Two months ago, nobody had heard of Hardik Patel, a 21-year old commerce graduate, and son of a local businessman from Viramgam tehsil in Ahmedabad district. But today, he is all over the news. With an unexpectedly popular movement demanding caste-based reservation for the powerful Patels in Gujarat, Patel has taken the state by storm.
The Patels, many of whom are known as businessmen from the cash-rich diamond and synthetic textile industry, are demanding inclusion in the 27% reservation mandated or Other Backward Classes. Hardik believes that Patidars, Patels comprising the Kadva and Leuva denominations, are deprived of development because of the current reservation regime.
The organizers, who call themselves Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti, have gathered enough support to take their demand across Gujarat, with a state-wide agitation today. People on their bikes, cars have taken the roads of Gujarat with slogan “Jai Sardar," recalling Sardar Patel.
The PAAS has already held more than a dozen rallies across the state and has also managed to draw some measure of support from the Brahmins and the Sindhis who believe the criterion for reservations should only be economic not social and educational backwardness. The movement has gotten so big that entire Ahmedabad has been called shut on Tuesday with more than 40 lakh people participating in the movement at Gujarat Mineral Development Corporation grounds.
Patels form 14-15% of the population in the state and that’s why the agitation can’t be ignored. The state government has already formed a seven-member committee to resolve their demand but according to PAAS, the government is trying to thwart their rally by giving such short notice for consultation.
The movement is particularly unnerving for chief minister Anandiben Patel, who took over from former CM Narendra Modi when he left for Delhi after a successful campaign for the prime ministership. Rumours have suggested that the agitation has also been directly aimed at unsettling the chief minister, who doesn't command the kind of support Modi managed to do within the Bharatiya Janata Party.
As a result, Anandiben Patel has spent the last week putting out videos that aim to clarify why the government cannot take its reservation amount over 50%, and has asked the Patidar leaders to call off their agitation. Hardik Patel, however, has refused to back down.