The agitating Patidar community virtually swamped this city in a mammoth rally in Ahmedabad on Tuesday to demand caste reservations, with its 22-year-old leader posing a challenge to Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel.
Though the 10 km rally concluded in the afternoon while remaining largely peaceful, in the aftermath there were a few incidents of scuffling with mediapersons, stonepelting 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 1.20 million 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 (BJP symbol) in 2017,” declared the businessman Patel, invoking the name of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel while terming Patidars as his descendents.
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 six million plus community in the state.
“A Patel student who secures 90 percent, fails to get admission in medical or engineering courses… But a reserved category student with just 45 percent 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 100-metre 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 10 km away.
However, later this 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 Tuesday’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.
Hundreds of thousands of Patidars had started swooping down on the city since Monday night, with the police and district officials making stringent security arrangements to prevent the general masses from being inconvenienced.
For the 10-km long march from GMDC to the collectorate, police made elaborate security arrangements, traffic diversions, put up CCTVs, tightening protection for the chief minister, her cabinet colleagues and important installations in the city.