Hardik Patel's agitation reverberate across global diaspora

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Aug 29, 2015 01:13 IST
Buses set on fire in Surat as the Patel community was enraged after Hardik Patel, convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, was detained on Tuesday. (PTI Photo)

They own a fifth of US motels, many convenience stores called 7-elevens and an ubiquitous chain of grocery shops called Patel Brothers. And they are proud of what they have achieved.

Hardik Patel’s agitation in Gujarat has left them cold and angry, though he is not without supporters, some of whom want to show solidarity though a Times Square rally.

A Chicago businessman, who didn’t want to be identified, said he was aghast at the idea of being included in the category of other-backward classes for the purpose of reservation.

“Patidars are a high-caste people, we are landlords,” he said, using the caste name instead of the more common Patel surname. “The community is facing problems indeed because of shrinking landholdings, and paucity of city jobs.”

“But is reservation the answer? Certainly not.”

There are an estimated 145,000 Patels in the US, though some tend to peg the number higher — 60% of the 700,000 Americans of Gujarati descent, according to one claim.

It’s a prosperous community known for their highway motels. In a 2012 book “Life behind the lobby”, sociologist Pawan Dhingra said one out of two motels in the US is owned by Indian Americans; 70% of them are owned by Gujaratis — and among them, three-fourths share the last name Patel.

Dhingra told Hindustan Times in an email he is not surprised why some Patels don’t relish the idea of reservation for their community. “They are a proud community of entrepreneurs and have had meaningful success in the United States and other parts of the world. Such a designation can rub some the wrong way.”

Ramesh Patel, a retired Connecticut businessman who heads a body that organises the traditional India Day parade in New York every year, said he, like Hardik Patel, wants to end reservation, as something that has outlived its lifespan.

“But if it’s not politically possible to withdraw it,” he said, “benefits such as free tuition, travel etc must be extended to all those economically distressed — the poor essentially — irrespective of their caste.”

Hardik Patel too has called for an end to reservation, but, unlike Ramesh Patel, he has argued that if it should continue, Patels must be included in the category of those covered by it.

But the 22-year-old leader of the Gujarat stir has supporters in the US too. Some of them approached Ramesh Patel — because of his India Day experience — to organise a rally at New York’s iconic Times Square. “I refused,” he said, adding he wasn’t sure if that was the end of it.

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