Police blunder or conspiracy? Why the handling of Patel agitation has PM Modi worried

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August 27, 2015

NEW DELHI – It was first of its kind broadcast message by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – an appeal for calm in his home state Gujarat. The message delivered in Gujarati with photo frames of two most famous Gujaratis, Mahatama Gandhi and Sardar Patel in the backdrop, is indicative of the magnitude of the social and administrative crisis that has set in the state.

August 27, 2015

NEW DELHI – It was first of its kind broadcast message by Prime Minister Narendra Modi – an appeal for calm in his home state Gujarat. The message delivered in Gujarati with photo frames of two most famous Gujaratis, Mahatama Gandhi and Sardar Patel in the backdrop, is indicative of the magnitude of the social and administrative crisis that has set in the state.

The sudden emergence of the phenomenon Hardik Patel who is demanding Other Backward Caste (OBC) status and consequent quota benefits in government jobs and educational institutions for economically prosperous, socially and politically dominant Patidar community has caught Gujarat and the nation by surprise.

A man rides a motorcycle past the wreckage of a bus that was burnt in the clashes between the police and protesters in Ahmedabad, India, August 26, 2015. India deployed paramilitary forces and imposed a curfew in the western state of Gujarat on Wednesday after violence broke out at a protest led by a powerful clan to demand more government jobs and college places.

According to a report by Hindustan Times, seven people were killed after protests in the Indian city of Ahmedabad turned violent. On Aug. 25, 2015, a massive rally was carried out by the Patel community, demanding more government jobs and college acceptances because the caste members believe they are unable to compete with less privileged castes who have had jobs and university spots set aside for them in an effort to include those who have been victims of harsh discrimination. Click through to take a look at how these protests affected the state of Gujarat.

But what has left many in the BJP unit in Gujarat and other communities puzzled is why the police arrested Hardik Patel, albeit only for a brief period on Tuesday evening. It happened after the public meeting was over and hundreds of thousands of participants from the Patel community were still on the streets trying to get back to their homes in different parts of the state.

Volatile and guided by mob mentality rather than any rational thought, the arrest left an ugly trail of violence and arson.

Police and intelligence agencies could easily have expected this situation. It's the the most basic tenet of maintaining law and order, which even a novice officer would have known. If at all Hardik had to be arrested, the police could have waited for two to three days, let the situation stabilize and then take action.

"But instead they chose to do just the opposite," a senior state BJP leader requesting anonymity said.

The retaliatory action by the police against Patels across the state has further complicated matters. The police are accused of having acted in a very handed manner against the protesting activists.

While the issue of quota issue has united the Patel community it has also pitted them against other communities. In Gujarat, 146 castes and communities are under the OBC category. These communities are conscious of the fact that the inclusion of Patels in the OBC list would effectively mean that the lion's share would be grabbed by the community and the needy ones would continue to be deprived.

The Patel, Leuva and Karva communities have substantive landholding, wide ranging business interests and interests in both trade and industry. Members of the community who were once taken to Africa as forced labour by the British have since earned a name for themselves in Europe, America and Africa.

Politically, Patels have been single most dominant community for past several decades. They constitute around one fifth of the 182-member Gujarat legislative assembly. Half of dozen MPs from the state are from the community.

The Chief Minister, Anandiben Patel, is from the community. Saurav Patel, Nitin Patel and Rajni Patel are among most powerful ministers holding charge of most critical departments. Their total strength in the council of ministers is far more than any other community.

Seven members of the community have been chief ministers in the past. Chimanbhai Patel was the first one from the community to become chief minister way back in 1973 and held the post twice. Babubhai J Patel and Keshubhai Patel also held the Chief Minister's post twice each. Anandiben Patel has been in charge of the state since Narendra Modi left to become Prime Minister.

But ironically no Patel has served a full term in office and all of them have faced difficult situations, from within the ruling party or outside, after being in office for about a year. They all had to exit from office midway.

It is in this context that the two theories – one a conspiracy theory and the other, one of collateral damage – are being discussed in the state's power corridors. There is an argument that since the repercussions of Hardik Patel's arrest could have been forseen even by a lay man, somebody outside of the state government's structure with substantive control over police department gave nod for the young Patel leader's arrest.

"Anandiben Patel was left to hear the consequent music," a source said.

The second theory is that in the last few years there have been massive recruitments in the police force and since the appointments were done with reservation for OBCs, the newer recruits from the constable to Assistant Sub-Inspector level largely belong to the existing OBC communities. It is these recruits who have dealt with Patel activists and even their families, in some instances, rather heavily. The home department is under the Chief Minister with junior minister Rajnikant Patel managing the affairs of the department.

Incidentally, the Patels were opposed to OBC quota when VP Singh implemented the Mandal Commission recommendations. They have obviously reversed that position. There is a feeling among the Patels that it is all right to be in commanding position in politics but that power is only temporary as elections have to be held in every five years. They now believe an entry into government services through reservation will give them permanent positions of influence. This feeling became more acute when Anjanas bearing the Chaudhary title were given OBC status.

In last few decades the Patels have virtually come to control 80 percent of private educational institutions in Gujarat and can very well accommodate young boys and girls from their community in the 25 percent management quota they have in their command, but they won't do so, a BJP leader said.

It's anybody's guess how the judiciary will deal with the Patel question if the government awards them OBC status and it comes for legal scrutiny. The quota policy for Jats in northern India has been struck down. The Congress's hasty move to give Jats OBC status ahead of elections proved counter productive in Haryana where non-Jat communities united against Jats and voted overwhelmingly for the BJP.

The Gujarat government has so far desisted from showing any inclination to award quota to Patels in Gujarat but it has erred in handling the agitation. Historically the state has shown a tendency to erupt suddenly over an issue – from Mahamta Gandhi's Quit India movement to JP's Navnirman movement, VP Singh's Mandal commission and the 2002 communal riots. More than anyone else, PM Modi and BJP President Amit Shah know that the unfolding situations has the potential to rewrite the much-hyped Gujarat success story.


Courtesy: Firstpost