There used to be a time in this nation, or rather before we were a nation, when being from a backward caste would mean a destitute life deprived of even the most basic amenities. Alas, the tables have turned! Being a backward caste today has its fair share of benefits. Reservation in jobs, educational institutions as well as promotions is ingrained in the Indian system.
Indians have more or less accepted this as the norm and are grateful to the Supreme Court for capping the reservations to a maximum of 50%. Because when votes are concerned, equality and fairness conveniently disappear. Yet, this is nothing new for us. We have always been lackadaisical and have found our own ways to deal with this. Then there was this 22 year old lad that took the Gujarat political sphere by storm.
Gujarat is a widely diverse state, like any other in India, with numerous castes and religions. Among Gujaratis, Patels or Patidars are at the forefront. Traditionally being engaged in agriculture, Patels have been succeeding in various fora, be it business, politics or immigration. Today, this community is economically, socially and politically among the most powerful communities in Gujarat, if not the most. The Chief Minister, numerous MLAs and MPs are Patels. Their sheer population has meant that governments have risen and fallen based on their support. So it seems a little strange as to why this community is demanding inclusion in the OBC quota when they have everything any community could aspire to have. Mind you, if the Patels fall under backward caste, no other Gujarati community can claim to be forward or upper caste. So if Sachin Tendulkar was rated as a mediocre batsman then can Ishant Sharma be called a good one? In no parallel universe can a Patidar possibly be backward class however, that doesn’t mean that there are no economically challenged people in the community who maybe deserve certain benefits available to OBCs, but not the community as a whole. If Patidars acquire the status of OBCs tomorrow, what’s to stop other communities who are as it is not as advanced as the Patels to demand such a status? The precedent would then state that everyone else deserves it. So if everyone were supposed to get reservation then would that mean that effectively no one got reservation?
Now the facts of the case are simple. Patels, largely an agrarian and business community, have realized that education will be tomorrow’s currency. However, not only Patel youth but all general caste communities have seen their deserving and meritorious students missing out on educational and job opportunities due to the long overdue scrapping of the anomaly that is reservation. As a state policy, caste-based reservation has failed to fulfill the needs of the vast populace and has instead bred hatred and led to violence. The Patels are the first ones after a long time to have risen against this issue, however their stand currently is impractical and their methods violent.
The show of strength and sheer numbers that the Patels are showing has effectively said that they are a majority with might, so on what basis do they deserve reservation? Hardik Patel, the leader of the movement is effectively holding the government hostage in terms of re-election which threatens to give rise to more vote-bank politics. Violence in any form must be avoided and the destruction of property has tarnished the sanctity of peaceful protest. If the government capitulates, it will open a Pandora’s Box. The precedents would have wide-ranging effects not only for Gujarat but the nation as a whole with more and more demands from various communities. The ramifications of this protest, whether successful or not, will show that reservation’s sell-by date has gone. Caste based reservation was as it is faulty and wrought with issues aplenty. Maybe reservation on an economic basis makes sense but since that would effectively end discrimination and vote-bank politics, it represents a conflict of interest for the politicians of the day. The methods and demands of the Patels maybe questionable but the issue they raise is an important one, that which has prompted caste-based discrimination in this nation for decades.