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Congress offers EBC quota to Patidars as Hardik Patel issues Nov 3 ultimatum

The Congress’s latest stand on reservation is viewed as a balancing act between Patidars and Alpesh Thakor, a Dalit leader who recently joined the party and opposes OBC reservation to Patel’s community.

assembly elections Updated: Oct 29, 2017 11:03 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Gujarat elections,EBC,OBC
Patidar leader Hardik Patel meets his supporters at Bhavnagar district in Gujarat.(PTI FILE)

The Congress promised on Saturday to offer reservation in jobs and education to Gujarat’s influential Patidars in the economically backward class (EBC) category, but not in the other backward class (OBC) group as demanded by the community.

The party’s stand opens the possibility of endangering its likely alliance with Patidar leader Hardik Patel, a bitter critic of the BJP government in the state going to the polls in two phases this December.

Patel threatened to disrupt Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi’s rally in Surat on November 3 if the reservation in the OBC category wasn’t assured.

The threat coincides with comments from the Congress’s Gujarat unit chief, Bharatsinh Solanki, in an interview to Hindustan Times that his party would give EBC reservation to the Patidars.

The Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) core committee passed a resolution on Saturday, warning the Congress to promise the OBC quota or face consequences.

“They should tell us how they can include Patidars in existing 27% OBC quota in Gujarat,” said Dinesh Bambania, the group’s co-convenor along with Patel.

The committee authorised Bambania to declare the group’s stand after Patel threatened in a tweet to disrupt the Congress vice president’s rally unless the party cleared its position on reservation.

The 24-year-old Patel said on Thursday he would support the Congress in the polls as he has been assured by senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot of providing reservation under the OBC quota.

“I am sure he (Gandhi) will promise OBC status if the Congress is voted to power in Gujarat,” he had said.

The Congress’s latest stand on reservation is viewed as a balancing act between Patidars and Alpesh Thakor, a Dalit leader who recently joined the party and opposes OBC reservation to Patel’s community.

The OBCs comprise 146 castes and make up around 40% of the state’s about 60-million people. Patidars, known to be traditional BJP supporters, constitute 12%.

Gujarat’s OBCs are given 27% quota in jobs and education. The scheduled castes have 7% and the scheduled tribes 15%, making a total of 49%, just under the 50% reservation cap set by the Supreme Court.

Congress leader Solanki said his party would provide a separate 20% quota for EBCs, including upper caste communities such as Patidars, in addition to existing 49% reservation to scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs, if voted to power in Gujarat. The party is out of power in the state for two decades.

“We will pass a bill in the 2018 Gujarat assembly, which will go to Parliament. If the BJP government at the Centre accepts it, they will negotiate it with the Supreme Court. If not, then in 2019 we will form the government at the Centre, and will provide 20% EBC and, not OBC reservation, to Patidars,” he said.

But Bambania reaffirmed that his group won’t accept reservation in the EBC section.

“In the Constitution, there is no provision for EBC. Even if Congress is voted to power in Gujarat, Constitution-related changes can be done only by the central government. And, next the Lok Sabha elections are in 2019. Then there is no question of extending support to the Congress this time,” he said.

Gujarat was on the edge in August 2015 as Patidars, led by a young and fiery Patel, held a huge rally in Ahmedabad demanding reservation. The event triggered widespread violence in which 10 people were killed and public property worth crores of rupees was damaged across the state.

In 2016, chief minister Anandiben Patel’s government announced 10% EBC reservation for all non-reserved classes, including Patidars, through an ordinance. The PAAS rejected it and the chief minister was replaced later.

The ordinance ran into legal trouble as the Gujarat high court and later the Supreme Court struck it down.

First Published: Oct 28, 2017 23:33 IST