How a 22-year old manís arrest has kept Gujarat on the edge for months

The past few months have been tumultuous for Gujarat due to an ongoing agitation that seeks reservation for Patels and the release of Hardik Patel

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Archana Mishra | April 19, 2016


#Gujarat   #quota   #Patidar   #Narendra Modi   #Anandiben Patel   #Hardik Patel   #violence  

(Photo: Arun Kumar)

Gujarat witnessed violence in 2015 when the Patidar community stood together to demand reservation for Patels in OBC (Other Backward Class) quota.  It’s been nine months since then but the simmering tension is failing to get doused.

Still to find a silver bullet to deal with the ongoing Patidar agitation, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Gujarat government was once again caught in a tough situation when violence broke out between the protesting Patels and the police on April 17 in Mehsana town leading to imposition of curfew in several parts of the state.

The unrest could spell trouble for the BJP ahead of 2017 state assembly election and it could well be a difficult road ahead for Gujarat chief minister Anandiben Patel.

Patidar leaders like Lalji Patel and Hardik Patel with their concerted efforts are trying to emerge as an alternative to the ruling dispensation. The reservation issue has become a political hot potato.

Achyut Yagnik, an Ahmedabad based social scientist and founder-secretary of the Centre for Social Knowledge and Action, said the state lacked second or third level leadership since the chief ministership tenure of Narendra Modi. Modi went on to become the prime minister in 2014 following BJP’s landslide victory in the general election.

“Ironically, the Congress has also been in a weak state. Therefore, Patidar leaders like Lalji Patel of Sardar Patel Group (SPG), Hardik Patel of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) are determined in challenging the central leadership. It is, however, very difficult for them to garner support and emerge as a replacement of [Gujarat chief minister] Anandiben Patel,” said Yagnik.

Patels have always been the backbone of the BJP, which seems to have changed now.  “Today youngsters in the state are dissatisfied with the ruling government. The government has been pro-industries. Therefore, there has not been much progress in the agriculture sector. So, Patels in this sector are feeling sidelined,” said Omkar, a journalist with Gujarat based website Divya Bhaskar.

In the Sunday violence, the reservation issue was, however, put on the backburner. This time, the demand was for the release of Hardik Patel, who was arrested in October last year on sedition charges.

The state had witnessed the Patidar agitation in August 2015 , when 23-year old PAAS leader Hardik Patel addressed a massive rally at GMDC ground in Ahmedabad and galvanized the Patel community demanding quota.

Since the arrest of Hardik Patel, there has been continuous protest in state, particularly in northern region of the state – Mehasana and Surat. There has been constant demonstration as well as hunger strike to demand the release of Hardik Patel.

The SPG which has stitched a coalition with PAAS organised a Jail Bharo Andolan on April 17. A showdown took place between the police and the demonstrators. The protest turned violent in Mehsana with SPG leader Lalji Patel receiving a head injury. Thereafter, several public vehicles were destroyed and two buildings were set ablaze.

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