had no idea what's their leader’s next plan of action. They had responded spontaneously to Hardik's call to gather at the GMDC ground, but looked lost when asked if there were plans to further pressure the government into accepting their demands.
“What ever the Sardar Patel Group (another organisation that has rallied Patidars along with PAAS) and Hardik bhai decide we abide by,” said Rajveer Patel, whose sister Heena, he claimed, was a victim of the skewed reservation policies of the Gujarat government.
“She scored 90 per cent in Std XII, but still could not secure admission to the BJ Medical College run by the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation.”
His family now pays Rs 4.5 lakh as fees annually for his sister, who is now studying medicine at V S Hospital. Admission to the medical college would have set them back just by Rs 25,000 per year.
“Even Narendra Modi paid lip service to our demands when he was the chief minister. Now, Andandiben too is playing with our sentiments. We will not stop this agitation unless our demands are met,” he vowed.
All along the stretch of the bridge, and under it, every Patidar had a tale to tell about how the lack of reservations pushed the community to take to the streets.
The Patidars spoke with lot of passion and aggression, but said they were committed to peaceful conduct. “We are peace-loving Gujaratis. We don’t want violence. We don’t believe in it,” said Archit Patel, a student from Ahmedabad. “But is our demand wrong,” he asked vehemently from under the cover of the Indian tricolour.
Archit warned that there could be some stray incidents of violence, as the crowds would disperse later in the day. He was not sure if the Patidars were in any mood to budge from their demand.
“There will come a day when we will have exhausted our patience. How long will this longstanding frustration remain subdued is difficult to guess,” he wondered.