Patidar reservation agitation

Starting in July 2015, the people of India’s Patidar community, seeking Other Backward Class (OBC) status, held public demonstrations across the Indian state of Gujarat. The largest demonstration was held in Ahmedabad on 25 August and was attended by thousands. Later, there were incidents of violence and arson across the state, resulting in a curfew in several cities and towns. Properties and vehicles worth crores of rupees were damaged and destroyed. The state returned to normalcy by 28 August. Despite talks with the government, the agitation began again in September, and again turned violent on 19 September. The government announced a scheme which offered scholarships and subsidies to general category students on 24 September 2015 and a 10% quota of spaces reserved for economically backward classes in April 2016. The 10% reservation was quashed by the Gujarat High Court in August 2016.

In India, the Other Backward Castes (OBC) status invokes affirmative action which provides reserved quotas in education and government jobs. In Gujarat, 27% of the seats in government and education are reserved for OBC, 7.5% for Scheduled Castes and 15% for Scheduled Tribes for a total of 49.5% of all seats. The Supreme Court capped the reservation at 50% in their 1992 judgement in the Indra Sawhney case.

In 1981, the Government of Gujarat, headed by Indian National Congress (INC) chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki, introduced the reservation for socially and economically backward castes (SEBC) based on recommendations of the Bakshi Commission. It resulted in anti-reservation agitation across the state, which spilled over in riots that resulted in more than one hundred deaths. Solanki resigned in 1985 but later returned to power, winning 149 out of 182 assembly seats. He was supported by Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslims, collectively called KHAM. This caused other communities, including Patidars, to lose the political influence which later alienated the INC. According to estimates based on the last caste census in 1931, Patidars account for 15% of the population of the state. The SEBC (later the OBC) list initially comprised 81 communities, which by 2014 had expanded to 146 communities. In the 1980s the proportion of reserved seats was 10%; by 2014 it had increased to 27%.

The agitation took inspiration from the agitation by the Gujjar community in Rajasthan, which ended in May 2015.

In July 2015 Patidar youth, many of whom are surnamed Patel, started public demonstrations across Gujarat demanding Other Backward Class status for their community, which would entitle Patidars to a reserved quota of places in government jobs and education. They were supported by Sardar Patel Sevadal, an organisation for community service, and they formed the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) for this purpose, headed by Hardik Patel. The organisation described itself as apolitical. Four major Patidar organisations denied any involvement in the agitation, though later the Khodaldham Trust offered to mediate between the youth and the government.

The agitation started in Mehsana on 6 July 2015, and a demonstration was held in Mansa on 22 July. The demonstration in Visnagar on 23 July turned violent when some agitators torched some vehicles and vandalised the office of Bharatiya Janata Party MLA Rishikesh Patel. Demonstrations were held in Vijapur and Mehsana on 28 July. The police booked 152 persons for violating prohibitory orders by holding the demonstration. On 30 July there were demonstrations in Lunavada.

Social media helped to spread the protest quickly across the state. Demonstrations were held in Devbhoomi Dwarka district on 1 August; in Gandhinagar, Navsari, Jam Jodhpur in Jamnagar district, Himmatnagar and Bagasara in Amreli district on 3 August; in Rajkot on 5 August; in Amreli on 10 August; in Junagadh on 12 August; and in Petlad on 17 August. The demonstration in Surat on 17 August drew crowds estimated at 100,000 to 450,000 people. The diamond and textile markets of the city remained closed, as were several schools and colleges. Demonstrations were held in Surendranagar, Bharuch, Ankleshwar and Vadodara on 21 August. PAAS itself organised 37 rallies by 25 August. In 55 days, 149 rallies were organised by various organisations across the state.

