Citing Marathas, Hardik Patel revives Patidar quota demand, corners Congress, BJP

Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel has been pressuring legislators to clear the bill in the assembly during the next budget session in February-March, just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

india Updated: Dec 05, 2018 22:45 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Marathas,Hardik Patel,Patidar quota
Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel has been pressuring legislators to clear the bill in the assembly during the next budget session in February-March, just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. (PTI)

Patidar OBC quota stir leader Hardik Patel on Wednesday put the ball in the court of the opposition Congress to introduce a private member’s bill seeking reservations in the Gujarat assembly in the wake of the reservation granted to Maratha community in Maharashtra.

Leader of opposition, Paresh Dhanani, had declared that the Congress had twice tabled a bill for the same and that it was now up to the BJP government to initiate a discussion on the issue.

Firebrand leader Patel, whose outfit Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti had supported the Congress in the last two elections, has been pressuring legislators to clear the bill in the assembly during the next budget session in February-March, just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. This time, he is armed with a valid point.

“If the BJP in Maharashtra can grant reservations to Marathas through a bill, why can’t the same can be done by the same party in Gujarat? And like the Shiv Sena and the NCP supported the bill in Maharashtra, the BJP and Congress too should support each other over a similar bill for Gujarat,” Patel said.

“The Congress had first tabled a private member bill in February 2016 which was rejected. It tabled a similar bill in March 2018 again. Now there should be a discussion on it, in either a special session or the next budget session,” said opposition leader Dhanani.

Both Dhanani and Patel said Gujarat should follow the example of the Maharashtra bill, which was based on a survey of non-reserved classes conducted by a backward class commission. Both the leaders also maintained that not just the Patidars, but all non-reserved communities should be included in the same.

In 2016, a year after the Patidars began agitating for reservations in government jobs and college admissions, the BJP had tried to introduce 10% Economic Backward Class reservation, but the ordinance was scrapped following the HC ruling in that regard.

For the first time in over two decades, the agitation left the BJP unsure about unflinching support of influential Patidar community, which comprise 12% of the six million population of Gujarat.

Read: Which leader offered water to Hardik Patel during fast? Candidates asked in Gujarat exam

With Patel supporting the Congress in crucial subsequent elections (2015 local body polls and 2017 assembly elections), Patidar influential religious organizations and powerful business men distanced themselves from him. With funds and support from within the community dwindling, the agitation has lost the kind of force that had rocked the BJP government at the start in 2015.

Still, Hardik Patel has been trying to keep the agitation alive. In August, he sat on indefinite strike demanding not only reservations, but also the release of his close aide, Alpesh Kathiria from custody in a sedition case. But when the BJP showed no signs of caving in to his demands, Hardik ended the fast, his first big show since his release from jail after nine months of imprisonment in January 2017.

With a host of Congress leaders paying Patel daily visits, the BJP, on its part, got a chance to prove what it has been saying for long — that Patel is really an agent of the Congress.

But the Maratha reservations in Maharashtra have now given Patel a new platform to drive his agenda home and keep him relevant in Gujarat politics.

And with demand of private member bill from the Congress, just before the 2019 Lok Sabha election he has been trying to hit both the Congress and the BJP with one stone.

“If the Congress has love for us, it will support our demand. And, if the BJP will not support the Congress’s bill, it will make their intention clear,” Patel said.

Patel in October returned to the Other Backward Caste commission, requesting it to conduct a survey similar to the one in Maharashtra and consider his demand for quota for Patidars.

Coming just months ahead of the Lok Sabha election, the move is a crafty one.

After leading agitations which were frowned upon because of their violent nature, Hardik Patel’s latest argument based on the Maratha quotas in Maharashtra, is being seen as legal and legitimate.

So how unflinching will the support of the Patidars — 12% of Gujarat’s 60-million-strong population — be towards the BJP this time?

For the first time since the beginning of the 2015 agitation, that’s not a given.

First Published: Dec 05, 2018 22:36 IST