How and why the demand by the Patel community in Gujarat escalated into riots
How and why the demand by the Patel community in Gujarat escalated into riots

In India, the Other Backward Castes (OBC) status is an affirmative action which provides reserved quotas in education and government jobs. In Gujarat, 27% seats are reserved for OBC, 7.5% for Scheduled Castes and 15% for Scheduled Tribes totaling 49.5% of all seats, later 50%.

In 1981, the Government of Gujarat headed by Indian National Congress (INC) chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, introduced the reservation for socially and economically backward castes (SEBC). This is equivalent to what is now called the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). The Patels, otherwise the community who are at the top of the social hierarchy, were not happy with this decision. It resulted in anti-reservation agitation across the state which spilled over in riots. Solanki resigned but later returned to power with support from the Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims or the KHAM. It resulted in the Patidars or the Patel community being sidelined and losing the political influence.

Upper castes, led by Patels, began protesting and this escalated into a statewide violent agitation in March 1985 leading to caste and communal riots in Ahmedabad and other cities. This continued for months. This finally led to Solanki's fall, and the rise of BJP – first in the Ahmedabad municipal corporation and later in the state assembly.

Years later, in July 2015, the people of Patidar community who are also identified with their surname Patel carried out public demonstrations across Gujarat seeking Other Backward Class (OBC) status or abolition of reservation on basis of castes. They were supported by Sardar Patel Sevadal, an organisation for community service. The youth then formed Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) for the purpose headed by Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old graduate.

Agitations started drawing an estimated 1 lakh to 4.5 lakh people. Schools, shops, remained closed.

After Narendra Modi's departure, Anandiben Patel, of the Patidar community, was elected the CM of Gujarat. A hope that the Patel community's demand for OBC status may be granted fell. It did not. Just two days ahead of a mega rally dubbed Kranti Rally to press the demand for OBC status, Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel ruled out any reservation for them citing the Constitution and Supreme Court judgements. The judgement added fuel to fire.

The major demonstration was organised in Ahmedabad on 25 August at GMDC ground. "We want reservation to preserve our dignity and our heritage. We have the right to reservation, and so do our children," Hardik Patel said at the rally on Aug. 25. "Patels are just 12 per cent while OBCs, SCs and STs are 78 per cent of state's population. If Patels will be given even one per cent reservation, this government may no longer remain in power in this year itself, forget about 2017," Hardik Patel warned.

The demonstration was attended by people over half a million. But it snowballed into a riot. Public property were damaged and buses were set on fire. Patel, who was leading the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti in its protest, was detained after police used lathi charge at the protest site. He was later release by the police after seeing the soaring violence. The protest turned violent as a state-wide bandh was also called.

However, the protest may just be the tip of the iceberg. If a dominant and affluent community like the Patel community is joining the brigade for quotas, what can be expected from others states? Should we be worried?

The Northeast is predominantly a tribal region barring few communities living among them. Experts suggest that, however, the probability of such demands in the region is little. Percentage of non-tribal communities and reservations vary from state to state and the minority communities have also accepted this in the region. "This is perhaps an advantage in the Northeast. The diverseness in the Northeast and the minority communities having accepted it attributes to such chances of demands being bleak," an expert quotes.

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