The major demonstration, dubbed Kranti Rally and held in Ahmedabad on 25 August at the GMDC grounds, was attended by over 500,000. The members of community formed a procession and presented the memorandum of their demands to the District Collector. Hardik Patel, who led the rally, declared he would go on a hunger strike with others, demanding the Chief Minister personally be present there to receive the memorandum. He was arrested as he did not have permission to stay on the grounds after the rally, and later released. Those present on the grounds were dispersed by the police using force. An inquiry was ordered to investigate the reason behind the police’s use of force. Anandiben Patel and Rajanikant Patel, state leaders, both denied ordering or authorizing the police charge on the crowd.

Incidents of violence and clashes were reported in Ahmedabad and other parts of the state. At least six buses were torched by mobs in the city, including one at Bhuyangdev in Ghatlodiya and one at Krishnagar in Naroda. The police vehicles and local transport buses of AMTS and BRTS were set on fire. At least fifteen cases of clashes and arson were reported. The mob vandalised shops in the CTM area and the police fired eight teargas shells to disperse the mob. Buses and bus stops were attacked and vandalised. There were clashes between Rabari and Patels in Ghatlodiya, where at least ten persons were injured. A large mob tried to damage railway tracks near Ranip. Many vehicles were damaged. Attacks on police and media personnel were reported. Curfew was imposed in the city under Section 144. Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation suffered damage of 12 crore including torching of 33 buses of local transport. At least seven ward offices and civic centres were vandalized. Five companies of the Indian Army were deployed in the city to control the situation.

In Surat, the curfew was imposed from 25 August to 27 August in the city, starting in the Kapodara and Sarthana areas as the mob torched buses, two ATMs, van and damaged some properties. 120 people were arrested or detained in Surat. Violence was also reported in Vadodara. National Expressway 1 was blocked by agitators for hours. A total of 1554 bus trips were cancelled by the Vadodara division of GSRTC when six buses were damaged.

In Rajkot, BRTS bus stations were torched and stones thrown; damage to public and private property was estimated at 1.47 crore. The mob ransacked two offices of Union Minister of State for Agriculture and local MP Mohan Kundariya; police fired 10 rounds in air and lobbed 57 shells of teargas to disperse mobs. Twelve policemen were injured. The police filed 18 FIRs related to incidents. The curfew was imposed for 48 hours on 26 August.

Curfew was also imposed in parts of Mehsana district including Mehsana, Visnagar and Unjha after a mob stoned and torched the house of minister Rajni Patel, Home minister Nitin Patel, and BJP MLA Jayshree Patel. The district police lodged 25 FIRs and 13 cases in various cases of violence and rioting, and 36 persons were identified. At least 22 people were arrested in the cases; three of them were released on bail. The vandalism was also reported from Morbi and Amreli. The curfew was also imposed in Patan for two days.

3500 paramilitary force personnel and 93 companies of the state reserve police were deployed. Ten people died in the violence: five in Ahmedabad, a police constable in Surat, three in Banaskantha district, and one in Patan district. A youth died in police custody in Bapunagar, Ahmedabad. Across the state, 295 FIRs were filed and 650 people arrested. Schools and colleges across the state were kept closed from 26 August to 30 August. Internet service on mobile phones and certain broadband websites, like WhatsApp and Facebook, were blocked across the state for six days, 26–31 August. The internet block was continued in Ahmedabad and Surat. According to Western Railways, the tracks were damaged at eight places by mobs, resulting in cancellation of 51 trains. The operation of 26 trains were affected, while 15 trains were diverted out of the state. Nearly 140 buses of GSRTC, a state owned transport service, were torched by mobs across the state and 152 were damaged. About 340 police cases were registered across the state including 40 cases registered in Ahmedabad; 230 of these were registered on behalf of the government. The Police department suffered damage of 200 crore.

On 26 August, agitators called for a one-day statewide shutdown. The state returned to normalcy by 28 August. Hardik Patel declared the intention of expanding the agitation to the other states of India. As Hardik Patel received support from various Jat, Kurmi and Gujjar community organizations, he declared campaign for petitions to be sent to the Prime Minister. A rally was organised in Karamsad and in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh on 31 August.

