The Congress’ promise of exploring ways to give OBC status to the Patel (Patidar) community in Gujarat is “unrealistic and dubious”, say experts as well as opponents.

The Congress’ stand on the reservation demands raised by the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) is not clear as it has not announced whether the party supports the OBC quota demand of PAAS or not, but earlier this week, Gujarat Pradesh Congress Committee (GPCC) president Bharatsinh Solanki had announced that if the Congress forms the government in Gujarat, it will give 20% EBC (Economically Backward Class) quota for upper castes. This has raised questions over the Congress’ stand in Gujarat.

However, contrary to Solanki’s announcement, Ashok Gehlot, Gujarat Congress in-charge, said: “Congress has already made it amply clear that it would not make any promise which is difficult to meet in the future. The Patel community is in distress under BJP rule in the state; therefore, it has aligned towards the Congress.”

Asked whether PAAS leaders will come to Congress without the OBC quota promise fulfilled, Gehlot said: “We are in touch with PAAS leaders and meetings are going on. I hope that these issues will be sorted out soon.”

Citing the example of the Gujjar quota agitation, Gehlot said: “For electoral gains, we can’t make false promises like our opponents who promised to give OBC status to Gujjars in Rajasthan. The Congress will only make promises it can fulfill.”

Solanki told The Sunday Guardian that the Congress has not promised to give OBC status to the Patel community, but “if our party comes to power, we will explore ways to give reservations to the Patel community on the basis of economic backwardness”. 

Commenting on the issue, Gujarat BJP spokesperson I.K. Jadeja said: “The Congress is making false promises to the Patel community for short term gains. The promise of giving OBC status is not realistic and the Congress is trying to fool the Patel community in the state. The constitutional binding is such that any promise of giving reservation to the upper caste Patels is difficult as the Constitution has mandated to give reservations only to socially backward castes.”

Raju Patel, a close aid of Hardik Patel, told The Sunday Guardian: “PAAS has made it clear that the reservation demand for the Patel community is primary and we will not accept anything less. PAAS-Congress alliance will depend on the Congress fulfilling the demands of PAAS.”

S.M. Khatik, who teaches Political Science at Gujarat University, told The Sunday Guardian: “In the past, the BJP had also tried to give 10% EBC quota to the upper caste Patel community, but it was stuck in legal battle as reservation in traditional terms is only for meant for socially backward castes; therefore, any promise of giving OBC status to the Patels in Gujarat will only invite a legal contest.”

“In my opinion, promises of reservation are just a gimmick to gain emotional support from the community and it has no validity of logical support. The purpose of reservations was to provide social equality. Political parties across the country are playing around reservations only to get gain in elections,” Khatik added.

Jayati Majumdar, scholar at the Centre for Policy Research told The Sunday Guardian: “Demands for reservation have been part of social and political movements, but in recent times, reservation demands from well-off communities like the Gujjars of Rajasthan, Jats of Haryana and Patels of Gujarat, have posed a serious challenge to state governments. Political parties should discourage such demands.”

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