News Karnataka
Tuesday, November 29 2022

Patel agitation: Politics of envy and warning to the lower castes

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‘If Haider petitions the court and the government for legitimate rights it is called minority appeasement, but when Hardik orchestrates violence he is lionised, romanticised and given huge media space that ends up both legitimising and oxygenating his movement, no matter how contrary it is to the Rule of Law,’ argues Shehzad Poonawalla in a column under the title “What if it was Haider Pathan and not Hardik Patel?” (Published in on 26th August 2015). She takes objection to the adulation this youth from Gujarat, Hardik Patel, received in the media, in political discourse and even the courts, ordering enquiries about police brutalities while not raising any objection to the violence and vandalism used by the Patel mob as a means.

Poonawala contrasts the history of Gujarati Patels with that of Muslims where one can see how Patel community in Gujarat has always been aligned with the ruling class and had a Patel chief minister for a quarter of the life of Gujarat as a state. Even in the current Gujarat assembly Patels are highly represented. Besides chief minister, Anandiben Patel, there are seven senior members in a ministry of 27, the BJP party chief in Gujarat is a Patel, five MPs and over 30 MLAs are from Patel community. Economically, being landowning community Patels are an affluent community, venturing further into trade. This is helped further by migration over the centuries. In the earlier decades Patels were supporters of Congress and were in positions of power, but recently the community predominantly supports BJP and its Hindutva agenda with its anti-Muslim programs. In every manner, while being hard-working, enterprising, globally mobile and politically well organised, Patel community is exemplary in navigating successfully through socio-economic challenges within India and in a globalised economic world environment. (By this I do not imply that every single person of Patel community is affluent. Those that remained as small farmers would be certainly sharing the fate of any other farmer in the country).

Contrast this with Muslims. According to Poonawala the share of Muslims employed in secondary and tertiary sectors is lower than Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and in the public sector or civil services the Muslim share is a mere 2.5 per cent despite being 14 per cent of Indian population. Among Muslims over the age of 20 there are only 4% graduates. Despite their bigger percentage in population in States such as Uttar Pradesh, there hardly has been a Muslim chief minister there, nor elsewhere in any state. In the current BJP government there is no representation for a population of over 200 crore Muslims. Despite all these disadvantages exacerbated further by Hindutva’s politically manoeuvred communal riots and destruction of lives, living spaces and livelihoods of large groups of Muslims, their demands for any kind of reservation or economic support have been brutally ignored. A similar case has happened with the economically disadvantaged Dalit Christians. However, an upper caste aligned, politically strong and economically secure community of Patels receives media and political adulation for their demand for OBC status and reservation. Their violence finds sympathisers rather than anyone being arrested for vandalising public property such as public transport. A youth who poses himself with guns and threatens to use violence, if not in words, but through symbolism, is hailed as a rising (angry) star. Imagine a Muslim, Christian or North Eastern youngster posing himself with a gun? By now he would be behind bars under anti-terrorism act or one among the many colonial era laws used against people to subjugate them.

How to view this sudden outbreak of agitation by the Patels? Many people have tried to see this as anger over losing out against other communities that enjoy reservations. If that were the case this merely shows it to be nothing but a politics of envy because it is the envy against a person from among scheduled castes, scheduled tribes or OBC’s having a chance in education or public sector employment moving ahead of ‘us’ (some Patels who could not manage to live like our kith and kin from UK, USA or local business person), who should legitimately have such a privilege. Hence is the demand either to include Patels in the reservation list (which has no more chance because the State has reached its maximum 50% quota allowed by the Supreme Court) or scrap the caste based quota system altogether. The logic behind this argument is “if I can’t get it, let no one get it”. This demand exhibits a lack of sensitivity to our nation’s history where lower caste people have been subjected to discrimination and deprivation in every way for over 5000 years. When the Congress government, when in power in Gujarat, tried to secure such special support to these deprived and discriminated communities, Patel’s agitated against it and then jumped ship joining the Hindutva mobilisation of the BJP. BJP, with the help of its Hidutva organisations, diverted the caste mobilisation against the Muslims while at the same time creating a dream of Hindu identity while undercutting the ideological unity among lower castes and tribals, Muslims and Christians in Gujarat).

By following deftly the neoliberal economic agenda for over a decade Narendra Modi had managed to keep the illusion of Hindu unity by whipping up communal sentiments and programs against minorities. His policy of neoliberalism has helped large corporate groups to benefit in a big way. But the very policies have undercut the development in agriculture and rural upliftment, the very policies of neglecting farmers and rural development adopted in the Centre now. In this sense one can say the current Patel agitation is an effect of neoliberal policies of Modi government in Gujarat coming to roost. The rural farmers having little support from the government, thrown directly into the ebbs and flows of capitalist market forces, and jobs of every kind paying lower and lower wages, have caused more and more people live under poverty. This economic pressure is further exacerbated by dreams and aspirations marketed daily in through the media images of affluence and mobility from among people of one’s own community, those who have migrated abroad or Indians in general who have made it, besides the ache din promised by Modi when he came to power in Delhi.

In reality, the neoliberal economic policies of shrinking the government, mechanising work, delegitimising labour unions and pushing down wages is wreaking havoc in India and elsewhere. If among the Patel’s this politics of envy is displaced on to the lower castes, in Europe and elsewhere this is displaced on to immigrants where Patels also are in big number. The Hindutva supporting Patels (majority of them) while they happily go along with a majoritarian and anti- reservation, anti-minority agenda in Gujarat and India, the same community decries (rightly) a similar treatment,(politics of envy by majority Whites), towards immigrants in Europe where Patels are also part of immigrant and minority community. This is the problem: our standards of ‘ethics’ are different in different contexts. What we wouldn’t mind depriving minorities in one context, we cry wolf as injustice in another context where we are minorities. A strange world and morals indeed. Whichever way one looks at this Patel agitation, this stinks of envy against those whom they think are unworthy, socially, economically and politically, to rival the Patels (or Marathas, Jhats or whoever traditionally held power). This appears to be a case of anxiety among powerful castes/communities whose hold on power is slowly slipping over to the ‘others’ (SC, STs, OBCs, Minorities) who due to the affirmative policies adopted by the State have benefitted from them. In some sense it is a warning to the lower castes and minorities to stay subjugated and never dare to raise their heads demanding a share in power. In today’s India Hardik Patel’s agitation will find little support, politically and socially.

About the Author:

Samuel Sequeira is a Postgraduate Researcher, at the School of English,  Communication and Philosophy at the Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom. He is currently researching on issues such as South Asian immigrants in Wales, Immigration discourses in the UK and Identity and conflict.


 Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of and does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same


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