Eye on elections, Gujarat govt to drop most cases against Patidars

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Ahmedabad: In an attempt to build bridges with agitating Patidars, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Gujarat on Thursday said it has started the process of withdrawing most cases filed against individuals from the community.

Deputy chief minister Nitin Patel told reporters in Gandhinagar that the government has already withdrawn 109 such cases and 136 more will be withdrawn next week.

The deputy chief minister, who termed these cases as “non-serious”, said the government was also looking into grave charges like sedition, slapped on Patel Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) leader Hardik Patel, and would arrive at an appropriate decision at the right time.

Patidars led by PAAS convener Patel had in August 2015 held a protest in Ahmedabad to press their demand for reservations under the Other Backward Classes (OBC) quota. The protest turned violent after police lathi-charged some demonstrators. This led to wide-spread violence across the state in which as many as 12 people died. Curfew was imposed and the army had to be called in.

The deputy chief minister said the government was yet to determine the total number of cases against Patidars, with some filed as recently as this month being considered.

In the past two years, Patidars have disrupted several events of BJP leaders to press their demand.

Patels who form 15% of the state’s population have been staunch BJP supporters for two decades. They have a strong presence in as many as 22-24 assembly constituencies in Saurashtra region and Surat.

The party suffered a serious setback in local body elections in 2015 when it lost to the Congress party in several rural areas of Gujarat.

While the dates for Gujarat elections are yet to be declared, the Election Commission of India (ECI) on Thursday said that counting of votes will be held on 18 December.

Last month, the state government announced an Unreserved Class Welfare Commission to look into the demand for reservations by various castes. The decision came after a meeting of top political leaders including chief minister Vijay Rupani and deputy chief minister Patel with various groups of agitating Patels including PAAS leaders.

While the deputy CM had termed the meeting successful, 24-year-old PAAS leader Hardik Patel said the government had failed to look into their community’s demand and that their agitation would continue.

In 2016, the state government had announced withdrawal of 90% of the police cases lodged against members of the Patidar community during the state-wide agitation that took place in 2015.

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