Recently Gujarat witnessed turmoil as a dominant Patel community held a huge protest demanding OBC quota. Led by 22 year old Hardik Patel, the protest saw a participation of over 20 lakh Patidars. Currently the OBC list has 146 communities and Patels want to be included as 147th in the list. What is the dispute about? It is about the famously controversial topic of reservations! Reservation can be traced back to the age-old caste system of India. The caste system divided people on the basis of their occupation like teaching and preaching (Brahmins), kingship and war (Kshatriya) and lastly business (Vaish). Soon reservation became an instrument to divide the society on caste-basis, creating various walls between different sections of the society. Today we stand divided widely into Hindu, Muslim, SC, ST and OBCs with newer reservations coming up for different sections of the society.
THE RATIONALE BEHIND RESERVATIONS
Due to the long standing caste system of India, constitution framers believed that certain groups such as Scheduled caste and Scheduled tribe had been historically oppressed and were denied respect and equality in the society. To bring these groups at par with other sections of the society, government reserved 7.5% and 15% of vacancies in government jobs and educational institutes for STs and SCs respectively. As of today, the reservation for OBCs remains within the limit of 27% and for SC, ST and OBC combined is 50%.
PATIDAR RESERVATION AGITATION
The people of Patidar community started the Agitation for reservation in July 2015 in Gujarat. Patidar youth, also identified with the surname Patel seek OBC status for their community to get reservations in education and government jobs. Headed by 22 year old Hardik Patel, the youth have formed Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). Following huge protests and violence which killed 10 people in the state, Gujarat government banned WhatsApp and internet service for 5 days (26th August to 31st August) to stop the circulation of propagandist messages which may hinder peace in state and cause agitation.
But the question is do they really need this Reservation?
Some would argue that the Patels constitute 15% of Gujarat’s population. They are financially, economically and politically dominant caste in Gujarat. The companies owned by them have market capitalization of over 1000 crores. They boast of an enviable track in entrepreneurship, dominating industrial clusters of engineering tools in Rajkot and Jamnagar, dyes and chemicals in Dhoraji Naroda and Ankleshwar, tiles in Morbi, and textiles and diamond in Surat and Ahmedabad. Politically they are amongst the most influential in Gujarat. Out of 117 MLAs in Gujarat, 37 belong to the Patidar community. Six of the 26 parliamentary constituencies (23 per cent) of the State are represented by Patel leaders. Moreover, Chief Minister Anandiben Patel, besides herself, has six Patels in her Cabinet of 23 ministers (i.e. 26 per cent!). As successful farmers, small and big industrialists, traders as well as non-resident Gujaratis, the Patels are spread practically all over the world.
Do they then need the protection offered under reservations then? Some would say are better off than the most people in this country are.
JOBLESSNESS & SINKING BUSINESSES
The Patel community was always ambitious. The root cause of the agitation started by them is their ever increasing aspirations. This explains why lakhs of Patel youth gathered at the call of Hardik Patel, a 22 year old man who rekindled their aspirations. The agitation emerged out of their frustration for two major reasons: First, the much discussed Gujarat development model failed miserably in generating employment among youth. Despite the huge money spent on marketing the Gujarat model, shrinking SMEs, failing diamond industry and real estate business have only created joblessness. Secondly, the failure of existing reservation policy to accommodate the lower caste within the mainstream economy led to resentment among those who were denied the benefit of reservation.
The agitation has attracted so much attention because it occurred in the state of Gujarat, Modi’s model of good governance. With the Bihar assembly elections approaching, Modi so far has not taken a stand on the issue apart from making requests to maintain peace and harmony in Gujarat. Keeping in mind his pitch of “good governance”, a burning Gujarat is not the kind of publicity Modi needs to win the Bihar elections, which are pivotal for BJP to recover the momentum following the loss it faced in the Delhi election, yet the movement has seemingly queered Modi’s pitch in Bihar.
Riding on initial wave of success, Hardik Patel took the agitation national, aiming to seek the support of Jats, Gurjars, Kurmis and Hoodas. However the task didn’t prove to be as easy. Patels’ demand is opposed by other communities in the OBC list as they fear inclusion of Patidars will shrink their quota. Having addressed over 160 rallies, Hardik Patel has become the face of lakhs of dominant caste youth in country and his demand for inclusions of Patel community in the OBC quota cannot be taken lightly by the government.
THE WAY FORWARD
So will the government give in to the pressure of bringing yet another community under the domain of reservation? And what does it mean for the general category which is grappling with the increasing challenge of reservations, which is closing doors for their right to education and employment.
What will happen to a country, where the candidate scoring 6% marks in the qualifying examination is becoming teacher, beating 66% and compromising the many students that will study under him/her? Owing to the lack of opportunities arising due to reservations, increasing numbers of students today opt to study and work abroad. Considering the brain drain caused due to reservation, government should perhaps relook at its reservation policies and the implications of including Patel community under the OBC quota. Radically, the government should aim to exclude the entire creamy layer from the reservation system and aim to develop the capabilities of the deprived rather than offering them admission to higher institutions and jobs on silver platter.
Clearly reservation has failed miserably in removing caste differences and has in fact promoted the caste divide and caste conflicts. Reservation initially created as temporary measure (for 10 years) has now become a major feature of our national policies. The reservation policy has, it seems, become merely a ground for vote bank politics and has lost its original purpose, that of giving equal opportunities to the weaker sections of the society which could not represent themselves, so that they may take part in the developing country. Today these policies have failed in including the people at the bottom in the mainstream economy and society.
A lot has changed since the archaic policies were framed. The world has moved forward and become more competitive. It is time then the government relooked at its old policies and their relevance, and weighed their positives with the negatives outside the spectrum of selfishness and fear. Increasing reservations is becoming a serious issue, one which needs to be addressed at the earliest to ensure India doesn’t lose out in the big race to success by being too naïve to protect the very human talent which will help it traverse that road. Not giving the education opportunities to those who deserve, and employment to those who can bring the change, is only going to harm our own country. After all, what India loses, others will gain.
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