South Asia | Gujarat's 'diamond' riots expose hard facts of Indian political life

Gujarat’s ‘diamond’ riots expose hard facts of Indian political life

September 1, 2015 10:38 AM (UTC+8)

 

Diamonds may be a girl’s best friend. But Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi won’t be humming that tune anytime soon.

Modi’s home state of Gujarat was rocked by riots last week that were tied to the closure of more than 450 small diamond cutting units in Surat, Bapunagar in Ahmedabad and Amreli.

The local diamond-cutting sites are run by the Patels, a middle class community who are facing a grim future because of a market slump.  There are signs that many more diamond units are on the verge of collapse.

diamond cutter at work
Diamond cutter at work

Resulting unemployment is making local youths restive and is stirring political agitation. It was a matter of time until the Patidars decided to pressure all-powerful PM (and favorite son) Modi into helping them out of their plight. The Patidars staged demonstrations to draw Modi’s attention to the issue, demanding quotas or reservations for them in educational institutions and government jobs.

Unfortunately, the agitation took a violent turn after the arrest of their leader, Hardik Patel, who, till a few days ago, was nobody.

But as protests erupted in the diamond-cutting centers like Surat, Bapunagar and Amreli, the nobody quickly became a somebody. Patel’s name was plastered across the front pages of every newspaper in India. He became a hero overnight thanks to credulous protesters and media hype. He’s now planning to launch the second round of demonstrations from Surat.

The irony is that Gujarat is a prosperous state and Patidars are a thriving community. India’s central government will also find itself between a rock and a hard place if it caves in to Patidar demands to please Modi. Communities like Jats, Gujjars and Marathas will launch similar agitations elsewhere. And that may set a chain reaction across the rest of the Indian states.

Raising a white flag also makes a mockery of government policy. Asia Unhedged opines that quotas (where necessary) are meant for the uplift of the poorest of the poor and not to empower those who are already financially strong. Government-ordained quotas will lose their meaning if affluent sections of society start enjoying this privilege.

What’s the alternative? Patidars may be currently facing unemployment and related issues. The central and state government should address this by helping them financially to run their small and medium diamond-cutting business or help them find alternative employment.  Besides diamond-cutting, Patidars have business interests in ceramics, textiles, auto components and chemicals.

The BJP-run state government of Gujarat is also partly to blame for the present mess. Patidars running small and medium units feel that the government is promoting only big industry.

Over the past 20 years, while the annual industrial growth rate in Gujarat stood at 22%, employment grew by a meager 3.5%.  It’s mismatches like this that create fertile ground for folks like Hardik Patel.

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