Tuesday April 23, 2019
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Patel quota demand: A genuine need or a political game? 

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By Vishakha Mathur

With the agitation at its peak and violence rising every day, one begets the question on what all this is about and if in fact, it is worth the trouble. The same community, which stood against the government of Solanki in 1985, protesting the then quota-system, is now asking for an OBC status for itself, so that it gets more benefits in a country where millions of people are not able to acquire even two square meals a day.

hardik-patel-thumb

The Patels today have become a cause of major agitation creating ripples for the government in Gujarat and the one at the Centre. This whimsical move by the Patels is leading us to a debate on the validity of the quota-system and its relevance in today’s time.

Decoding the reservations

Reservations, in India, are considered to be an affirmative action by the government, towards classes, castes or communities that have suffered discrimination in the past and do not have access to adequate opportunities for development. Since these communities have experienced a history of disadvantages, the developmental progress couldn’t have reached them without making special provisions.

With this view, the Mandal Commission was formed in 1979 to set the benchmark for a community to qualify as a “Backward” and be included in the OBC list to receive the benefits given by the government. The commission came up with a total of 3,743 communities to be included in this list based on three parameters: economic, social and educational.

Recognizing  a class as backward on the basis of the work they did, constituted the social parameter.

The castes/classes with 25% of the population living in kuccha houses, 50% having access to drinking water within 12kms of their house and average family assets below 25% were considered based on the economic parameters.

The educational parameter consisted of measuring the dropout rates. The communities/castes having 25% of dropouts for age group 5-15 years and same percentage of matriculates and same percent of people within the age group never having attended school are considered through this parameter.

Are the Patels really “Backward”?

Now with these parameters in hand, it is very easy to judge whether the Patels deserve the quota or not.

The Patels are one of the leading communities who have firmly established their presence abroad in nations like the UK where Patel is the 24th most common surname and US where “Patel” is ranked 124th among the top 500 surnames according to the 2000 census.

With this information in mind, one can understand that the Patels aren’t as poor as other communities such as Kulhaiya which is a community in northern part of Bihar with an illiteracy rate as high as 73% in some districts like Kishangarh.

Being historically landowners, they were one of the very few communities that benefitted from the British rule. As a result of this, their wealth has increased manifolds and the community hasn’t sunken into depravity- as the revolting Patidars are trying to portray. Keeping this in mind, it is time for the Patels to revaluate themselves against the standing conditions of the communities that are a part of the OBC list.

Patels have forgotten the reason behind affirmative action. It is not to give advantages to the average one, rather it is to give advantages to the disadvantaged ones. Patels have never suffered through the tedious times that other backward castes have been through. Therefore, their need for inclusion into OBC category is far-fetched.

Smoke without fire?

Nothing builds out of air, and I believe, so does this protest. The reasons as to why this community is completely acting up might be unclear, but it is sufficient to say that at least something is going wrong in the state; for a community like Patels, who have time and again supported Modi and his government, is now protesting against them for their rights despite having a good share in the state government.

It is being argued that the Patels might not be getting their fair share of advantages, which is why they are now standing up against the government. Going deep into this argument, it might appeal to some that this has been a phenomenon since quite some years, but the Patels couldn’t find appropriate grounds to rise and demand their rights earlier when Mr. Modi was in power. But now, seeing that the government relies heavily on their support, they believe that it is now rather easy to get whatever they want.

This entire reason would indicate that the so called “Gujarat model” has not been as successful as it is being projected as. This community may not have benefited from the model due to their reduced share of the business opportunities, as they have been subjected to ill-effects of fragmented land-holdings.

Despite all this, the Patel agitation demanding an OBC status for themselves does not seem appropriate, because if the Patels get this status then almost all communities and castes can demand the same, defeating the entire purpose of affirmative action. Instead of this violent protest, a peaceful dialogue with the government might help them in getting what they really want.

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Algeria Poses a Serious Economic Challenge to Future Government

Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya

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politics, africa, algeria
A protester chants slogans during a demonstration against Algeria's leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

The tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to the streets for an eighth straight week aren’t the only crisis roiling Algeria. Helping to drive the unrest in Africa’s largest nation—and posing a serious challenge to any future government— is the economy.

