Kuldeep Tiwari (MeraNews, Ahmedabad): The uproar created by the release of an alleged sex tape of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel seems to have diverted attention from the core issue of reservation for the community, which other Patidar rights organizations are saying is no more the primary focus of Patel and his organization.

“The fight is for the community, and the government has agreed to the points that Hardik discussed with us and put to the government. But now it seems that he has a vested interest in not ending the protest. After using us for discussions with the government, he is showing different colours,” said Ratibhai Patel, convenor of the Patidar Organisation Core Committee (POCC), a grouping of six Patidar organizations—Umiya Mataji Sansthan in Unja, Mehsana; Khodaldham in Kagvad, Rajkot; Umiya Mataji, Sidsar; Sardar Dham; Samasth Patidar Samaj, Surat, and Vishva Umiya Foundation in Ahmedabad—that form the base of the community along with the Sardar Patel Group (SPG).

“If he wants OBC (Other Backward Class) reservation for Patidars, then what’s the point of going to the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) or the Congress? It’s better to hire the best lawyers like Ram Jethmalani or Harish Salve, who know the law and can help the community better than the parties,” the POCC convenor said.

Reservation for the Patidar community is a contentious matter.

The National Commission for Backward Classes (NCBC), in response to a Right to Information (RTI) application, has said there is no provision under which a sub-category can be created for economically backward classes (EBCs) within the central list of OBCs—potentially dealing a severe blow to the Patidar community’s demand for reservation in government jobs and educational institutions in Gujarat.

The BJP and the Congress have both agreed to four of the five PAAS demands, and the ruling party has said it will set up a commission to explore the possibility of reservation for those under non-reserved categories. The offer was turned down by Hardik Patel.

Patel met Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi in October and has said his organization will extend its support for the polls if its demands are met. The Congress, on its part, said it will withdraw the charges of sedition against members of the Patidar community, offer Rs35 lakh compensation and government jobs to the families of those who died during the quota stir that began in 2015, form a commission on non-reserved communities with a grand of Rs2,000 crore, and a set up a special investigation team to look into alleged police atrocities against the community, if it is voted into power.

Eight core members of the PAAS met Congress leader Kapil Sibal and others to devise a formula for reservation, but no clarity has been given on how this will work—i.e. providing reservation under the tenets of the Constitution without the possibility of it being struck down by a court of law.

“We have already contacted Khodaldham, Umiya Mataji and SPG for their opinion. Once we get their views, we will go ahead,” said PAAS convener Dinesh Bambhaniya.

He, however, declined to explain what formula the Congress has proffered. “It’s a long document. It can’t be explained over the phones,” Bambhaniya said.

Khodaldham trustee Hansraj Gajera denied that the PAAS approached his organization. “He (Hardik Patel) has not contacted our organization for our consent or approval for the OBC reservation formula that he has discussed with the Congress. He does things as per his whims and fancies. When the government has agreed to the demands, why is he continuing the fight?” he said.

“You will not find any senior member of the association at his rallies. There is a way of dealing with the government, and we are answerable to the community. Hence, we have decided not to support him anymore and want the public to know that the government has agreed to our demands, but it is Hardik who is now taking the entire wave in a different direction,” said Gajera.

Lalji Patel, the leader of the SPG, said his organization was neither part of the discussions with the Congress nor was he approached by the PAAS for his opinions. “Providing (the Patidar community with) OBC quota seems unconstitutional. Both the parties, the BJP and the Congress, are offering us a lollipop,” he said.

The SPG leader said that if the Congress were serious about helping the Patidar community, it should carry out a survey to better understand the matter and then decide on reservation.

Regarding the explicit video that allegedly showed Hardik Patel in bed with an unidentified woman that was posted on social media on Monday, Lalji Patel said “targeting Hardik on personal grounds is not appropriate, but this definitely affects the community as he calls himself a Patidar leader. He should be more careful about his image and how it affects the community.”

The SPG leader also questioned why Hardik Patel hadn’t filed a police complaint since he said the clip was doctored.

“The same thing happened with senior BJP leader Sanjay Joshi, too, many years ago. The BJP is targeting Hardik Patel personally and it shows that the saffron party has gone on the back foot,” he said.

On the same topic, Khodaldham trustee Gajera said, “If he is innocent, he must prove it, as this is not acceptable to the community.”

Gajera also accused the PAAS convenor of disrupting the peace and harmony in the state ahead of the assembly elections, which will be held on 9 and 14 December. “The unrest is affecting business in the state, and we want peaceful elections. Therefore, this must end now.”

 

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Kuldeep Tiwari tweets at @kuldeep_2105