Patel leaders in Uttar Pradesh say they intend to back Hardik Patel’s campaign for reservations though it is unlikely to generate as much interest in the politically crucial state, where the community already has access to benefits under the OBC category.
Leaders of the Patel community, or ‘kurmis’ as they are known in Uttar Pradesh, told Hindustan Times they would support the 22-year-old in his efforts to mobilise and unite Patels in the most populous state.
“If he seeks our support, we will surely extend it. While it is true the kurmis get reservation in Uttar Pradesh, through him we could raise the demand to increase our quota,” said Sarvesh Katiyar, national president of the Akhil Bharatiya Kurmi Kshatriya Mahasabha.
In the 1990s, Uttar Pradesh had seen kurmis – who make up about 9% of the state’s population and account for around 24% of its OBC population – raise the slogan “Upjati Chodo, Patel Jodo” (drop sub-caste, add Patel).
This was an apparent effort to unite members of the community, who use several sub-castes like Verma and Gangwar, along with Patel, in Uttar Pradesh.
Hardik Patel wants his protest to go India-wide
Political experts say because of this factor, Patels come across as less influential than they actually are – unlike the Yadavs, who have a common surname across different states.
Probably this is the reason why even a kurmi-dominated political party like Apna Dal, which allied with the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, is actually considering Hardik Patel’s call for unity.
“If he seeks our support we will extend it. As far as the issue of Patel or kurmi unity goes, we are all for it and it is with this intention that Apna Dal was launched in the first place,” said Pallavi Patel, vice president of the Apna Dal.
Patel leaders also pointed out that Hardik Patel chose to speak in Hindi, and not Gujarati, at his massive rally in Ahmedabad to give a “pan Indian” character to his protest.
BJP, Congress dismiss Hardik
Leaders of the BJP were, however, guarded in their response. “Uttar Pradesh is a fertile political ground. Anyone is free to try their luck but yes, such unabashed caste agendas may not be very helpful,” said party spokesman Vijay Bahadur Pathak.
Influential kurmi politicians in Uttar Pradesh from both the Congress and the BJP dismiss Hardik Patel.
“He is making noises at the moment but the reservation issue on which he has based his entire agitation can’t hold in the state,” said veteran BJP leader Vinay Katiyar.
Hardik Patel is citing Sardar Patel to support his “Patel unity” campaign ahead of his visit to Uttar Pradesh, but a senior kurmi leader from the Congress said “Hardik was propped up by anti-Modi forces”.
The Congress veteran, a former Union minister, said, “How is it possible for a 22-year old to mobilise the kind of crowds he did recently in Gujarat?”
As photos of Hardik Patel with VHP leaders surfaced on social media, theories that he is back by forces opposed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi gained currency.
But Ayodhya-based VHP leader Sharad Sharma said, “The VHP can never back anyone who seeks to divide Hindu unity through issues like reservation.”
Reports suggested Hardik Patel visited Barabanki in Uttar Pradesh in November last year for a meeting of the Akhil Bharatiya Mahasabha, where the Patel community’s new poster boy is believed to have realised how his community enjoyed reservation unevenly across the state.
“I am not sure whether he visited Barabanki but irrespective of that, we would support him for sure,” said Barabanki-based Dhirendra Verma, state president of the All India Kurmi-Kshatriya Mahasabha.
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