Self-styled new Shiva-bhakta
his three crutches
“Y” category security has officially confirmed 24-year-old Hardik Patel’s status as an important and powerful leader of the Patidars agitating for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions, though he is not the sole leader of the caste. Perhaps, he is the youngest politician to get “Y” category security on his own ‘merit’.
To understand the factors behind Hardik’s rise in politics, it is necessary to know the background of the movement and Hardik’s political ambitions and strategies.
Patidars and their agitation
Once known as Kanbis and considered of low social status, though basically farmers, the community struggled for a long time to become economically powerful and achieve the status of upper caste.
The word Patti means share. Under the Pattidari system, on the death of father, agricultural land left by him is equally divided among sons. During the British rule, Kanbis were covered by the village-based revenue collection system; amount of revenue payable by a village was fixed. Villagers fixed each landlord’s contribution in proportion to land owned. Since the British rulers were not interested in how farmers used their land, the system gave landowners freedom from state interference. They were free to cultivate land themselves or sub-let or managed it otherwise.
In the latter part of the 19th century, enterprising and innovative Kanbis adopted improved methods of farming and transportation. With economic empowerment, they started adopting upper castes’ social and religious practices in a bid to achieve higher social status. For example, instead of sending their women to work in the field, they would hire labour. That gave enterprising Kanbis opportunity to engage in trade and industry. Some of them entered politics. They started adopting the term Patidar – holder of allotment of land – to underline their higher economic status. They also adopted Patel surname, traditionally applied to village headman. In the 1931 Census of India, the term Patidars was used to classify them as a separate upper caste.
After independence, Patidars got more opportunities to enter business in India as well as abroad and also politics. Quite a few of them are big and well-known industrialists. In the USA, they dominate motel industry. On an average, Patidars in urban areas are better off than their rural counterparts. There are powerful in politics too. Out of 119 BJP MLAs in the present State Assembly, 31 (about 26%) are Patidars
However, the agitating Patidars’ argument is that the good old days are over. Now only 15% of the community can be called wealthy. Due to division of land holdings among the successors, 90% of farmers have less than 4 acres of land each. Moreover, crop failures and low prices have made production of food grains and cash crops like cotton unremunerative. Economic downturns have rendered even diamond polishers jobless. Poor Patidars are not able to provide higher education to the children to enable them to get jobs in public or private sector. They have fewer opportunities to go for higher education. Even those who are educated enough to go for higher education, especially for education in professional fields like medicine, do not get opportunities because of quotas for OBCs and Dalits. While OBCs are becoming better off, Patidars are becoming worse off. Under the circumstances, Patidar youth want reservation in educational institutions and government jobs.
Though there is some truth in these arguments, such problems exist in major parts of the country, Gujarat is better off than many states. The unemployment rate in the state is the lowest, only 1% (of 15 years and above population), as against 5.9% in Bihar and Punjab. The numbers of farmers committing suicides in Gujarat were 582 in 2013, 600 in 2014 and 301 in 2015. The corresponding numbers for the country were 11,772, 12,360 and 12,602. About 87% of farmers’ suicides are reported from seven states. Maharashtra tops the list followed by Karnataka, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Tamil Nadu.
Then, what is making large number of Patidar youth so aggressive? In my assessment, three factors can explain such aggressiveness, not only in Gujarat but all over India: (1) attraction of government jobs, however lowly; (2) attraction of urban life; and (3) emergence of caste-based politics.
For common Indians, educated, semi-educated or uneducated, government job is a great attraction. During my childhood and early young days when my father owned agricultural land in two villages of Bihar and we had close interaction with the people of our villages and neighbouring villages, I saw large number of young men including sons of well-off agriculturists, migrating to urban areas because they did not like to toil on agricultural land. The urban life gave several comforts and pleasures that could not be available in villages. Most of them worked as constables or peons. Low salary was compensated by income from bribe, not considered a taboo in our society.
VP Singh’s decision to implement the Mandal Commission recommendations (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mandal_Commissio) in 1990 stirred up a hornet’s nest. The violence unleashed by the decision made everyone conscious of his caste tag, even among those educated urban families in which the children did not know anything about the caste system. The phenomenal success of leaders like Laloo Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati and local politicians practising caste-based politics continues to inspire politically ambitious persons. They persuade their fellow caste or sub-caste members to unite under their leadership for empowerment through quota in government jobs and educational institutions. All these leaders, big or small, try to build, often successfully, caste-based “kingdoms”, large or small, to boost their political career and become important enough to opt in to share in political power.
