Ashwin Patel, 32, is national convener of the Patidar Aarakshan Sangharsh Samiti (PASS), the organisation in which Hardik Patel is said to have earned his spurs, although he denies it — not to be confused with PAAS, which the latter now heads. If Ashwin is to be believed, Hardik was more interested in playing politics than finding an appropriate way to highlight the welfare of the Patel community. Therefore, Hardik was ‘thrown out’ of the organisation.
“It was back in 1992 that people in Gujarat raised their voice against reservation,” says Ashwin. “A small-scale protest took place somewhere near Mehsana, in which people expressed themselves totally against the country’s reservation system. The protest could not garner much attention and got lost somewhere. Then, after all those decades, pass came back into the picture three years ago, demanding obc quotas for Patels.”
Recalling the early days, Ashwin said that initially the goal was abolition of reservations. The protests continued for almost a year. At that time, there were only 50 workers in the organisation. “But we realised our demand was next to impossible. Even if a certain section of people support us, then also the Bill won’t be passed in the Parliament with a majority. Therefore, we decided to demand obc status for Patels, especially for farmers, who were largely at the receiving end.”
So, the entire campaign for giving OBC quota to Patels started two years back in Surat. “We decided to first create awareness among the masses instead of holding public rallies. The plan was to reach out to villages over the next two years and start a peaceful movement. The reason was we never wanted other OBC communities to stand against us and take a violent approach towards Patels,” he said.
The national convenor informed that when organisation was forming a framework for the movement in Delhi, Hardik was looking after the Gujarat team. “He was very active in villages. At that time, the Sardar Patel Group (SPG) backed us but they were very clear they would never come to the forefront. Instead, they will give us outside support. Since Hardik was in Gujarat, he worked continuously with the SPG to bring more visibility to the campaign,” he said.
Questioning him about how the recent protest took an ugly turn, Ashwin said, “The Visnagar rally was our second major rally and Hardik was in charge. Our motto was very clear: Organise a peaceful rally, take signatures from 5,000 Patels and submit a memorandum to the police commissioner. But there were clashes after the rally. Rishikesh Patel, Visnagar MLA’s car was set ablaze and government property was vandalised.”
As a consequence, the matter reached Delhi. Ashwin was questioned by the Patel ministers in Delhi. “When I asked Hardik to give a detailed account, he said the mishap took after the rally was over. Detailed interrogation revealed Hardik took only 10 signatures for the memorandum,” informed Ashwin.
The Sangarsh Samiti took a hard look at Hardik’s activities. What emerged was that instead of submitting 15-20 copies of the memorandum signed by 5,000 Patels in different cities, Hardik submitted 42 memoranda, each one with variations in the demands. “In some memoranda, he wrote we wanted Patels in SC/ST quota. Somewhere he demanded 10 percent quota in government jobs and 30 percent in OBC. Meanwhile, the demand for quoata varied 25-50 percent in different memorandums,” says Ashwin. “Hardik even asked for separate Patidar quota.”
“Hardik garnered support from the farmers and youngsters because they were not aware what their leader was doing. Therefore, we had to remove him from our Sangarsh Samiti. Hardik landed us in a situation where other OBC communities were against us and our desire to take the protest forward in a peaceful manner had been lost sight of,” he said.
The 32-year-old reiterates his belief that Hardik betrayed the organisation to fulfil his political goals. “He never approached the OBC commission with our memorandum, instead gave it in the collectorate office. This was not the way to take it forward. Still, the pass stood with him for the 17 August Surat rally. There were no cases of violence because we never wanted to go down that road.”
Before the Ahmedabad rally on 25 August, Ashwin says, they met Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel. “The government wanted to meet us and find a way out. Hardik did not go along because he was never interested in finding a solution. Rather, he wants to make political capital out of the issue.”
Asked why he did not support the 25 August Ahmedabad rally, Ashwin alleges, “It was pre-planned that they would enter into a brawl with the police. Hardik made it clear that he will dictate the course of action. Therefore, we opted out.”
Taking potshots at Hardik again, Ashwin says, “He doesn’t have a draft of the agenda which we submitted to the Gujarat government. We have eight demands, including giving special backward class status to landless Patidars who are below the poverty line and formation of Sardar Patel Board for the development of the Patidar community.” They want the board to be given a budget of Rs 500 crore which will be utilised for scholarships and bikes for college-going girls. Also, a Sardar Patel Bhawan should be constructed in New Delhi for upsc aspirants “so they can easily stay and prepare for exams”.
The list is long, and is now backed by the aspirations of lakhs of Patels.