The head of a west Indian farming community is vowing to lead India's poor in challenging the country's decades-old quota system meant to make up for centuries of caste discrimination.

Hardik Patel, a 22-year-old farmer, says he wants to represent the 270 million Indians being left out of quota benefits, including guaranteed government jobs or university spots. He has captivated millions in his home state of Gujarat with his demand that quotas be eliminated or extended to include his own Patidar caste, also known as the Patel community for the last name they share.

Patel said Wednesday that he was speaking with the leaders of other discontented castes within India's ancient system of social hierarchy.

Patel's campaign has challenged Prime Minister Narendra Modi's assertions of being a champion of the poor.