The Patidar community in the United States has mixed feelings about the movement in Gujarat to get their community into
the Other Backward Class reservation
status, thus providing them more government job opportunities, and their
children with easier chances of getting
into a good academic institution.
Patidars (also called Patels, though
there are non-Patidar Patels, too) are
usually farmers, though some are into
business, too, having done pretty well
abroad, and are seen as engines of
small-scale enterprise in the US.
Professor Pawan Dhingra of Tufts
University said that while the Patidars
had a reputation for success in small
business in the US and for being a
land-owning community overall, it
was a more heterogeneous community
in India: “It was dearth of opportunity
in their home state that led them to
emigrate to other parts of the world —
the Middle east, east Africa or the US,
where they did better.”
Dhingra wrote of the Patel success
story in the US hotel industry in his
book Life Behindthe Lobby.
“While their success here is well documented — and they are proud of it —
that is not to say their lives are all prosperous,” he told India Abroad, adding
that its members were seeking different ways, through education and
employment, to uplift themselves.
He said there were challenging
questions involved in whether reservations
ought to be done primarily on the basis of
historical discrimination, current status or
on the lack of economic opportunities. These
same challenges, he said, are faced by people
in US about affirmative action.
“There’s no clear one answer,” Dhingra said,
asserting that the critics were right about the
misuse of such reservations, while the govern-
ments tended to take the easiest ways to fashion
such a program. “This is a common concern
about government programs — that they are
open to abuse. I do believe economic concerns
come first and foremost in making decisions.
But that’s not to say government programs can
do that easily.”
Professor Amit Ahuja, assistant professor, the
department of political science, University of
California-Santa Barbara, pointed out that in
Gujarat, a relatively developed state, violence and economic
growth have coexisted for long.
He said, “Besides the troubled history of Hindu-Muslim
violence that goes back decades and precedes the arrival of
Narendra Modi. Gujarat has also witnessed riots against corruption in 1974 and against caste-based reservations in 1981
“Hardik Patel (thenewmovement’sleader) wants reserva-
tions for the Patidar or Patel community, or for no one else.
Both outcomes are difficult to achieve. Removal of reserva-
tions will be opposed by Dalits, Adivasis and OBCs, and in
absolute numbers, they form the numerical majority in
India, so no major party will sponsor this demand. Counting
the Patels as OBCs will result in a political backlash from the
OBC groups and run into a number of legal hurdles.”
The Patidar agitation, he added, could empower the Jats in
Haryana and Gujjars in Rajasthan to demand reservations.
Ahuja said the Indian government, led by the Bharatiya
ritu Jha and P rajendran find out their perspective on the community’s
Janata Party, was worried since its strategy rested on the
weakening of caste politics: “If caste politics resurfaces in a
big way through agitations for reservations by the economi-
cally better off groups like Patidars and Jats, or through the
findings of the caste census data that government was not
releasing, it would hurt its larger Hindutva strategy. We
should expect the government to use every instrument avail-
able to prevent this one protest from turning into a wave.”
Still, he noted, if the Patels, a hardworking and well-to-do
community, were willing to show up for the Kranti rally in
huge numbers, there was a real grievance out there. And if it
was about a lack of opportunities then it was a bad sign; he
said this suggested the community was not benefiting from
the growth in the state.
“We would expect the well-to-do communities to benefit
more from economic growth. Clearly, the Patels’ aspirations
are not being met and opportunities for their upward mobil-
ity are shrinking,” he said, arguing that this should alert the
government of the need to make growth more inclusive.
“Hardik Patel has adopted the protest strategy of daban-
gai, or aggression,” Ahuja continued. “This is a dangerous
move, given the state’s bloody history. This is because aggres-
sion usually seeks an enemy. Today it is the police; tomorrow,
it could be another community. Further, aggression and vio-
lence as strategies have limited returns. Violent movements,
research tells us, may be able to bully, but they are less likely
to meet their goals as compared to peaceful movements.
After a point, violence deters participation in the movement
and puts off allies. So, the movement may burn bright today,
but it could fizzle out quickly.”
He said another noteworthy aspect of the movement was
the effective use of social media: “A 12-member team ran the
social media campaign to organize the protest. Both
Facebook and WhatsApp were effectively used. Up to 2 mil-
lion WhatsApp messages were sent out every day in the run-
up to the protest rally. Today, even in rural India, close to 7
out of every 10 households own a cellphone. If social media
is beginning to lower the costs and hurdles of organizing
protests, then India’s million mutinies will multiply.”
Professor Anjini Kochar, director, India Program, SCID
Stanford University felt the protests were a reflection of the
poor state of higher education in India and high levels of
inequality. Most of the populace, she felt, correctly perceived
higher education as a means to higher standards of
living. But the demand for quality higher education institu-
tions far outstripped the supply.
The Patels in the US are seen as engines of small-scale enterprise.
agitation for reservation in Gujarat.
View from America
A convoy of Indian army soldiers patrols a road in Ahmedabad August 27, as violence continued to simmer over the Patidar community’s demands. AMI T DAVE/REU TERS