According to PAAS, a total of 457 FIRs were filed against 1482 Patidars across Gujarat in the three days after the 25 August rally.

The internet block was lifted in Ahmedabad and Surat on 1 September. PAAS announced that they will organise a foot march on the reverse route, from Dandi to Ahmedabad, of Mahatma Gandhi’s historic Salt March in 1930. The heads of 33 village nearby Dandi opposed the march. The collector for Navsari district denied permission for the march. The march was rescheduled to 13 September but the government denied permission, and PAAS called the march off.

On 9 September SPG and PAAS formed a new organisation, Patel Navnirman Sena (PNS), for nationwide extension of the agitation, and on 14 September they held talks with the government of Gujarat. Hardik Patel met former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel before the talks. Twenty Patidar representatives led by Hardik Patel and Lalji Patel attended the talks, which were chaired by the Chief Minister and attended by cabinet ministers. The issues discussed included the police action on 25 August, scholarship schemes for general category students, compensation to people died in violence, and release of arrested people. In a symbolic boycott, Patidars withdrew large amounts of cash from Kherol and Vadrad branches of Sabarkantha District Central Cooperative Bank of Sabarkantha district.

Hardik Patel announced that they would organise rallies in Madhya Pradesh and Bihar in October 2015, a month before the Bihar state legislative assembly election .

On 19 September police detained Hardik Patel and 35 of his supporters from the Varachha area of Surat for trying to hold the Ekta Yatra (Unity March) rally without receiving prior permission from authorities. They were booked under section 188 of the IPC for defying police notification, and two FIRs were filed against them. They were released on bail later. There were some incidents of protests, arson, property damage and road blocks in several cities and towns, including Ahmedabad, Surat, Rajkot, Vadodara, Morbi, Navsari, Botad, Visnagar, Mehsana and Jamnagar. A Patidar mob clashed with a Rabari community in the Rabari Colony area of Ahmedabad. In Surat and Morbi, two GSRTC buses were damaged. In several places police used teargas and caning to disperse mobs. The internet on mobile phones, social media and SMS service was blocked again for 24 hours in several parts of the state, including Ahmedabad, Gandhinagar, Surat, Vadodara and Rajkot. Twelve companies each of the BSF and RAF were deployed to control the violence.

On 19 September, police in Mehsana arrested 35 protesters and lodged a complaint against them. On 22 September at least 20 Patidar leaders were arrested and FIR filed against them when they held a meeting without police permission in Tenpur village of Bayad Taluka, Aravalli district. Hardik Patel briefly disappeared from the meeting and appeared the next day. The High Court termed the disappearance as a ‚publicity stunt‘ and warned about contempt of court. On 23 September PAAS leader Nilesh Advadiya was booked under sedition charges.

On 24 September, Gujarat Chief Minister announced the Mukhyamantri Yuva Swavlamban Yojna (Chief Minister’s Youth Self-Reliance Scheme), a scheme for offering scholarships and subsidies to general category students in higher education, and uniforms and free books in school education. In higher education, the scheme is offered to students in the 90th percentile or higher in the board examinations and to students whose parents earn less than 4.5 lakh per year. She also offered age relaxation of five years in government jobs. The government also announced its intention to increase intake in medical and technical education, and infrastructure like hostels and coaching institutes. The scheme is expected to cost the exchequer 1,000 crore per year. The Patidar community in the US initially planned to hold large protests in New York during the visit of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, but later called them off, except for some people who protested at United Nations headquarters and in California. Hardik Patel called the scheme as a „lollipop“ and said it does not meet their demands, and launched a „lollipop movement“ in which lollipops were distributed to community members across the state.

On 26 September activist Umesh Patel from Rajkot committed suicide in support of the agitation; the state Government ordered the inquiry in the case. The Sardar Patel Seva Charitable Trust, a Patidar doctors‘ group from Gujarat and abroad, announced financial help of Rs 1 crore to kin of each person who died in the agitation. Umiya Mata Sansthan, a major organization of the community, announced their support to the agitation on 28 September. Nine protestors arrested in Himatnagar for holding protest fasts on 4 September were later released on bail.

