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Gujarat: Compensation strategy pits Patidar groups against PAAS, but BJP not out of the woods yet

The affected families have ruled out the possibility of the monetary aid – coming after two long years – assuaging tempers raised by what they have termed as “police atrocities” against the community.

india Updated: Oct 27, 2017 20:33 IST
Hiral Dave
Hiral Dave
Hindustan Times, Ahmedabad
Hardik Patel,PAAS,Patidar stir
Patidar leader Hardik Patel at a rally in Botad on Wednesday.(HT Photo)

With Patidar leader Hardik Patel warming up to the Congress ahead of the Gujarat elections, the Bharatiya Janata arty (BJP) has launched a damage control exercise aimed at compensating families of those killed in the 2015 OBC quota stir.

Though the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) termed the monetary aid as “too little, too late”, the move pitched many influential Patel bodies against the Hardik-led group – much to the BJP’s delight. The ruling party’s worries, however, seem far from over. The affected families have ruled out the possibility of the aid – coming after two long years – assuaging tempers raised by what they have termed as “police atrocities” against the community.

“The Patidars know that even if the government agrees to grant OBC status now, it will not have an immediate effect. Besides, the scars of the atrocities heaped on us (by the government) still remain. No compensation can heal that,” said Dilip Patel, whose brother – 26-year-old Nishith – died at Mehsana in August 2015.

He was one of the 13 Patidar youths killed in violent clashes that engulfed the state for two days following the detention of Hardik in Ahmedabad on August 25, 2015. The state incurred losses to the tune of Rs 84 crore as protesters damaged government infrastructure and private properties. Over 400 cases of arson and rioting were registered against Patidar youths, though many have now been withdrawn.

The Patidar community – comprising farmers, diamond merchants and industrialists – constitute around 12% of Gujarat’s six crore population, and can influence the results in over 60 of the state’s 182 assembly seats. The BJP suffered in the rural local body elections the same year, when Patidar groups openly supported the Congress.

The truce formula worked out between the government and agitators last month culminated in six Patidar groups – the Umiya Mata Sansthan, Khodaldham, Umiya Mata Temple Trust, Vishwa Umiya Foundation, Shri Sardardham and Surat Samast Patidar Samaj – raising funds and issuing cheques of Rs 20 lakh to each of the 13 affected families on Thursday. By raising the funds when PAAS wanted the government to foot the bill, these groups have indicated that they continue to support the BJP.

The government – in turn – announced the formation of a non-reserved classes commission and board, and agreed to provide jobs to the victims’ kin and initiate a probe against the police officers responsible.

“The government has addressed all the demands of the Patidars, with the exception of OBC status. Why, then, should the agitation continue?” asked Reshma Patel, a former aide of Hardik who joined the BJP.

However, the victims’ families feel otherwise. “The police took away my only son, and my husband is not fit to work. Moreover, the aid has come from the community and not the government,” said Prabha Patel, mother of 32-year-old Swetang Patel.

The 57-year-old woman blames the BJP for Swetang’s death in police custody. “We will not spare them this time,” she added.

All the families contacted by HT appreciated the community’s initiative of extending financial aid. Their anger against the government, however, has not been stemmed.

“The BJP was left with no choice but to convince the community to help its own,” said Dilip. “If the BJP has come forward to find a solution for our sufferings, we do not think the Congress will do anything for us. Still, the BJP should suffer some loss in this election because the community has not forgotten all the loss and humiliation it was made to undergo.”

Purvin Patel, general secretary of the Sardar Patel Group (from which PAAS branched out), noted that aid was given only to families that lost their loved ones. “Several youngsters were severely injured too, and quite a few of them may never be able to work again. We are looking at ways to help them,” he said.

PAAS, meanwhile, hinted that the compensation amount was insufficient. “It was decided at the September 27 meeting that Rs 35 lakh be given to each affected family. But they only got Rs 20 lakh,” said samiti convenor Dinesh Bambania.

However, Umiya Mata Sansthan head Jerambhai Patel – who also coordinated between the six groups to raise the funds – shrugged off the complaint. “If Hardik and his team feel that the amount is not sufficient, they are welcome to raise some money on their own,” he said.

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 20:33 IST