Painful Patel punch: Gujarat is once again subject of major pilot project on social engineering, deliberate and planned

By RK Misra*
Society is like a stew. If you don’t stir it scum floats to the top. But those who do so must bear the burden of the stink. Both stirred and shaken, Gujarat is going through turmoil-filled days as its affluent and numerically strong Patidar (Patel) community mounts a fierce assault for other backward class (OBC) reservation that is straining the fabric of inter-community harmony to its tensile limits.
Fearful of a Patidar led-Anandiben Patel government caving in to their demands, a counter-movement against it is building up as well. Two days ahead of the Patels’ biggest-ever show of community strength on August 25, the OBCs mobilized members from the 146 communities in its fold for a dharna near the Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad on August 23.
The scheduled castes SCs and scheduled tribes (STs) symbolically joined it and the tone and tenor were distinctly repudiatory of the Patels. “Any move by the government or any community to snatch our rights will first ensure this government’s pack-up, and thereafter force us, the laboring class, to take to a Naxalism style stir". warned their leaders.
Within hours the first indicators of the caste tensions building up came to the fore when Patels and Thakores (an OBC caste) clashed with lethal weapons in Ranosan village of Mehsana district in North Gujarat, leaving 12 of them injured. This is the very village from where the Patidar agitation started over 45 days ago.
As Patel leaders demonstrating superb managerial prowess and financial resource management are making known their resolve to carry the agitation beyond the boundaries of the state, the contours of a larger design are slowly beginning to emerge. With the state government now veering round to state that it is neither feasible nor possible to accede to their demand, the new slogan emerging is “either us reservation or no reservation”.
This in effect means that either the Patels should be given reservation in the OBC category or there should be no reservation for anybody.
As a further indication of their resolve to escalate the stir the Patidar leadership has also reached out to retired Col Kirori Singh Baisla, who successfully led the Gujjar agitation in Rajasthan, even blockading traffic passing through their state to the country’s capital for a day.

Past experiments

Gujarat has been the crucible for important political experiments since long. It was the Dandi march initiated from Sabarmati ashram in Ahmedabad on March 12,1930 by Mahatma Gandhi leading to the salt satyagraha, and civil disobedience movement which triggered off massive public indignation taking India to freedom 17 years later.
Again it was the student led Navnirman agitation from Ahmedabad in 1975 which led to the fall of the first Chimanbhai Patel headed Congress government. This purely student led stir triggered a chain of events that ultimately led to the rise of Jayprakash Narayan, followed by clamping of Emergency and ultimately the installation of the Morarji Desai headed, first non-Congress government at the centre in 1977.
Ironically it was Chimanbhai Patel who had subsequently quit the Congress and lent covert support to a Patidar led anti-reservation stir that  ensured the fall of yet another Congress government in Gujarat ,this time headed by Madhavsinh Solanki. The government fell within four months of being elected in 1985 with a majority of 149 seats in a House of 182 seats, a record that remains unbeaten to this day, not even by Narendra Modi.
Another major political experiment was the one spearheaded by the Hindu Dharma Jagran Manch (HJM) an affiliate of the VHP and the Bajrang Dal carried out in December 1998 in the solely tribal Dangs district in South Gujarat bordering Maharashtra. This was after Swami Aseemanand – who subsequently figured in cases of Hindu terror and spent extended time behind bars-was posted in Dangs in 1995 by the RSS to set up an ashram and undertake ‘tribal welfare’activities. It was thereafter that a ‘shabari mahakumbh’ was held here in 2006.
Raising the bogey of threats to the ‘Hindu tribal majority’ a string of Christian places of worship were attacked beginning Christmas in 1998.The violence targeting Christian tribals and missionaries spread to other areas of South Gujarat. Such was the national and international outcry over the incidents that took place during BJP chief minister Keshubhai Patel’s rule that Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Congress leader Sonia Gandhi had to visit Dangs.
The violence against the minority Christian community had a twofold objective. Firstly to prevent tribal conversions to Christianity through creation of a fear psychosis and secondly to divide the tribals who formed the core of the Congress vote-bank.

Larger game-plan

There are reasons to believe that Gujarat is once again the subject of a pilot project on social engineering. There is not an iota of doubt that a spirited and energetic youth leadership is spear heading the agitation with dedication and drive. But it is also clear from the speed and skill, finesse and financial acumen with which it is spreading like wildfire that there are sharper watchful eyes, who, while allowing it to progress are monitoring it all the way. Political analysts see in it a larger game-plan.
Both the RSS and the present Prime Minister are known to be votaries of a single point reservation – only for the economically backward class. Thus, if Modi and the RSS could have their way they would want to do away with caste-based reservation. Not even easier said, much less easier done.
As has been the case on numerous other occasions, no better place to carry out an experiment under controlled conditions than Gujarat. For one, the Sangh Parivar and the various RSS organs have been able to strike deep roots over the almost 20 year old BJP rule post-1995. A case in point is the spread of the innocuous ‘pag pada sangh’, which is VHP shaded, and has struck deep roots right into homes.
It is now almost a ritual that on sacred occasions people-men, women even children-walk to key places of worship, some as distant as 350 kms away with public spirited people and organizations making arrangements for their rest, recuperation and food enroute. Many such organizations exist in a variety of spheres ensuring penetration and pursuance powers for the Parivar organs in the social fabric of the state.
In the case of the Patidar stir, intelligence agencies have already supplied to authorities the names of BJP and other sister set up leaders involved in behind-the- scene organisational affairs. Chief minister Anandiben Patel and other senior leaders also had a closed door meeting with RSS leaders at Modi’s old Sanskardham office on the outskirts of Ahmedabad on August23. At the end of it a statement for public consumption said that social harmony in the state should not be disturbed and we are discussing what role we can play in easing tensions.
It is common knowledge that Patels constitute one of the largest blocks of BJP supporters. They moved away from the Congress in the aftermath of 1985. This tilt followed the attempt to marginalize  them through the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) configuration, successfully implemented by former chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki.
Modi also tightened his grip over Gujarat in the almost 13 years that he held sway in the state. Thus Gujarat is the ideal place for a controlled experiment of this nature which involves building public opinion for such a major but extremely sensitive political experiment.
Why otherwise would the BJP Patel MLA, whose office was vandalized by agitators, refused to file a police complaint? Why have 37 Patel legislators and seven ministers been virtually silent spectators? Why has the government been taking a soft as satin approach to the agitation? It is only now when voices are being raised by the OBCs and the SCs and STs that it has begun to make some bold paper announcements.The instructions to the cops, however is to exercise great caution.
If the RSS has an agenda, Narendra Modi has an unorthodox delivery mechanism stretching beyond the strangulating confines of the government. This enables forward movement as well as withdrawal without being seen to be doing either. Have we not noticed it in the sudden rash of high profile ‘ghar wapasi’ events that started hogging media space after a series of rash public utterances by BJP-Sangh constituent leaders?
It was deliberate and planned, mainly to bring the issue into sharp focus for purposes of a national debate on an anti-conversion law, variants of which have already been implemented in Gujarat. The purpose served, a quiet withdrawal and it died down soon after. For those who know the inner mechanics,’ ghar wapasi’ is a year round continuing programme of the Sangh Parivar being pursued quietly. As is said, the greatest and most powerful revolutions often start very quietly hidden in the shadows. So do disasters.
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*Senior journalist based in Gandhinagar. His blogs can be accessed at http://wordsmithsandnewsplumbers.blogspot.in/

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