The Patel agitation in Gujarat is deeply disconcerting on many levels.
The sight of a 21-year-old breathing fire, rallying lakhs and raising slogans such as "agar hamara haq pyar se nahin doge to chheen ke lenge
(if you don't give us our rights with love, we will snatch them by force)" is a picture of both a revolution that is about to come and dangerous mob thuggery depending on the way one looks at it. The question in the slogan is "kiska haq"
(whose right) and taking away from whom?
By all indicators, Patels are a power group - socially, economically and politically. From Gujarat's Vidhan Sabha, to the state's diamond units and large expat quarters of UK and US, the Patels are where moolah is.
But still you have lakhs rallying around Hardik Patel for government doles. Why?
Reservations, which were supposed to be a philosophical, idealist idea to bring about equality among a populace deeply divided by caste lines have ended up being a tool of narrow-ended, petty politics.
Those who think that quotas are state doles to a particular caste or sub caste have a basic flaw in their understanding of the concept. Reservations were demanded and put in place, at least on a philosophical basis, to put an end to the systemic and societal discrimination with a vast chunk of our population. This discrimination was purely on the basis of a person's birth and not his/her worth as an individual citizen of the country. Reservations were not intended to make one group stronger than the other. The idea was parity and giving a fillip to the disadvantaged to compete on equal terms.
But as is the fate of most good ideas, politics took over. So while the SC/ST reservations made perfect sense, the creation of an OBC category solely for political expediency with a porous entry and no exit has virtually destroyed the idea of affirmative action. It is this 27% percent pie in the overall 50% reservation cake that every group and sub-group wants to be part of.
It's also worth noting that at one level as people are dying to be declared belonging to a backward caste. May be caste has come full circle, finally.
The original sin was when we as a country adopted Mandal as a tool of vote-bank politics, not as a philosophy of equal opportunities for all. In common understanding, quotas today are only a means of economic progress, a process which snatches away from some and gives to others for free. It has become an "Us vs Them". The new definition of haves and have not is being created around quotas - those who have quotas and those who don't. The idea was to bring in social parity. But it has created further differences. The idea was to break the casteist prism that meant only a particular set of people can aspire to be officers, while the rest were trapped by the circumstances of birth.
The OBC status has now become a political bargain tool. So you have Patels in Gujarat saying today that we are backward, Jats in Haryana and Western UP demanding to be declared a backward caste, Marathas in Maharashtra demanding their share in the 27% pie. This is vicious politics and every political group has quota blood on its hands.
That's because they all fuel quota fires. So Congress tried to win some Jats' votes by giving them a quota just ahead of last year's national election - a move stuck down by the Supreme Court as unconstitutional. Muslims are dangled the quota carrot around elections by "secular" parties which do little for genuine affirmative action.
The BJP government's handling of the current crisis also lacks conviction and some straight talk. Both at the administrative and political level, the government's approach is dilly dallying. Because they can't tell Patels that they don't deserve reservations, just like the Jats of Haryana and Western UP or the Marathas of Maharashtra.
This Patel current agitation is likely to give a fillip to similar demands by "well-off" groups in other states.
This is also a moment to debate nationally the concepts of OBCs and reservation in perpetuity. Both these concepts will need politics that transcends narrow vote-bank concerns. Are we there? Your guess is as good as mine. (Mohd Asim is Senior News Editor, NDTV 24x7)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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