Hardik Patel’s outing in Delhi over the weekend generated tremendous attention. The 22-year-old has been able to muster half a million people in Ahmedabad.
His arrest paralysed the state and led to violence, prompting an appeal for calm from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While his demand was for including Patels in the OBC category to make them eligible for quotas, Mr Patel made it clear that he was against the reservation regime as a whole.
If it had to exist at all, it should be on economic grounds solely. And if that did not happen, all citizens of the country should be given their share of the reservation. The demand for Patels was only a first step. In this quest, Mr Patel sought to ally with other groups agitating for OBC status, especially the Gujjars and Jats.
He also reached out to groups he considers to be a part of the wider Patel umbrella — especially the Kurmis of Bihar and UP.
Three features of the current political agitation are striking. Irrespective of one’s views on reservation, Mr Patel has struck a chord among young people of ‘general castes’ in and outside of Gujarat.
Sixty-five years after the Constitution enshrined reservations for Dalits and tribals and 25 years after the Mandal report was implemented, a strong and vocal constituency wants a relook at reservations.
Many personally dislike the policy, for having lost out on opportunities. But others still ask: Has it worked? Should it be a permanent feature or should there be a sunset clause? Do OBCs, who exercise political power, really need these provisions?
The second is that Mr Patel’s agitation will give a fresh lease of life to the Gujjar and Jat demand for OBC status. At the same time, Mr Patel’s quest to carve out a national alliance is not going be a smooth ride.
There are conflicts between the Gujjars and Jats. The Kurmis in Bihar already have OBC status. In fact, after some initial bonhomie, Nitish Kumar, a Kurmi, has distanced himself from Mr Patel when the movement’s anti-reservation strain became apparent.
And finally, it is clear that some of Mr Patel’s political positions are dangerous. He has spoken in favour of citizens carrying guns and swords and of aggression as a medium to bring about political change.
Mr Patel’s views on issues that are important even for the politics of identity — for instance, the place of minorities — are not clear. It is time for Mr Patel to think harder and develop his political views in line with the Constitution.