Patels and their stir may shake up politics of established parties

  • PTI, Ahmedabad
  • Updated: Sep 21, 2015 15:41 IST
Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convener Hardik Patel speaks to the media after he was detained in Surat. (PTI Photo)

The quota stir by Patels has led to the emergence of new leaders on the political scene of Gujarat, posing a threat to the established leadership of the ruling BJP and Opposition Congress.

In the past three months, the Patel reservation stir has brought to fore 22-year-old Hardik Patel - who is spearheading the agitation for OBC quota of his community - OBC youth leader Alpesh Thakor and Sardar Patel Group (SPG) leader Lalji Patel, who had originally started the Patel quota movement around a year back.

The Patel leaders have challenged the established leadership and shaken up the political equations.

The Patels, one of the biggest communities in Gujarat are disrupting government functions on the call of their leaders Hardik and Lalji.

While Hardik took the aggressive road - often criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi and threatening to escalate the movement - his mentor Lalji has believed in a slow-but-steady approach to force the government to accede to their demand.

With Lalji's SPG deciding to part ways with the PAAS in August, Hardik was facing difficulties in sustaining the demonstrations. Around a month after disassociating himself from the PAAS, however, Lalji reconciled with Hardik. Incidentally, the move came just ahead of their meeting with the Gujarat government.

The Patel-dominant villages have banned the entry of politicians in their societies and their leaders are pressing the community members to use NOTA (none of the above) option while voting in the forthcoming civic polls.

"It will be difficult for the BJP in the upcoming civic polls," Hardik has cautioned, while adding that he has asked his community members to use the NOTA option.

Alpesh Thakor, the 38-year-old convener of 'OBC Ekta Manch', has been uniting the Other Backward class communities against Patels' quota demand by organising public meetings in different parts of state.

The 'OBC Ekta Manch' is an umbrella body of the 146 communities in Gujarat that was formed after Patels raised the demand for inclusion in the OBC fold.

Thakor has also warned that if the demand of Patel community is met, they will throw the BJP government out of power even before the 2017 polls.

"Patels are just 1.5 crores, while the OBC population in the state is 3.5 crores. If they will give reservation from our share to Patels then we will not allow this government to complete its turn," Thakor said.

Lalji (in his 40s) has asked his community people in the US to demonstrate against PM Modi during his upcoming visit there.

He also called for "economic non-cooperation," after which Patels recently started withdrawing money from banks.

The Congress and the BJP, the two main political parties in the state, are seemingly clueless on how to deal with this fast-paced emergence of young leaders on Gujarat's political horizon.

Although initially the state government indicated that it was against the demand of reservation by the Patels citing Constitutional provisions and Supreme Court judgement, yet later as the quota stir intensified it held discussions with the agitating community.

However, the first round of discussions failed after which chief minister Anandiben Patel hit out at Hardik for taking the state towards class conflict and warned that law will take its own course if they resort to violence.

However, the BJP leaders are reluctant to go for any public function due to the fear of the Patel community's protest.

The party's 'Vijay Vishwas' public meetings ahead of the local body polls were postponed apparently due to this reason.

On the other hand, the main opposition Congress, which had earlier condemned the alleged police atrocities against the agitating Patel community members, has not made its stand clear as to whether it is for or against the Patel quota reservation.

The party fears that if it supports it, the OBCs will get angry and if it goes against the Patels, who seem to be alienated from the BJP now, might not turn to them.

"We are not the ruling party, we will spell our stand on the agitation for reservation at an appropriate time," Congress leader Shankarsinh Vaghela said.

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