Because of political compulsions, the percentage of reservation in government jobs gradually increased and in a few states exceeded the ceiling of 50% imposed by the Supreme Court. The lure of benefits associated with OBC, Scheduled Tribes, Dalits and Mahadalits led to demand for downward movement in the caste hierarchy. Gujjars, categorised as OBC, are agitating for the status of Scheduled Tribe. Economically well-off and politically powerful Jats, classified as Upper Caste, want to be downgraded to the rank of OBC. Some Dalits want to be Mahadalits. Clamour for going down in the social hierarchy is a phenomenon peculiar to our country.
This is what is happening in Gujarat also. Patidar youth are more interested in urban life and government job. Community leaders emerged to encourage them. When the government did not show any inclination to accept their demand for OBC status, drawing inspiration from the agitation of Rajasthan’s Gujjar (that ended in May 2015), in July 2015 the Patidar leaders supported by Sardar Patel Seva Dal, an organisation set up for community service, started public agitations across the state. Between July 2015 and December 2016, there were about 127 demonstrations some of which turned violent when the violent mob indulged in destruction of public properties. On several occasions paramilitary forces had to be called and curfew had to be imposed. Thousands of agitators were arrested. In August 2015, 12 persons were killed in police firing that gave further impetus to the movement
Hardik Patel becomes leader of agitation
Waiting for such an opportunity, Hardik Patel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardik_Pandya) jumped in the movement. He and his supporters formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) with Hardik as its convenor. He was arrested more than once. Considering his role in keeping violent agitations alive, on 15 July 2016, a court granted him bail on condition that he stay out of the state for six months and out of Mehsana for nine months.
When Hardik formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), he claimed that it was an apolitical organization formed to get Patidars included in the OBC to get the benefits of reservations. He had also claimed that he himself felt the need of such a demand when in July 2015 his sister, who had secured 86% marks, failed to qualify for a state government scholarship while another student with lower marks but belonging to OBC got the same scholarship.
Hardik’s claim has to be taken with a pinch of salt because has been changing his demand as well as strategy. His fast rise to the present status has been result of several calculated moves. He has all the qualities of a leader in the parliamentary democracy of caste-ridden India. A powerful orator and skilled organiser, he has no qualms in changing his stance to promote his political career. Nor does he hesitate to adopt violent means to pressurise his opponents.
A below-average student who managed to complete graduation in the third attempt, Hardik was more interested in politics and cricket. For a person of his “qualities” politics is a more attractive career. In college, he was elected general secretary of the students union unopposed. In October 2012, still a college student, he joined the Sardar Patel Group, a patidar youth organisation with membership of 50,000 and soon became president of the Viramgam city (in Ahmedabad district) unit but his association with the group proved short lived because of conflict with its leader.
During agitations in Gujarat, on several occasions, he had announced launching similar movements in different parts of the country but never did so. As the Gujarat election approached, his political ambitions started unfolding. The apolitical PASS became political. Himself being less than 25, he is not qualified to contest election but started exploring the most attractive political ally. After considering various political parties including Shiv Sena and NCP (perhaps also Aam Aadmi Party)), he found the Congress the best bait. On October 1, 2016, Congress had announced its support for the Patidar agitation.
The Congress and Hardik Patel badly need each other. Hardik knows that on his own, he cannot win enough number of seats. Out of power for more than 22 years in the state, the Congress has lost its roots and has no state leader of any consequence. To improve the prospects of his party, Rahul Gandhi who has taken up the responsibility to bring back Congress rule, needed a few more anti-BJP faces. He inducted OBC leader Alpesh Thakor and Dalit leader Jignesh Mewani in his group.
Thus, Rahul is trying to reach his goal on the crutches. It is also true that Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh are using Rahul Gandhi as their crutch.
Little chance of getting reservation for Patidars
Hardik joined Congress after a hard bargain. Realising that Patidar’s inclusion in the list of OBCs – the number is already around 150 – would at the best give only a tiny share in the pie, he changed his stand and demanded promise of separate 10% reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Rahul Gandhi roped in Kapil Sibal, one of the costliest lawyers in the country (charges ₹ 5 lakh to ₹ 16 lakh per appearance in High Court or Supreme Court), to work out a formula. Sibal is famous for trying to defend the indefensible, not necessarily successfully. During the UPA regime had claimed that there were general loss and the location of 2G spectrum. In the triple case, the Supreme Court rejected his plea that instant oral divorce practice among Muslims was a "matter of Islamic faith". Sibal convinced Hardik that reservations for the Patidars, beyond 50% ceiling prescribed by the Supreme Court, was possible under Article 31C of the Constitution. Though he claims to have read the Constitution, it is naïve to expect him to understand the complexities of the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. It is also possible that the Rahul and Hardik needed a face saving device that Sibal provided. Hardik has his own logic to convince his diehard supporters that his deal with the Congress will not go waste. In an interview to a journalist on no November 23, he expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would review its early adjustments on the quarter. Another face-saving device.
