On 26 August, I watched Gujarat tremble, not owing to an earthquake but something more insidious, fear. In rallies with turnouts between half a million to a million plus, the Patel/Patidar community of Gujarat turned out to demand reservation for their caste over the past few days. Violence is virtually inevitable when such turnouts occur and when it occurred on the 25th, it led to a state wide siege situation that is yet to normalize.
The entire act is so disdainful that one can only look to Africa for a fair comparison. The vandals had no compunctions destroying state property belonging to everyone. I wonder how many of these agitators pay their requisite share of income tax. The ‘violence’ that scared people across the state is witnessed in the ordinary UP or Bihar town so regularly as not to merit mention. In spite of this, the population of Gujarat sat paranoid with mobile sms and internet services blocked, schools and colleges closed and with all shops shut including even restaurants. ATMs were closed. Dairies ran out of milk. The army was called in too for an action which, to put it mildly, is not something a soldier signs up for.
It was an act of open surrender (I am amazed at how easily people are scared) and the ease with which a situation like this can be created in one of india’s wealthiest states astounds me, makes my blood boil and fills me with despair simultaneously. Throughout the Third World, particularly the Middle East and Africa, similar sectarian demands by tribes and communities have created deep rifts which have led to non functioning democratic governments whenever given the chance. Parochial communities who act for their own self interest only and give a finger to the government are a typical representation of strife torn Africa.
Such demands by communities and such prosperous ones cannot be met by any government without causing injustice. Unfortunately, the past gives us examples on how Indian governments have capitulated in the face of violence and muscle power wielded by large narrow minded communities. Our populace is largely more peaceful historically than the Middle East and Africa. This is perhaps the reason why we have not degenerated to the level of civil war like them. However, the vision of a nation living with various communities in harmony is a myth. The communities only find it more profitable economically to trade than fight. It is like the strategy game ‘Age of Empires’ in which you could ally with the neighbouring kingdom/tribe/community or conquer it based on pure pragmatism.
In the August that marks the anniversary of India’s freedom, it is clear that the freedom is only apparent if all it takes to shut a state of 63 million is a bunch of people burning a few government buses, and led by a 21 year old leader asking the government to bow down to absurd, and risible, demands. The entire fiasco makes a mockery of our tall claims of upholding democratic ideals of justice, equality and freedom.
Idle minds and idle hands: A macroeconomic issue?
The Patel/Patidar community, a relatively economically prosperous community constituting over 12-15% population in Gujarat and wielding better than proportionate political power is now asking for itself to be classified with ‘other backward castes’. The demand is so ludicrous that the first time I heard it I thought it was part of a slapstick comedy routine. This group has so much money that they could probably buy their own small country if they wished to. The Supreme court has capped reservation at 50% which means that the Patels would have to fight for their reservation among the already crowded OBCs. Are they asking for a breach of the 50% ceiling and thus inviting demands by castes across the country for respective allocations which can only stop at 100% reservation? Frankly, the demand is a reminder that the macroeconomic situation in the country needs urgent reform. A historically job eschewing, prosperous, business community now wants to serve in government positions and study in top government educational institutions guaranteeing plush corporate jobs largely because they think that business is not profitable anymore.
India cannot vie with top developed world countries when its people cling to insular issues like caste. Reservation is an absolute bane which makes sense perhaps for the economically backward in the context of social welfare but is incredibly anachronistic when viewed from the lens of caste.
The country needs more colleges, more schools and more emphasis on creating a force of excellent well-paid teachers to teach its young students. It cannot waste its time on a fallacious system of reservation that suppresses merit and encourages the meritorious to migrate to other countries that give them a better deal. There are only so many government jobs and more can only be created if the country grows. The macroeconomic situation of the country cannot improve with impromptu bandhs that destroy livelihood. Bengal is an excellent example of a state that destroyed itself in this fashion in spite of once being the capital of British India. Let India not become Bengal.