A photo feature
Ahmedabad: The streets of Ahmedabad succumbed to the might of the Patidars—or Patels—of Gujarat on August 25 as hundreds of thousands of men, with some women and children, arrived in trucks, buses, tempos and cars from all major districts of the state to demand Backward Class status and thereby ensure for themselves reserved quotas in education and government jobs.
Given the relative affluence and prosperity of the Patels—members of the caste are landowners, farmers and village leaders, and even own a quarter of all motels in the United States—their need for reservation seems incongruous to many.
The Patels have entrusted leadership of their protest to 22-year-old Hardik Patel, who either wants reservations for the Patidars or the complete abolition of reservation for all.
When the otherwise peaceful Kranti Rally called for August 25 failed to meet its purpose and Chief Minister Anandiben Patel refused to give in to their demands, Hardik raised the stakes, going on an indefinite hunger strike and refusing to end the protest. He was arrested but within an hour of his detention, violence erupted in different parts of Ahmedabad and simultaneously in several districts of Gujarat.
While Hardik was released and the riot contained the same night, eight people were killed in the police action and there is now a fresh demand for murder charges to be pressed against the policemen who allegedly fired at the protestors.
In an attempt to ensure the Patel revolution will not be televised (at least not via social media), 3G data and SMS services in the state were suspended and life came to a standstill for two days. Besides the Gujarat police, 11 columns of the Army have been called in as a protective combat measure. Many trains have been cancelled or diverted.
Hardik blames the government and the Gujarat police for starting the violence. Some Patidars at the OBC rally were blunt and vocal: “If we can bring down the Congress, we are equally capable of bringing down the BJP and Modi too if our needs aren’t met. If the government is by the people, it also has to be for its people. Our children score 90% and don’t get jobs while an OBC person even with 45% is able to do so. Who is being unfair here?”
As the authorities try to restore normalcy, the protest has raised several questions:
- What kind of ‘vibrant’ development model does Gujarat really have — and how could Narendra Modi offer this as a model for the rest of India—if its most socially and economically influential community seeks reservation?
- Is the Modi effect wearing off, considering he is far removed from the issue and has lost connect on the home turf?
- Why is Gujarat so susceptible to violence in spite of its dark history with riots? Instigators will always be there, but why doesn’t the public and media denounce the occurrence of such incidents time and again? Why is it so easy for politically influential agitators to take control of the streets?
While Modi appeals for peace and business goes on as usual in Gujarat, an underlying current of tension prevails as people wonder when and how the Patidars are going to roll the dice next.