Hardik is capable of giving all sorts of illogical suggestions. After brokering the deal, in the same interview he suggested that every caste should be given reservation in proportion to its population. Had he some knowledge of the caste composition of the Indian population – there are more than 3000 costs and 25,000 sub-castes – reservation in proportion to population will give only lollipop to each caste. In the same interview, he said that the monthly scholarship of ₹ 17,000/to a student should be raised to ₹ 7lakh.
Article 31C was introduced in 1971 to provide immunity to from judicial review laws enacted to give effect to the directive principles of state policy. However, the Supreme Court has already held that laws enacted under Article 31C or not immune from judicial review. In judgements delivered in 1992 and 2007, the court has held that normally the reservation should not exceed 50%. According to constitutional pundits, caste, even if economically not very robust, alone is not sufficient for special treatment unless it is proved that the social backwardness is due to its economic and educational deprivation, a condition Patidars cannot fulfil.
It may also be noted that during the Patidar agitations, the state government issued an ordinance to provide 10% reservation for Economically Backward Classes (EBC) among the upper castes (not exclusively for Patidars) in educational institutions and government jobs. In August 2016, the state high court held it unconstitutional. The ordinance lapsed before the Supreme Court could give its verdict on the government’s appeal, though the apex court gave an interim direction to not allow fresh admissions or recruitment under the EBC reservation.
Any law giving reservation to relatively well-off and politically powerful Patidars will open a Pandora’s Box. Brahmins are at the top of social hierarchy and occupy large number of posts in higher civil services but 55% of Brahmins live below poverty line. In Delhi alone Brahmins clean at least 50 Sulabh Shauchalayas (public toilets), what as coolies at railway stations and rickshaw pullers. In Andhra Pradesh, In the 5 to 18 years of age group, 44% Brahmins stop the education at the primary level and 36% at the matriculation level due to poverty and 75% of domestic help and cooks are Brahmins. Brahmins working as priests in temples are paid meagre salaries. (http://www.rediff.com/news/2006/may/23franc.htm)
The All India Kayastha Mahasabha has already registered its demand for 33% reservation in jobs for the community.
Consequences of reservation for Patidars
Whether Lord Shiva’s blessings to his new bhakta (worshipper), Rahul Gandhi, and Rahul’s three crutches on the Earth will restore Congress to power or not will be known only on December 18 though in my assessment it is highly unlikely. Even if the Congress and its allies form the government, Patidars are unlikely to get anything more than lollipops.
Assuming, after election the new government enacts a law under Article 31C to give, say 10%, reservation in the state government jobs to economically backward classes among the upper castes and further assuming that its constitutional relativity is upheld by the judiciary, will it solve the problem of unemployment among Patidars? It is highly unlikely that the government would make such a reservation only for Patidars who constitute 12.3% of the state population. Taking an extreme view that such a law is enacted only for Patidars, will it solve their problem? Let us look at the numbers.
The total number of state government employees is around 1,86,000. Assuming 35 years of service, the annual retirement and consequential number of vacancies would be around 5310. 10% reservation would give job to only 531 persons. If jobs under panchayats are also included, the corresponding numbers would be round 3,95,000 (total number of employees), around 11,270 (annual vacancies) and 1127. Availability of just over 1100 jobs when unemployment is on a scale large enough to make people violent, is not even a consolation prize.
Another important fact to be noted is that more than 85% government jobs are in Groups C (clerical) and D (peons and equivalent). In other words, around 940 jobs will be in these two categories. In 10 years, about 10,000 Patidars would be added to the army of clerks and peons.
Had he been a genuine well-wisher of Patidar youth, he would have encouraged them to do better in the studies and become entrepreneurs for which so many facilities are now available. But he wants them to be clerks and peons.
In other words, while Hardik may become a more important leader, may be enjoying “Z” category security and moving in bulletproof car, his followers, clerks and peons, walking to their offices or homes would be cheering him from footpaths.
No wonder, his former colleagues and now opponents are alleging that he is cheating the Patidars and misusing the community’s support and funds for a luxurious life in the business of politics.
This is a lesson to all the communities demanding downgrading in the social hierarchy or special law under Article 31C for benefits of reservation. The government must ask leaders of such communities to quantify the gains they are expecting from reservation.
December 04, 2017