In its determined bid to get OBC (Other Backward Class) status for Patels, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has conducted as many as 175 rallies in Gujarat in last two months. The momentum really picked up after the Visnagar rally: this is when the movement spread from villages to major cities. This is also the juncture when 22-year-old Hardik Patel came into the limelight.
A fiery orator with an affable demeanour, Hardik has galvanised the Patel community, bringing together people of the caste from across the state. His arrest in Ahmedabad sparked violence, transforming a peaceful protest on the quota issue to the brink of a riot. From Surat to Rajkot, clashes brought the pot to boiling point until the army was asked to move in to restore order.
Hardik, whose commitment to the cause of reservation is now writ in stone, is confident that his next rally would see a crowd of 50 lakh people. At the Ahmedabad rally, he proclaimed that this is not a 100-metre race but a marathon. He tells Archana Mishra how he plans to bring Kurmis, Jats and Gujjars together under one umbrella: a demand for reservation.
Edited excerpts from an interview
Tell us about evolution of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS)?
The organisation was started on the occasion of Sardar Patel Jayanti in 2011. I was running this organisation in Viramgam and Mandaal regions of Ahmedabad district for the Patidar community only. Our motto was to protect the vulnerable sections of community like women and farmers who were victims of violence. So we used to work for them and in two years we had a force of 12,000 people who were attached with our organisation.
During that time, many Patidars used to complain that they were not getting jobs or admission [in educational institutions]. Considering the cases that we came across in the last two years, we realised reservation was the major problem behind everything.
If a child secures 80 percent marks, then also he fails to get admission while the other candidates, with less percentage, are easily getting admissions and jobs under reservation. It was then that we started our rally with the first one in Mehsana. Gradually, it reached Visnagar, Gandhinagar and other parts of Gujarat. This was the beginning of today’s movement.
Your demands seem to be contradictory. At your Ahmedabad rally, many people joined because they believed you are demanding abolition of reservation system in the country. So on one hand you are asking for quota and on the other you are demanding to do away with reservation, if patidars are not included in it. How do you explain that?
The reservation system cannot be abolished in the country because our country works on it. It even forms the base of politics. So we cannot bring an end to the quota system. Instead we want to be part of it because if we are included in it, our community will also get the benefits like others. Today, SC/ST students are getting admission even in general category seats. And, I am not talking about Patidars alone but other communities too which are under general category. SC/ST can come take admission from our quota share but we cannot do the same. Pahle to woh apni seat khaate hain aur phir baad mein humari (First they gobble up their own share of seats and then snatch ours.)
Now that your movement has taken on massive dimensions after the riot-like situation in Gujarat, did you or people from government try any kind of dialogue to sort out the issue?
Government will come and talk to us. Not vice-versa. Also, if other communities are having problems with us, then they are not the ones to decide where we have to go. Let government decide what they have to do now.
Were you associated with Ashwin Patel’s Patidar Aarakshan Sangarsh Samiti, who was the first one to bring the issue into limelight? It is being said that due to ideological differences you were removed from the organisation.
I was never with Ashwin. We spoke to him about our movement but did not like his approach in dealing with the reservation issue. He had his own ideologies and was associated with the BJP. He wanted to reap the benefit of our movement for his own political motive. He was looking for a political platform in Delhi. But we never wanted to be politicians.
If the remote (control) is in our hands, then the government will itself bend. Or it can be changed.