Some Observations on the Patidar Protest Movement

Prasad Chacko

It is true that the Patidars, an ascendant caste, is an aspirational class that has certain grievances. Since the mid-eighties when their aspirations had sky-rocketed, these aspirations could never be adequately met, thanks to the lopsided, non-inclusive economic policies of the state. The political class is well aware of this, has been misguiding the youth and channelizing their discontent and rage against the reservation system by portraying it as the root cause of the problem. This is far from the truth. The real causative factors for the discontent are the shrinking educational and employment opportunities, privatization of education and the consequent unaffordability of quality education, jobless and non-inclusive growth and the burgeoning unrealistic aspirations fuelled by the desire to emulate the lifestyles of their kith and kin in the US.

Those who are aware of the logic of the reservation system know very well that it was never intended to be an economic measure; or an employment programme. It was a significant constitutional provision instituted to ensure fair access of the public education system to the castes that were historically denied access by the dominant castes through the centuries old caste-based social exclusion mechanism. The constitution extends the same logic to public sector jobs, and envisages reservation as a strategy to secure proportional representation of members of the SCs, STs (and later on the OBCs). It is only too obvious that jobs in the public sector would not, by any stretch of imagination, provide any significant measure of employment that would solve the unemployment or fulfil the aspirations of the ascendant castes like the Patidars. The total number of persons employed in the organized public and private sectors put together for the whole country is only about 2.97 crores for the whole of India. So we can imagine how miniscule the number of organized sector jobs would be in Gujarat or any state for that matter! And now with most governments reducing recruitment, it is an ever shrinking sector. How would such a miniscule, shrinking organized sector absorb such a large number of youth (such as the Patidar youth)? This clearly proves that the economic policies followed by our nation (including Gujarat) over the past 2-3 decades have not created enough jobs despite growth; and this is bound to lead to more such protests across the country. In Gujarat this would be particularly acute since the Modi-propelled ‘Gujarat model’ has raised unrealistic aspirations beyond all permissible limits and had misled people to believe in the myth of ‘vibrant Gujarat’. Modi has carried the same myth-making strategy to the national level, riding on the aspirations and translating them into votes. In Gujarat, as the myths fade and reality exposes its ugly face, we see discontent and anger spilling out onto the streets.

Managing the protests to steer them towards the real agenda

But as in the 80s this rage is being ‘managed’ socially and politically. The Sangh Pariah has clearly charted out the script of the next phase of social engineering. The demand of the Patidar youth to be included in OBC is the first step towards this. Let us examine this scenario:

Acceding to the Patidar demand for inclusion in OBC is bound to exacerbate social conflict with the OBCs if the 50% cap imposed by the Supreme Court has to be adhered to.

The dominant castes (Brahmins, Vaishyas and others) would strongly resist any move to legislate to remove the 50% limit.

The Patidars have been the strongest drivers of the Hindutva in Gujarat and did manage to bring down the Congress that had won with a brute majority (149/180) through the anti-reservation agitation of the 80s; and the Congress Party could never come back to power in Gujarat again. They are again on the war path, this time demanding reservations by including them in the OBC, or doing away with reservations altogether.

For the Sangh, the reservation policy is the most important factor that militates against reinforcing Hindutva as the single most significant organizing principle of Indian society. Reservation policy is founded on the constitutional acceptance of caste based discrimination and exclusion and hence the need for affirmative action on behalf of those communities that are victims of such discrimination and exclusion. The existence of reservation and special legislative provisions (such as the SC and ST Prevention of Atrocities Act) are thus a day-to-day indictment of the Brahminical social order, required to be countered through legitimate state action. Hence for the Sangh, Reservations have to go.

<>The Sangh (including the BJP) knows that any constitutional amendment to eliminate or dilute the reservation policy would be impossible with the current seat position and political profile of parties in Parliament. Samajik Samrasta – beyond reservations Hence for the Sangh it is extremely important to initiate social engineering in the following manner while the BJP is still in power: “Let the Patidar rage spill over. Let the Jats and the Gurjars and the Marathas and all such ascendant castes voice the same demand. Let there be incidents of violent conflicts of these communities with the OBCs and SCs and STs who feel threatened by their demand for inclusion in OBCs – who very well know that their real agenda is to end reservations. Thus build up a precarious condition of social conflict in the country which requires the BJP government and the Parivar to manage a process of ‘conflict resolution’ – a ‘dialogue’ among unequal communities – held under the watchful eyes of a fascist state. So the outcome of the ‘dialogue’ for ‘conflict resolution’ would be predictable – where the Hindutva concept of ‘Samajik Samrasta’ would become paramount; and be brandished to buy over OBC, SC and ST leaders”.

The above is what the Sangh has scripted; and would like to see unfold. If successful, India would change beyond recognition. Civil society as we know it has been infiltrated by the new intelligentsia; universities and research institutions are being silenced through appointment of those under the tutelage of the Sangh. NGOs have been put in place with the new controls legislated. But it is for the SC, ST and OBC communities and all secular activists in the country to become aware of the diabolic moves of the Sangh Parivar and counter it socially and politically. We still can change the course of a scripted, foretold history, if we want to     


Prasad Chacko is Director of Human Development Research Centre run by St. Xavier’s Social Service Society in Ahmedabad and known human rights activist.

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