This Article is From Nov 30, 2015

Where Hardik Patel Could Have Made a Real Impact

On Constitution Day, Home Minister Rajnath Singh made a revelation in parliament - that it was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar's fight for justice and equality that inspired Narendra Modi to flag off some of the BJP government's more ambitious schemes like the Swacch Bharat Abhiyan (Clean India Mission), Jan Dhan Yojana (Banking For All Scheme) and the Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Andolan (Educate the Girl Child Campaign).

The Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao Andolan programme was launched by the Prime Minister at the beginning of the year, reflecting his concern for the disappearing girl child in Indian society.

Although during his nearly 15-year-long rule in Gujarat, the state's sex ratio did not improve, if anything, it dropped by 1 from 920 females for every 1000 males in the 2001 census to 919 in the 2011 census. In contrast, at the national level, the ratio improved from 933 to 940 for the same period. And worse, in the 0-6 age group, there are just 886 girls in Gujarat, per 1000 boys.

Ironically, female feoticide and infanticide are rampant in the economically prosperous areas of urban and rural Gujarat - Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Kutch, Rajkot and Jamnagar districts - which attracted more than 70% of the investments made in Gujarat during the past decade. The lowest sex ratio was registered in Surat, the wealthy diamond and textile hub, which has only 836 girls to 1000 boys, followed by Mehsana at 845 and 847 in Gandhinagar, the state's capital.

Most of these districts have a high population of Patedars or Patels. And it is this politically and financially powerful community, longtime cheerleaders of Hindutva and the poster boys of the BJP for nearly three decades, who are the worst offenders. Today in Gujarat, 6.29 lakh men above the age of 30 and 40 are unmarried, many of them Patels. These figures exclude youth in their 20s who are struggling to find wives.

The extent of the problem and the way in which it is quietly ruining thousands of young lives was exposed earlier this year when the Patedar community began an agitation to abolish caste-based reservations in educational institutions and government jobs or be included in the state OBC (Other Backward Castes) list to become eligible for the same benefits.

A large number of supporters of the Hardik Patel-led Patedar Anamat Andolan Samiti, like Pradeep, are single. The 32-year-old graduate from the Patel-dominated village of Rupal on the outskirts of Ahmedabad runs a TV repair shop. He is convinced, that if he had a government job, finding a partner would be easy. Rupal is home to nearly 40 unmarried men and has a shockingly skewed sex ratio of 75 girls to 100 boys. But this is a reality that Pradeep and community leaders don't want to face.

Similarly, 28-year-old Bhavesh Patel from Patan in North Gujarat, while accepting there is a shortage of women, believes that as long as he continues to earn a living as a marginal farmer, he will never be seen as good husband material because there is no future or money in land. Bhavesh is a commerce graduate.

Gujarat has the lowest unemployment rate in the country at 1.2 per cent (against the national average of 4.9 per cent), but the state's business model did not create enough white collar jobs to accommodate the aspirations of men like Pradeep and Bhavesh. Presently, their only hope of being employed is in the informal sector, where salaries are low and hiring is largely done on a contractual basis. In this bleak landscape, government jobs offer both financial security and dignity of labour, which is what the increasingly educated young women here want. Remember that Patels for decades made their living either through agriculture, or via small family-owned businesses - both sectors have seen a downturn as the Gujarat model of development focuses on landing investment for big business.

Today, the Patels are running a no-holds-barred campaign against the BJP in the local body elections for failing to address their demand for reservation, which Pradeep and Bhavesh believe will solve their problems. The ruling party, on the other hand, is pulling out all stops to defeat them, playing the caste card by aggressively wooing the OBC voters in the state who are refusing to share a slice of their quota pie with the Patels.  

If only the likes of Hardik Patel had led a mass movement to end the murder of the unborn girl child, political parties would have been forced to follow his lead, and address the frustration and lack of self-worth that appears to have infected a large portion of Gujarati youth.

That's why, in these polls, results of which are due on December 2, there will be no winners, only losers.

(Shikha Trivedy is Features 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.