AHMEDABAD (Web Desk) – Tens of thousands of people of Gujarat’s Patel community have gathered in India’s western city of Ahmedabad to demand affirmative action for better access to jobs and education.
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The meeting is being addressed by Hardik Patel, a 21-year-old controversial community leader, the BBC reported.
Patels comprise 20% of the population of Gujarat, the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
They are also the most economically influential community in the state.
Patels control India’s thriving diamond cutting and polishing industry and are among the most prosperous businessmen and farmers in Gujarat.
But a slowdown in small and medium industries – where many Patels are employed – in Gujarat has led to a drying up of employment opportunities, reports say.
Led by Mr Hardik Patel, a feisty, upcoming community leader, the Patels are now demanding affirmative action and classification as Other Backward Classes (OBCs) so that they are entitled to quotas in state-run education centres and in government jobs.
At least 300,000 people have turned up for Tuesday’s meeting and security is tight, BBC’s correspondent Geeta Pandey said.
The organisers of the rally have roped in 2,500 volunteers to manage the crowds and keep peace, she said.
“We are not against any community. We are fighting for our rights,” Mr Patel told the packed audience.
Gujarat Chief Minister Anandiben Patel has rejected their demand and urged community leaders to hold talks with the government.
“Her appeal means nothing… it is just to create confusion on the agitation… had she been serious, she would have announced something concrete,” Mr Patel was quoted as saying by the NDTV news channel.