On 1 October the Indian National Congress Party announced its support for the agitation. Hardik Patel addressed peasants and farmers at Maha Kisan Panchayat. More people were arrested in cases related to the riots, and two policemen were suspended in the case of custodial death of a youth on 25 August. Some Patidar community members protested the presence of politicians at Garba venues during the Navratri festival in October. They also protested at functions attended by politicians. In many places across the state women of the Patidar community clanked of belans (rolling pins) against thalis (steel plates) as a sign of protest.

PAAS convener Hardik Patel threatened to stage a protest at the Saurashtra Cricket Association Stadium and to block the way of cricket players at the third one-day international cricket match between India and South Africa in Rajkot on 18 October 2015. More than 8000 police personnel were deployed in the city, while 2500 police and 500 private security personnel were deployed in the stadium. Internet services were blocked from the night of 17 October to the morning of 19 October. Hardik Patel was arrested along with six others on the day. There were protests against Hardik’s detention in Surat and Bardoli, and a GSRTC bus was set on fire in Morbi; four people were arrested from Morbi and one from Tankara for attacking the bus. There were rallies in protest of the arrests.

Hardik Patel and five other PAAS leaders were booked by Ahmedabad police under Indian Penal Code Sections 121 (waging war against the government), 121A (using criminal force against the government), 124 (sedition), 153-A (promoting enmity between different communities), 120B (conspiracy) and 153-B (assertions prejudicial to national integrity). Surat police booked Hardik Patel under sedition charges for telling a youth to kill policemen instead of committing suicide. Gujarat High Court refused to quash cases of sedition against Hardik Patel on 27 October.

Local civic elections were held across Gujarat in November 2015. Several Patidar leaders urged voting against ruling BJP candidates and supporting INC candidates.

On 26 November people cast their votes for six municipal corporations, and on 29 November for 31 district panchayats, 230 taluka panchayats and 56 municipalities. The six municipal corporations registered 45% voter turnout while the others registered over 60%. The results of local civil elections were declared on 2 December 2015. BJP retained all six municipal corporations while INC won 23 of 31 district panchayats and 113 of 193 taluka panchayats. BJP continued to hold on to most municipalities or town councils, winning 42 of 56 municipalities. In brief, then, BJP’s performance in rural areas was poorer than in the last election, while INC’s improved.

The legal cases continued and Hardik Patel was denied bail several times. PAAS organised a 33-day-long Ekta Yatra (Unity March) across eleven districts of Saurastra, starting from Sidsar, Jamnagar and culminating in Kagvad. The SPG demanded a reservation under the EBC (Economically Backward Class) quota to avoid confrontation with OBCs.

During the budget session of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, 55 INC MLAs were suspended by the speaker when they raised slogans in support of the agitation and hurled lollipops toward the treasury benches and the chief minister.

After the Jat reservation agitation, the government of Haryana accepted the demand of the Jat community for reservations, prompting another round of agitation. The seven-member committee headed by Nitin Patel failed to reach a compromise, and Vitthal Radadiya, a BJP MP, held a second round of negotiation. A new organisation, Patidar Sangh, was also formed, based in Surat and consisting of people from the diamond industry. They announced grants of 3 lakh to the kin of each of the twelve Patidars who died in the agitation. They also organized symbolic fasts in support of the release of Patidar leaders from jail. PAAS and SPG presented their demands. Hardik Patel and other Patidar leaders continue to face legal charges and are in jail. Patidars started „Jail Bharo Andolan“ (Fill The Jails Agitation) for their release on 17 April 2016. Permission to hold the protest was refused, and the district administration issued prohibitory orders under section 144, but the protestors defied the order. The agitation turned violent as protestors clashed with police in Mehsana. Around 25 protestors, five policemen and two officials were injured in the clashes. Curfew was imposed in Mehsana. Mobile internet service was suspended in Ahmedabad, Mehsana, Surat and Rajkot. Four companies of the Rapid Action Force were deployed in the affected cities, and ten companies of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) were requested from the central government. There were some arrests. There were also clashes in the Varachha area of Surat. Patidar leaders called for a statewide Bandh (strike). One Patidar leader committed suicide in Surat.

