Ahmedabad: Not impressed by the Gujarat government announcing 10 percent reservation for economically weaker sections among the upper castes, including Patels, the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) spearheading the quota agitation is launching from Sunday a week-long Swarnim Lollipop Mahotsav protest across the state even as it waits for its leader Hardik Patel to be freed after nearly 200 days in jail.
Though the government's decision has been forced by the nine-month-long agitation by the Patels, their leaders are unhappy with it for there is nothing specific for the Patidars. This is because the 10 percent reservation is for all among the upper castes whose annual incomes are less than Rs.6 lakh. They have called the quota announcement a mere "lollipop to the Patels".
"Beginning tomorrow, Gujarat's Foundation Day, we are launching Swarnim Lollipop Mahotsav (golden lollipop festival), across the length and breadth of Gujarat. We will distribute lollipops among children in all the villages and towns to mark our protest," Dharmik Malaviya, the Surat co-convenor of PAAS, told IANS on Saturday.
He says they are unhappy not only because the 10 percent quota does not do anything for the Patels but also because the state government did not even wait for their leader, Hardik Patel, who had started the agitation last July, to be released from jail where he is lodged since last October on sedition charges.
"The understanding was that after Hardikbhai is released, we will sit with the mediators and the government to arrive at a mutually acceptable decision. The government did not bother and imposed the 10 percent decision on us which is a joke," Malaviya said.
"How do they expect to implement the decision which is constitutionally not tenable? Rajasthan tried it in 2007 and again in 2015 but the Supreme Court dismissed it since the constitution does not provide for reservations on economic criteria. They have not bothered to explain to us how they will implement it nor what the Patels will specifically gain from this," he added.
Echoing other Patel leaders, Malaviya rued: "After such a long and painful agitation, this is what the government has to offer."
He says the Patels have suffered a lot during the last nine months since the government unleashed the police on them instead of talking with them about their concerns.
Hardik Patel, all of 22, shot to prominence on August 25 last year about a month after he launched the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti when he addressed a huge public meeting attended by several lakh Patidars from across Gujarat seeking inclusion of the community in the other backward classes (OBC) category for reservations.
Nine Patidars and a policeman died in violence following the Ahmedabad rally. Subsequent peace talks with the government failed since Chief Minister Anandiben Patel had maintained that the constitution didn't allow more than 50 per cent reservation.
Again on October 18, Hardik Patel was arrested for trying to stage a demonstration outside a stadium in Rajkot where a one-day cricket match between India and South Africa was on. The arrest and the subsequent sedition charge on him was based on phone transcripts reportedly between him and other Patidar leaders, where Hardik Patel told them to block all highways "by breaking empty soda bottles on the road, parking trucks on the way and burning tyres".
Another sedition case against him is because he exhorted one Vipul Desai, a Patidar, of Surat to be man enough to kill a few policemen instead of attempting suicide, stating: "Patels never commit suicide, they fight."
Ever since he has been in jail and it will be close to 200 days this week. Besides him, Dinesh Bhambhaniya (Patel), Ketan Patel and Chirag Patel were sent behind bars. Two others, Alpesh Katheriya and Amrish Patel, escaped arrest and are still absconding. Several of his bail applications had been rejected by the courts observing that he may create trouble again, while Bhambhaniya, Ketan and Chirag Patel were given permanent bail last week.
In jail, two more cases were slapped on Hardik Patel. One, for allegedly possessing SIM cards and a cell phone while in custody, and the other, for recovery of a mobile phone charger near his barrack.
Through these 200 days in jail, the government never made any direct attempt at a compromise with him while it kept on talking to leaders of Patel community organizations. The only time a compromise was attempted was through BJP MP Vitthal Radadiya, who is a prominent Patidar leader from the Saurashtra region. He met Patel in jail twice and conveyed to the government his demands.
Hardik Patel continues to cool his heels in jail in Surat, where his father Bharat Patel, 49, who runs a business of submersible pumps and lives in Viramgam, nearly 320 km from Surat, goes to meet him every fortnight. Bharat Patel, a BJP worker, tells journalists approaching him that he cannot afford to go to Surat more often since they are not rich.
(Darshan Desai can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)