Patel, Thakor, Mevani: Will quota champions be Cong gain or pain in Gujarat?
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Patel, Thakor, Mevani: Will quota champions be Cong gain or pain in Gujarat?

Ever since Hardik Patel came in contact with the Congress, he has been vacillating from one extreme to another. For its part, the party has been trying a balancing act between the Patidars, Dalits and other backward classes.

india Updated: Nov 03, 2017 11:48 IST
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Gujarat elections,PM Modi,Hardik Patel
Gujarat Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel at a rally in Gujarat in February 2017. (Siddharaj Solanki/HT File Photo)

Rajkot VL Desai is an angry man and when Mukeshbhai Yadav wondered about the reason behind the demand of socially and economically influential Patidars for reservation in Gujarat, he had a ready answer.

“Why don’t we? We are no longer the landlords and there are no jobs for us,” Desai, a Kadva Patel, said and lauded Patidar quota agitation leader, Hardik Patel, for making it a national issue.

Standing nearby at Teen Bati Chowk in Jetpur, about 70km from Rajkot, Keshubhai Veljibhai Sakhrelia, a Leuva Patel, blamed the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government for their condition. “Where is ‘vikas’ (development) for us? There are only promises but no action,” the 50-year-old said.

The Patidars’ angst against the BJP government has become more pronounced. But it remains to be seen if the Congress is able to tap into that anger.

At the same time, the Congress is caught between a rock and a hard place as it draws up a strategy to deal with Hardik, Other Backward Class (OBC) leader Alpesh Thakor, and Dalit activist Jignesh Mevani to dethrone the BJP.

Hardik has been demanding reservation for Patidars, and Thakor will not allow any tampering with the OBC quota.

While OBCs constitute 40% of Gujarat’s 60 million population, Patidars comprise 12%. The OBCs in the state are given 27% quota in jobs and education. The Scheduled Castes (SCs) have 7% and Scheduled Tribes (STs) 15%, making a total of 49%, just under the 50% reservation cap set by the Supreme Court.

Ever since Hardik came in contact with the Congress, he has vacillated from one extreme to another. Last week, he called the BJP “maha chor (super thief)” and Congress “chor (thief)” but insisted that he, along with the grand old party, will work to defeat the ruling side.

But a few days later, he issued an ultimatum to the Congress to clear its stand by November 3 on the Patidar reservation issue or else he would disrupt its vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s public meeting at Surat, the same way his supporters disturbed BJP chief Amit Shah’s rally in the textile city on September 8.

For its part, the Congress is trying to do a balancing act. It has offered 20% reservation in jobs and education to the Economically Backward Classes (EBCs), including upper caste communities such as the influential Patidars, in addition to the existing 49% reservation to SCs, STs and OBCs, if voted to power in Gujarat.

This will also have a reflection in the party’s manifesto, a document of policies and programmes issued by a political party before an election, being prepared by a team headed by senior leader Madhusudan Mistry.

Will the Congress keep tolerating Hardik’s tantrums?

“His language and attitude are that of a 24-year-old youth. We cannot be like the BJP, which uses bullets and batons against its people. We will find a way to deal with him,” former Gujarat Congress chief, Arjun Modhwadia, said.

Political experts say that there will be legal hurdles in implementing the promise to give quota to EBCs.

“Constitutionally, it is most difficult to give a specific quota. Hardik is a problem for the Congress and his demand is difficult to meet. But I still think they might try and negotiate with him,” said political analyst Achyut Yagnik.

Out of power in Gujarat since 1995 and fancying its chances for the first time in 22 years, the Congress does not want to antagonise the OBCs, fearing a backlash from these communities.

How will the Congress negotiate the Patidars’ demand? Political expert Vidyut Joshi said reservation cannot be given on the basis of economic backwardness and for the time being the Congress is focussed only on elections.

“The Constitution doesn’t promote economic equality. They (Congress) have to devise some other criteria for backwardness. That they can. If the Parliament says, they can,” he said. “I think at this time the Congress is trying to woo Patidars and rest things after elections. What will happen in Parliament remains to be seen.”

On Monday, Gujarat Congress chief Bharatsinh Solanki and his predecessors, Modhwadia and Siddharth Patel, met Hardik’s associates to discuss the proposals before finalising the deal.

The Congress assured them that it will consult constitutional experts and lawyers on the matter and it has started the process by discussing the issue with senior party leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal.

The two sides will also discuss the Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan models of reservation. Rajasthan passed a bill on October 26 raising the reservation for Gujjars and four other backward communities from 21% to 26%, taking the total quota in the state to 54%. In the mid-1990s, the then Tamil Nadu chief minister J Jayalalithaa provided legislative support to the 69% quota scheme.

The Anandiben Patel government in May 2016 announced 10% quota for the economically backward among upper castes (for those under Rs 6 lakh of annual income) through an ordinance. However, the Gujarat high court quashed the move in August 2016, terming it “unconstitutional”.

Hardik has now set November 7 as the new date of announcement of his support to the Congress.

Is Jignesh Mevani a hard nut to crack?

Similarly, Mevani has also kept the Congress on tenterhooks. On Tuesday, Mevani took to Facebook to refute reports about his proposed meeting with Gandhi.

“Even if I meet Rahul Gandhi or any other leader, it will not be for my personal gain but to know Congress’ stand on the issues of Dalit communities on which the BJP government in the state is not ready to talk. Why shall I meet anyone secretly?” he wrote in his post.

Dalits constitute 7% of the state’s population and for both the BJP and Congress every vote counts in this high-stakes battle for Gujarat’s throne.

First Published: Nov 03, 2017 07:36 IST