By Martin Macwan*
The current agitation in Gujarat for the inclusion of Patidar, popularly known as Patel – a considered a ‘forward’ caste – in the list of other backward castes (OBCs) category has sanctioned the importance of caste in India once again. What is particularly important to note is that the agitation is supported by other ‘forward’ caste organizations, too.
The myth that the ‘higher caste’ status brings in privileges has shattered. For, it is clear, based on the experiential perception of the agitators, that caste offers an equal status to all its members but not the equal living conditions. Still more important, the agitation is led by the educated youth with prominent number of women participants.
Is the Ambedkarite dream for annihilation of caste a step closer where, after almost seven decades of national independence, recognizing the futility of the ‘higher’ caste status, the ‘forward’ caste has taken resort to the street agitation to be derecognized as ‘forward caste’ and be recognized as a backward caste by the state?
There is no doubt that, in the context of the Supreme Court ruling that reservation should not exceed 50% mark, the castes currently in the list of the OBC shall feel threatened for valid apprehensions that, in the event of the Patidar getting the OBC status, most seats in higher education and job opportunities under the concerned quota will be usurped by Patidars, given their social, economic and political clout in the state.
The ruling party in Gujarat with a Patidar chief minister and half a dozen ministers in the state cabinet is worried for a number of reasons:
- First of all, the agitation is born in their rule of the state of about one and half decades.
- Secondly, Gujarat as the ‘model state’ in the country had the Patidar symbol as a dominant representation to showcase growth and development.
- Thirdly, Patidars as a consolidated vote bank has been the chief pillar for the BJP’s own growth in the state. The Patidar agitation questions the state claim of growth and development, where even the higher caste status and higher representation in governance do not help the educated youth to fight unemployment.
- And finally, given the claim of the Patidars that they constitute 40% of State population, should they be awarded the OBC status, the representation of SC, ST and OBC would rise to 85-90%.
Patidars have justified their agitation on the ground that they are merely following in the footsteps of Jains, the predominantly wealthy forward caste group in Gujarat, who constitute less than 1% of the state population, have been awarded a minority status. Sociologically, the new development signifies that, within the larger Hindu’ family, the Jains are a distinct minority, and to that extent they are not Hindus. The basis for their minority status is religious.
It is the same argument – ‘depressed classes (Dalits) are not Hindu’ – that Dr Ambedkar had used with the British to secure reservation for the scheduled castes (SCs). The chief difference in the case of Jains, besides being non-Hindu, is that they are not ‘untouchables’.
One wonders had Gandhi been alive what stand would he have taken; he went on indefinite fast against the demand of Dr Ambedkar for separate electorate on the ground that he would never allow division of Hindus.
Another important and chief difference to be recognized in comparison of the struggle of the scheduled castes and Patidars for securing reservation lies in its genesis. The rationale for the SC reservation were based on the “injustice meted out to the community in the past”, whereas in the case of Patidars, who rose from Sudra status in Gujarat to the forward caste status, the rationale is presented in the form of consequences for failure of the state-sponsored development.
The logic seems to become the basis of new caste-based consciousness emerging in Gujarat. Already a public rally has been organized by the Kshatriyas demanding reservation, and they are now planning a second rally. News coming in can be seen from other groups, such as the Brahmins, demanding reservation.
There is little doubt that a great deal of caste-based mobilization demanding reservation across country will intensify, once the data of caste census will become public. The hype over reservation is likely to become nail in the coffin of secularism in India, where division and caste consolidation are likely to become a dominant political discourse.
Does national planning deserve a relook?
*Prominent human rights activist. Founder, Navsarjan Trust, Ahmedabad; director, Dalit Shakti Kendra, Sanand