Two months of mass demonstrations continued Friday, as Algerians pushed for a broader overhaul of the country’s system, despite elections set for July 4 by newly appointed interim leader, Abdelkader Bensalah. The protests have been largely peaceful, although there were some clashes reported this time along with scores of arrests, and police used water cannons and teargas in the capital Algiers.

“Bensalah, clear off, FLN clear off,” protesters chanted, referring to Algeria’s ruling party.

But many are also calling for a fundamental reboot of the country’s ailing, energy dependent economy that has failed to diversify and deliver jobs to its majority-young population. The unrest, in turn, is adding to Algeria’s economic headaches, analysts say.

“The economy is not in good shape,” said Paris-based Algerian analyst Alexandre Kateb. “The protests are the last straw, but the economic problems go deeper than that.”

algeria, politics
Tens of thousands of Algerians are seen gathered for a demonstration against the country’s leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

Critics have long accused a power elite surrounding former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika of mismanagement and corruption, arguing a large chunk of the wealth is pocketed by a privileged minority. But for years, Algeria’s oil- and gas-rich economy served as a salve for a restless nation, helping to bankroll housing and other social subsidies.

It may be one explanation, some say—along with the country’s devastating 1990s civil war—why the broader Arab Spring uprising of 2011 failed to take off in Algeria.

Falling oil prices

But plummeting oil prices several years later helped to thin wallets and sharpen grassroots anger. Today, more than one-quarter of people under 25 are unemployed, and many Algerians work in the country’s vast informal sector. Successive governments have failed to privatize and capitalize on promising sectors for development such as tourism and agro-industry.

Earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund downgraded the country’s 2019 forecasted growth to 2.3 percent, from a previous 2.7 percent last October.

“The main motivation is still political,” analyst Kateb said of the protests. “But if the economic situation was better, probably the momentum would be less important. We would not have seen the magnitude of the protests that we see now.”

In the immediate future, Algeria’s economic woes may take a back seat. Besides the popular uprising at home, the current rulers must also keep an eye on regional hotspots, including neighboring Libya.

“From an interim government perspective, it’s just about maintaining stability and avoiding any real crisis beyond where we are at the moment,” said Adel Hamaizia, a North Africa expert for London-based think-tank Chatham House.

Algeria, politics
Young people chant slogans during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

“But whoever comes in really has to finally lead an ambitious economic program,” he added, “which helps Algeria realize its potential, develop an independent private sector, diversify, and attract investment on the correct terms.”

Those challenges are daunting. The ruling National Liberation Front or FLN party, in power since independence, has had little incentive to change a status quo that benefited them, many analysts say. Algeria’s business climate has been a turn-off for foreign investors. A case in point: a rule stipulating 51 percent of company shares must be owned by in-country nationals or businesses.

Although energy production continued to chug on during Algeria’s so called “black decade” of violence in the 1990s, further growth stalled. When he came to power in 1999, Bouteflika was credited for ushering in peace. At the beginning, analyst Kateb said, the former president also tried to reform the economy.

“I think he really wanted to give more freedom to entrepreneurs, he really tried to privatize the system,” Kateb said, adding subsequent financial scandals and the global financial crisis ended hope for change.

Inertia and bureaucracy

Kateb, who later served as an economic advisor to ex-prime minister Abelmalek Sellal, said subsequent reform efforts also stalled.

“If you don’t change the whole functioning of the system,” he said, “whatever you do at the margins will be completely absorbed by this inertia and black hole of government bureaucracy.”

algeria, politics
An elderly woman confronts security forces during an anti-government demonstration in Algiers, Algeria, April 10, 2019. VOA

If July elections go through as planned, Algerians will be strongly pushing for economic deliverables.

“I’m sure the many of the slogans are going to be centered around anti-corruption, inclusive growth, economic justice, diversification, and job creation,” said Hamaizia of Chatham House.

For the moment, there appear few clear candidates to champion such causes. Both the country’s ruling FLN and traditional opposition parties are largely discredited in the eyes of many Algerians.

Earlier this week, however, the interior ministry announced licenses for 10 new political parties, Reuters news agency reported, citing Algeria’s Ennahar TV channel.

Analyst Kateb believes the country needs a technocratic government to steer through needed changes, at least over the next few years.

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He believes there is no lack of talent to staff it, both in Algeria and abroad, where thousands of young professionals have flocked in recent decades for lack of opportunities at home.

“Now they’re not really considered,” Kateb said, “and this has to change.” (VOA)