The Government of Gujarat announced a 10% reservation for Economically Backward Classes (EBC) among the upper castes in educational institutions and jobs. (But see below.) (The EBC are people whose income is below 6 Lakh per year.)

On 15 July 2016, Hardik Patel was granted bail on condition that he stay out of the state for six months and out of Mehsana for nine months. On 29 July, the Government of Gujarat announced that they will withdraw 391 of 438 cases filed against Patidar community members. The state Chief Minister Anandiben Patel resigned, citing her age, but the media speculated that the handling of agitation was one of her reasons. On 4 August, the Gujarat High Court quashed the 10% EBC reservation, citing it as unconstitutional and in violation of guidelines of the Supreme Court. The government challenged the order in the Supreme Court on 9 August. Other leaders of PAAS accused Hardik Patel of spending the community’s money on furthering his personal interests.

Some Patidar leaders and organisations criticised Hardik Patel, his tactics and his organisation PAAS. More than 1000 Patels held a meeting in Edison, New Jersey, in the US, to extend their support to agitation led by SPG.

Leaders of several other Gujarat communities, including the Brahmin, Thakore, Vaishnava, Rajput, Sindhi, Kansara, Soni and Raghuvanshi communities, also started agitation for reservation along similar lines. The Jat community of Uttar Pradesh and Haryana announced that they would start agitation in the same manner beginning in September 2015, although their demand for reservation goes back around two decades.

Other community organisations, such as Gujjar Vikas Parishad, Kurmi-Kshatriya Mahasabha, Anjana-Chaudhari Samaj, and Rashtriya Gujjar Manch, also extended their support to the agitation.

The leaders of the communities already having OBC status opposed the agitation. OBC Ekta Manch along with Gujarat Kshatriy Thakor Sena held a counter-protest attended by thousands on 23 August in Ahmedabad and Rajkot. OBC Ekta Manch also requested permission to hold a counter-protest Pratikar Rally, on 19 September, but the authorities denied permission, citing the law and order situation.

On 14 September the Andhra Pradesh based organisation Agra Kula Ikya Vedika, a forum of upper castes, with representatives from Brahmin, Khatriya, Vysya, Kamma, Reddy, Velama, and Kapu communities, met in Vijaywada and demanded that the reservation be based on economic status instead of caste and religion. They also asked the Central government to constitute a committee headed by a Supreme Court judge to study the issue.

On 11 August 2015 the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Anandiben Patel, formed a seven-member panel to interact with the community and submit a report to the government. The panel, headed by Nitinbhai Patel, also included Ramanlal Vora, Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, Babubhai Bokhiria, Vasuben Trivedi, Nanubhai Vanani, and Rajni Patel. On 17 August the panel held talks with community organisations, including SPG. The PAAS did not participate in the talks. On 21 and 23 August the government published a full-length advertisement in leading Gujarati newspapers arguing legal and constitutional limitations. The chief minister expressed her inability to include Patidar in the OBC category, citing constitutional limitations, and urged the agitators to negotiate; they rejected the call. After violence following the 25 August rally in Ahmedabad, she expressed regret and ordered an inquiry, and called for peace and order in the state. The panel submitted its report on 9 September, and a second talk was held on 14 September. On 17 September she again urged an end to the agitation to avoid class conflict in the state. On 19 September she again met with the cabinet when violence broke out for a second time. On 25 September she announced the Mukhya Mantri Yuva Swalamban Scheme for general category students, which is expected to cost the exchequer 1,000 crore per year.

