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The demand for reservations is because the Gujarat ‘bullet train’ left people behind

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Will Gujarat voters fall for unrealistic Patidar promises?

The Congress party’s Gujarat election manifesto, as expected, has promised to bring a bill for granting reservation to non-reserved and economically backward communities, legitimising its consent for the demands of Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel.

Will only “fools” fall for this “joke”, as Gujarat’s deputy chief minister Nitin Patel quipped earlier to downplay its electoral impact? Well, fools or not, the multitude of youth and rural folks (not just from the Patidar castes) who throng Hardik’s rallies all over Gujarat will live up to the pledge they have given him to defeat the BJP in Gujarat.

They will find in this legally-tangled (though not impossible) promise of reservation a symbolic rationalisation they were looking for to redress their deep sense of hurt at the allegedly unprovoked killing of 14 Patidar youths by the present regime in 2015. They will also find in this promise a reason to hope for redressing the many kinds of socio-economic and educational exclusions caused by state policies during the past two decades.

The economically well-off Patidars with vested interest in the continuation of the status quo, the Patidars from the Charotar region of central Gujarat with their deep familial connect for the “crazy for Modi” Gujarati diaspora, and the urbanised Patidars in big cities like Ahmedabad and Vadodara, will certainly not get enticed by the promise of reservation.

Here are other sharp perspectives on Patidar reservation promise:

Manisha Priyamassociate professor, National University for Educational Planning and Administration

Urvish Kothari, senior columnist and writer based in Ahmedabad

But there are other Patidars who may buy into it. Patidars from the lower middle-class background engaged in small trades and businesses, unemployed Patidar youth in the rural areas and a large number (but not the majority) of community members in Saurashtra and north Gujarat would use this promise as a reason to politically channelise their long pent-up sentiments and grievances about the ‘bullet train’ of development that has left them stranded on the platform. They will also utilise it to enhance their political power vis-à-vis the well-off sections of their own community in case the Congress regains power in Gujarat.

Politics is not a rational or a logical activity. Symbolism has a great value in mobilising people around a set of larger political issues. The promise of Patidar reservation is a symbol for re-negotiating the relationship of the state with its excluded people. This is not unlike the constitutionally and judicially challenged issues of Article 370, Ram Mandir at Ayodhya and Uniform Civil Code have a powerful symbolic value for the construction of an ideological movement of Hindutva.

Similarly, the seeking and granting of reservation for Patidars and other economically backward communities too is not just about reservation but about what is perceived as injustice and unfairness of a market-led, neo-liberal Gujarat model of development. And in politics, perceptions often create the reality.

Amit Dholakia, Professor of Political Science, Maharaja Sayajirao University, Vadodara

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