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Patidars’ agitation and the downfall of “Gujarat model”

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By Amulya Ganguli 

Nothing shows the distortions that have vitiated the policy of reservations more starkly than the agitation by the financially and politically influential Patel community in Gujarat for inclusion in the backward-caste category to avail of the quota system in the allocation of government jobs and educational opportunities.

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Behind their quest for safety in the reserved categories is the evident failure of the much-vaunted ‘Gujarat model’ of development which was touted by Narendra Modi as the panacea for the entire country.

Yet, since the preference for reservations is a throwback to the days of scarcity during the licence-permit-control raj, the latest upsurge shows that little has changed in the economy. The scourge of joblessness remains as potent under the pro-market dispensation as it was under the controlled economy.

Even then, there is something odd about an enterprising community like the Patels wanting the government to act as their nanny, as it were.

The OBC (Other Backward Class) of the Hindi belt, too, comprised dominant groups in the countryside when they secured 27 percent reservations for themselves in 1990.

But unlike the Patels, they occupied a lowly position socially. As B.P. Mandal, a former chief minister of Bihar and author of the Mandal commission report recommending 27 percent reservation, said, he was not allowed as a school student to eat with his upper caste companions by the Brahmin principal. Mandal was discriminated against although he belonged to a wealthy landowning family.

But the Patels or Patidars – the word means the same as zamindars – never experienced such social disadvantages. Not surprisingly, they were part of the anti-reservation movements in Gujarat in the late 1970s and early 1980s directed against the Congress-led state government’s KHAM vote bank comprising Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims.

It is strange, therefore, that the Patels of the Patel-motel fame (they run a large number of roadside hotels across the US) should now want to take a step back into the backward caste category.

Such a regressive outlook is all the more curious because the Patels, like most Gujaratis, are known for their entrepreneurship. For them to seek reservations in government establishments cannot be easily explained when the country has opted for a pro-market economy with its emphasis on the private sector.

The role of the government and the public sector is therefore expected to shrink in the coming years. As such, it makes little point to seek employment in these sectors.

Similarly, seeking admission via reservations in government schools and colleges doesn’t make any sense because of the preference of parents now to admit their children in English-medium private schools as these are believed to be better at preparing the students to face the challenges of a globalized environment.

In a way, the agitation by the Patels for OBC status is similar to the one by the Gujjars of Rajasthan who wanted a relegation from their existing backward caste category to a Scheduled Tribe (ST) classification since the recognition of Jats as OBCs in the state eroded the availability of reserved jobs.

This kind of a backward march is the result of dwindling employment opportunities at a time when the private sector is not expanding fast enough to make up for the reduction of government jobs. Besides, the Gujarat model may be more hype than reality.

Till now, the failures of this model have been noted by Amartya Sen and other Leftists in social sectors such as infant mortality, whose rate is as high as 60.9 per 1,000 children in Gujarat against 16.2 in Kerala. Moreover, the percentage of people below the poverty line in Gujarat is 31.6 against 19.6 in Kerala.

But the latest disturbances point to failures in the commercial segment as well with the small and medium enterprises not faring well and the capital-intensive industries not creating enough jobs.

While the phenomenon of jobless growth where robots replace humans on the shop floor is one aspect of the scene in Gujarat, another is how reservations have come to be viewed as the panacea for such situations, especially when those searching for jobs or educational opportunities find their prospects blocked not by deserving individuals but by beneficiaries of allotted quotas where castes are the passwords.

In a system where the accident of birth trumps merit, the demand by the leader of the Gujarat agitators, 22-year-old Hardik Patel, that either the provision of all facilities be determined by caste or that the system should be thrown open to all will appear justifiable.

Arguably, the gross misuse of reservations by myopic politicians intent on catering for particular support groups has led to this volatile situation. The worst example of such misuse is how the Supreme Court’s directive on excluding the creamy layer or the successful beneficiaries from the quota system has been negated by a constant upward revision of the criteria for such exclusion by the ruling politicians.

For Modi, the fire in his backyard is the most worrisome of the problems which he faces. And there are many – an economy which refuses to look up, the imbroglio over pension for ex-servicemen and an agitation in the Film and Television Institute of India which underlines the government’s insensitivity to matters of popular culture.

(IANS)

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India Continues Engaging With USA Over H-1B Passport Issue

India is closely engaged with the US administration as well as the US Congress on this matter.

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As Trump proposes changes in H1-B visa, India continues to engage with US

India is continuing to engage with the US over the H-1B visa, largely availed of by Indian IT companies, after the Trump administration proposed changes to the programme, a senior official said on Thursday.

“It is a very important topic for us and that is the reason why we have time and again at various levels, we have taken up this matter with the US side,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said in response to queries by journalists here.

Kumar said that most recently, the issue was raised during the first ever India-US 2+2 Ministerial Meeting held here last month that was attended by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defence Secretary Jim Mattis.

On Wednesday, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said that the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plans to come out with its new proposal by January 2019.

India n Passport
It will also “revise the definition” of employment and employer-employee relationship to “better protect” US workers and wages Flickr

The DHS said it was also proposing to remove from its regulations certain H-4 spouses of H-1B non-immigrants as a class of aliens eligible for employment authorisation.

The move to end the rule could have an impact on more than 70,000 H-4 visa holders, who have work permits.

The H-4 visas are issued by the USCIS to immediate family members (spouse and children under 21 years of age) of the holders of H-1B visa.

The DHS said it will propose to revise the definition of speciality occupation to increase focus on obtaining the best and the brightest foreign nationals via the H-1B programme.

It will also “revise the definition” of employment and employer-employee relationship to “better protect” US workers and wages, the DHS said.

Donald Trump, India
President Donald Trump speaks about immigration alongside family members affected by crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, at the South Court Auditorium on the White House complex, June 22, 2018, in Washington, VOA

In his remarks on Thursday, Kumar said that India is closely engaged with the US administration as well as the US Congress on this matter.

Stating that there are certain bills which have been introduced, he, however, said that “it is important to note that none of these bills have been passed so far”.

“When we have engaged with the US, we have emphasised that our partnership which we have in the digital sphere have been mutually beneficial,” the spokesperson said.

Also Read: USA And Other Countries Pledge To Eradicate Illegal Wildlife Trade

“We have highlighted the role which has been played by the highly skilled Indian professionals who have actually contributed to the growth and development of the US economy,” he stated.

“And also they have helped the US to maintain a competitive edge in the world towards innovation and science and technology.” (IANS)