On 26 August Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for peace and resolution through dialogue.

During the Monsoon session of the Gujarat Legislative Assembly, which started on 26 August, the opposition Indian National Congress party (INC) demanded a probe into police atrocities following the 25 August rally. The Speaker suspended the assembly three times, and suspended all INC MLAs except opposition leader Shankersinh Vaghela for a day. Vaghela said that before reviewing the reservation policy, the BJP must ensure that the grounds on which reservation was offered did not exist. On 1 October Gurudas Kamat, General Secretary of the INC, announced its support for the agitation and demanded nationwide reservation for 15-20% population from the economically weaker section (EWS) of society.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and opposition INC leaders assessed the impact of the agitation on upcoming local elections in 2015.

Nalin Kotdiya, BJP MLA of Dhari, and Sabarkantha MP Dipsinh Rathod declared their support for the agitation. Nalin Kotdiya later also urged voters to vote for INC in the October 2015 elections. Former Chief Minister of Gujarat Madhavsinh Solanki said that the agitation would not last long. Former Chief Minister Keshubhai Patel expressed his support if the agitation is nonviolent.

Some media reported Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, as expressing solidarity with the agitation, but he later denied it. Sharad Yadav advised dismissing the agitators‘ demands, calling them unjustified, and said that the reason behind the agitation is a lack of job opportunities. INC MP Rahul Gandhi blamed the Modi government and called the agitation a repercussion of the „politics of anger“. On 28 August six corporators of Padra resigned in support of agitation. The Aam Aadmi Party released a statement criticizing police action against agitators and destruction of public property by agitators. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) condemned violence and police action. Biju Janata Dal MP Baijayant Panda said the angst of the Patidar community is justified by the scarcity of jobs across the nation.

Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh chief Mohan Bhagwat suggested a review of the effectiveness of reservations. In an interview in the RSS’s periodical Sadhna, national spokesperson Manmohan Vaidya said that he supports the reservation given to SC and ST based on historical injustice, but criticised Hardik Patel for his speech and divisive tactics.

The Government of Gujarat passed two ordinances to postpone election of local governing bodies whose five-year terms end in October–November 2015. These local governing bodies include 253 municipalities, 208 taluka panchayats, 26 district panchayats and six municipal corporations. The Gujarat High Court later quashed the ordinances.

Following violence on 25 August, the Gujarat High Court issued notices to police and Government of Gujarat to conduct a probe and submit a report regarding involvement of police in property damage and atrocities. In case of custodial death of youth in Ahmedabad, the court ordered state Crime Investigation Department (CID) probe. PIL seeking investigation by judicial commission in role of Patidar leaders in violence was filed in the court. The High Court ordered the state government to pay 4 lakh as compensation to the kin of people died in the violence, 2 lakh to the person who suffered disability over 65% and 10,000 to person who was injured in police atrocity. The public interest litigation was filed in the High Court which demands prohibition on blanket ban on internet services as happened in the end of August 2015. Later the court upheld the decision of government in banning the internet. The Gujarat High Court also ordered filing FIR in cases of excesses on part of the police on 16 September. The court also heard cases on various Patidar leaders in October 2015.

Gujarat High Court quashed the ordinances postponing local body elections citing them as unconstitutional and directed the State Election Commission to hold the elections by 25 December.

When the petitions were filed against 10% EBC reservation, it was quashed by the Gujarat High Court in August 2016 citing it as unconstitutional. The government moved to the Supreme Court challenging the order.

The agitation sparked debates on reservations, the caste system, caste politics, the vote bank, the increased cost of education and insufficient job opportunities for youth across Gujarat and across India in general. Power of Patidar, a film about the agitation, was denied clearance by the Central Board of Film Certification.

The agitation impacted local civic elections held across Gujarat in November 2015. The BJP performed poorly in rural regions, while the INC improved its performance there. The upcoming Gujarat legislative assembly election in December 2017 may also be influenced by the agitation.