Hardik Patel, who is leading the Patel agitation in Gujarat for reservation, told Hindustan Times on Thursday that his movement's next stop would be to stop the supply of milk and vegetables to cities.
The obvious reason for the threat is that Patels produce milk, vegetables, and fruits among other agricultural goods in the state, but there is a deeper subtext.
Leading economist Y K Alagh, who is chancellor of the Gujarat Central University and a former union minister, says that among other reasons, the origin of Patel alienation lies in the absence of the marketing infrastructure for commodities like milk and vegetables in 'census towns'. These are places which are not statutorily notified and administered as "towns", but have attained characteristics of a town. "The government does not recognise them as towns, and so they lack the infrastructure. Gujarat has 1,800 such towns according to the 2011 census." Young men from such towns have participated in the rallies in large numbers.
Alagh's diagnosis is that even though agriculture has done very well in the state, the value chain of non-grain products is weak. Patels strongly feel they do not get the income they deserve from their produce of milk and vegetables. They are producers, but they do not have much of a share in marketing what they produce.
"What is needed is marketing infrastructure, processing infrastructure and value chain infrastructure in the census towns. If there were producer companies and cooperatives which employ say 2,000 to 5,000 young Patel boys at Rs 15,000 plus every month in these towns, life would have been drastically different," says Alagh. Young men of the community may not then want to so desperately escape agricultural-related professions and compete for limited government jobs.
Government officials are confident that Hardik Patel cannot pull off his threat of stopping supplies. "Patels are pragmatic. They may come for a rally, but they are not going to hurt their own economic interests for days by stopping supplies," said an official.
Alagh also uses the term 'vyavharik', business-like, and believes the situation will settle down. But he :has a warning note: "This is a problem that is occurring because Gujarat is more developed than other states. We are anticipating problems that others will face tomorrow. It is time to improve the agricultural marketing infrastructure in smaller towns so that producers are satisfied."