By Abhishek Jha:
There is a curious photo that is doing the rounds in news columns since the Patidar agitation started in Gujarat. Three people hold three different placards that betray the true intentions of Hardik Patel. The placards say: “Reserved Nation, Divided Nation“; “Why Not Reserve The Post Of PM And Others…“; “Our Fate In Hands Of Reservation“. The contradictory slogans might appear confusing but we know that Patels had opposed the recommendation of Bakshi commission for OBC reservations in 1980. Patel himself hasn’t made any secret of where his intentions lie. In an interview to The Hindu, he said, “Our people don’t get jobs despite scoring 80-90 per cent marks, so they are forced to do their own business because of this reservation system. The Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have reservation, yet they get jobs in the general quota, too.” The battle cry for reservation for Patels is then only a tactic in the battle for abolishing affirmative action for SCs, STs, and OBC altogether.
There is nothing new about those slogans and the battle against affirmative action for the said categories. As social scientists have previously pointed out, the arguments given by those who find a resonance with the Patels’ demand arise out of a conflation of the specific case with the demand for reservation as such. It perhaps needs to be reiterated every time we argue against anti-reservation brigade that representation is only a compromise reached- first in the Poona Pact- when Dr. Amedkar demanded a separate electorate for the untouchable castes. The subsequent ‘quotas’- another misnomer from the anti-reservation forces – in education and jobs is also only a reassurance against ending caste discrimination.
Examples of discrimination abound and its shocking limitlessness again came to light recently with the Cobrapost documentary highlighting the sheer immunity and lack of compunction with which Dalits were massacred in Bihar. Despite the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, few cases are acknowledged to be caste atrocities. “In most cases, the police would not file FIRs, or do so under the wrong section. The accused are not arrested on time. The investigations are not done on time. The charge sheets are not filed on time. Compensation to victims is not given on time,” Ramesh Nathan of NCDHR told The Hindu in relation to an article on the documentary. It is surprising to see that while there was a deliberate silence surrounding the revelations of the documentary- many are still unaware of its damning contents – everybody in the country knows Hardik Patel by now. If the likes of Hardik Patel had led a similar mass movement for ending caste-discrimination and atrocities, there would have been no need for reservation.
The demand for replacing caste-based reservation with economic reservation alone is also similarly flawed. Not long ago, two Dalit brothers from U.P. who made it to the IIT with ranks of 166 and 410, were from poor households, and had just returned with the promise of economic help from their chief minister when their house was pelted with stones. It is worthy to note that even for the status of an OBC, a criterion for economic backwardness earns only one point. This is because it is social and educational backwardness that often result in persistent economic backwardness. While a member of an upper caste community has an easier shot at economic mobility, an SC, ST, or OBC is likely to be pelted with stones even when they find their way out of economic backwardness.
Opinion pieces and reports since the agitation started have tried their best to profile the economic and political dominance of the Patels. They have found related statistics of economic prosperity from America, of their representation in the government, and so on. They might be true but any such estimate is only a speculation.
Therefore, though Hardik Patel may be linked to the forces opposed to Modi within the folds of the Sangh, the mass movement cannot be explained away with just that. The flaws in the Gujarat Model have been pointed out previously and it is possible that Patels are, in fact, OBCs. But for that we need to know the data for OBCs and upper castes that the government quite selectively has withheld when releasing the Socio-Economic and Caste Census. If the data so indicates, all Patels would need to do is approach the OBC commission. Unless, of course, it’s the opposite that is desired.