The agitating Patidar community virtually swamped Ahmedabad yesterday in a mammoth rally to demand caste reservations, with its 22-year-old leader posing a challenge to Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.
Though the 10km rally concluded in the afternoon while remaining largely peaceful, in the aftermath there were a few incidents of scuffling with mediapersons, stone-pelting resulting in police firing in one area and bursting of teargas shells in four other localities.
Hardik Patel, 22, the convenor of the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS), addressed the disciplined gathering of an estimated over 1.2mn supporters at the sprawling GMDC ground, vowing that the demand for reservations was non-negotiable.
“We can also do a ‘Kejriwal’ here... We shall not allow anybody to fire bullets on our chests... If no reservations, then no lotus (the symbol of the Bharatiya Janata Party) in 2017,” declared the businessman Patel, invoking the name of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel while terming Patidars as his descendants.
Addressing the massive gathering of the community, Patel pointed out that the Patidars had proved what they were capable of doing if denied their rightful due - clearly hinting at the vote bank power of the estimated 6mn plus community in the state.
“A Patel student who secures 90%, fails to get admission in medical or engineering courses... But a reserved category student with just 45% marks walks in... If we are not given our dues, then we shall snatch it,” he warned to loud cheers of approval from the crowd.
Giving a 48-hour ultimatum to the government, Patel demanded that the chief minister should visit the venue and collect the PAAS memorandum, failing which he would launch an indefinite hunger strike on the dais.
“This is not a 100m race... this is a marathon... Our agitation will end the day the government shows it is willing to concede our demands,” Patel said.
To pre-empt the huge rally from coming to his office, Ahmedabad collector Rajkumar Beniwal rushed to the venue and accepted the PAAS memorandum before the rally started from GMDC ground to the collectorate, around 10km away.
However, later in the evening, government officials said that the chief minister had rejected Patel’s ultimatum and was “unlikely” to travel to the GMDC ground as was being demanded.
Under mounting pressure for the past 55 days when the Patidar agitation was launched on July 6, with scores of smaller rallies across the state as a warm-up to yesterday’s mega-revolution rally, the chief minister was closeted in an emergency cabinet meeting to discuss the issue which has grave political implications.
This is the first time in over three decades that Gujarat has witnessed a caste reservation agitation and efforts are being made to ensure that the situation remains under control as even Chief Minister Anandiben Patel belongs to the Patidar community.
Top police officials, including city commissioner Shivanand Jha and others, personally supervised the security arrangements during the mega rally with instructions to the force to exercise ‘restraint’, even as Patel appealed to his followers to maintain peace at all costs.
Most parts of Gujarat and the entire Ahmedabad observed a shutdown of all business establishments, schools and colleges to facilitate the participation of Patidars in the rally.
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