Class over caste in Gujarat

Patels, OBCs and Dalits are allying against the BJP government. Land policies are giving diverse groups common economic interests.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: December 1, 2016 12:06 am
Gujarat, caste groups, gujarat caste groups, gujarat land policies, gujarat caste groups unite, caste groups unite, Gujarat BJP, Gujarat government, Dalits, OBC, Patels, Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mewani, Alpesh Thakor, land policies, government opposition, resistance, gujarat marginalised, india news, national news, indian express news, indian express opinion The Gujarat government has done away with the social impact assessment and the consent clauses for projects vital to “national security”, infrastructure and electrification projects or “affordable housing for the poor”.

Three leaders representing three different caste groups have decided to join hands in Gujarat: Sedition-charged Hardik Patel, who will soon be allowed to return to the state after six months in “exile”, Dalit activist Jignesh Mewani, who became famous in the post-Una mobilisation and Alpesh Thakor, an OBC leader at the helm of the Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena. All three have a common target, the BJP government, and a common cause, the fight against the land-related law adopted by the state assembly.

The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Gujarat Amendment) Act (TLARRA), that was passed on the last day of the 2016 budget session and promulgated in August, is identical to the ordinance that the Modi government had issued to dilute the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act that the UPA government had passed in 2013. The 2014 ordinance exempted the state from important provisions of the act, including an official assessment of the “social impact” of any land acquisition and the public consent of 80 per cent of local residents (and not only landholders) when land was to be acquired for private companies or 70 per cent for public-private partnerships. The ordinance was reissued and finally lapsed, since there was no majority in Parliament to pass it.

The Gujarat government has done away with the social impact assessment and the consent clauses for projects vital to “national security”, infrastructure and electrification projects or “affordable housing for the poor” or “industrial corridors set up by the state or its undertakings”. The last point is important because the Gujarat government will have to acquire a lot of land for the 1,500-km long Mumbai-Delhi industrial corridor and is already seeking to acquire land for the 900 sq km Dholera Special Investment Region.

The TLARRA, which antagonised primarily those who have land among the Patels, Thakors and Kshatriyas, followed another law that infuriated Dalits. In 2015, the state assembly passed the Gujarat Agricultural Land Ceiling (Amendment) Bill, which revisited an old piece of legislation, the 1960 Agricultural Land Ceiling Act, that had been passed in order to redistribute land to the poor. Decades later, thousands of acres were still lying with the sate government, instead of having been given to the 5.5 million landless Dalits, Adivasis and lower OBCs. The 2015 amendment made the allocation of this land to industrial projects possible.

These issues are particularly sensitive in Gujarat for four reasons.

First, competition for land is particularly intense in the state because of the pace of urbanisation and industrialisation. Gujarat has registered the highest rate of urbanisation over the last decade, jumping from 37 per cent of urban dwellers to 43 per cent between 2001 and 2011. Certainly, irrigation has made progress, partly because of the Narmada dam. But it was not sufficient, as evident from the new rules which have eroded the peasants’ control over land before and after the making of the dam. The reform of the Bombay Tenancy and Agricultural Land Rules is a case in point. This British Raj-era regulation prohibited the purchase of agricultural land by anybody not residing within eight kilometres of the plot. It meant that urban-dwellers could not easily buy land. In 1987, the Congress government amended this provision, restricting it to drought-affected areas. When the BJP took over in 1995, it removed this restriction and amended another section of the land rules and as Nikita Dud points out in Liberalization, Hindu nationalism and the State: “Now no permission would be required from the revenue officials for the conversion of farmland up to 10 hectares to ‘N[on] A[gricultural]’ status for setting up a ‘bona fide industrial unit’”.

Second, the gap between the standard of living of rural and urban Gujaratis has increased. While rural Gujaratis were comparatively better off till the 1990s, the proportion of the rural poor living below the poverty line remained high — with 27 per cent in 2010, Gujarat was 10th out of the 17 largest states. The proportion of urban poor, on the other hand, continued to diminish. In fact, in terms of urban poverty reduction, Gujarat was doing well — it occupied the fifth place out of 17 states. As a result, the gap between the proportion of urban poor and rural poor remained pronounced.

Third, those who migrated to the city could not get the jobs they expected. The number of jobs available is not sufficient, partly because of the priority that the state government has given to “mega projects” which benefits capital intensive factories, while SMEs — which are in a crisis, like the cooperatives — are more labour intensive. The available jobs are not well paying, partly because migrants from the Hindi belt and Odisha keep salaries low. According to the Labour Bureau, in 2012, directly employed male workers got just 203 rupees a day — 30 per cent less than the national average.

Last, but not least, the CAG has shown that in the past, land has been acquired by large companies and at a low price. The Nano plant in Sanand is a case in point, but Larsen and Toubro were allotted 8,00,000 sq m in the industrial zone of Hazira (Surat). The Adani Port and SEZ (APSEZ) at Mundra (Kutch district), created in 2003, occupied 3,585 hectares (ha), including 2,008 ha of forest and 990 ha of gauchar (grazing) land.

For all these reasons, caste differences — which traditionally turned Patels, OBCs and Dalits into rivals — may recede in Gujarat. A new kind of class conflict reflected in the urban/rural divide could emerge. The political translation of this dynamic in electoral terms remains to be seen, but class may gradually become the dominant repertoire of competition between parties in Gujarat and elsewhere. This does not mean that the urban/rural divide will prevail everywhere.

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First Published on: December 1, 2016 12:03 am
  1. A
    Dec 1, 2016 at 12:51 pm
    Looks like a self procliamed ANTI HINDU writer writing an article with dew prejudice. He would be better to use his time working to demonise the racists in UK.
    1. A
      Anamika Tripathi
      Dec 1, 2016 at 1:33 am
      1. R
        Dec 1, 2016 at 5:11 am
        How mean Article, I do not see any difference between British, Congress and this guy. Who mainly believes in dividing society on the basis of castes and religions. Shame on him
        1. D
          Dec 1, 2016 at 2:13 pm
          This man has always been anti-Hindu. Prejudiced views do not change reality. Pressutess will never understand reality.Just 2 days ago, BJP did a whitewash in Gujarat local body polls.
          1. A
            Dec 1, 2016 at 3:36 pm
            Those who do not toe the line of the biased, prejudiced and supremacist upper caste Hindus with elastic docility are denounced as anti-Hindu and anti-national. lt;br/gt;Victory in poll brought Adolf Hitler to power. His fascist rule was the darkest chapter of human history. Let us not forget that about 6 million Jews were exterminated by his;br/gt;"Truth should be told to the power", said Chomsky.
            1. L
              Dec 1, 2016 at 4:22 am
              Day dreams of some intellectuals, who don't have ground support. Author doesn't know the pulse of the Gujarat. He thinks Hardik represents Patel's. lt;br/gt;Feel pity for him
              1. A
                Against traitors
                Dec 1, 2016 at 3:52 am
                Civic polls show a different trend. This minority author is satisfying himself and IE
                1. B
                  B. SRIDHAR
                  Dec 1, 2016 at 6:20 am
                  Wish Chris saw the result of Local Bodies before penning this stupid article
                  1. C
                    claire smith
                    Dec 1, 2016 at 2:10 am
                    Cl is fast becoming a dominant factor in electoral politics; particularly with more and more potion migrating to urban centers lt;br/gt;In last 3-4 years job creation is consistently fallinglt;br/gt;While handful of large industrialists are investing in capital intensive sector; this is no sign of this translating into higher job growthlt;br/gt;Though through land reforms then government of Gujarat did manage to remove so called "bad and slow policies" but it also birthed corporatization of land; will these corporate be tomorrow's landlord's is anybody's guess (particularly if their investments go sick).lt;br/gt;Electorate in India is mostly emotive particularly since there is little patience to engage in constructive substantive discussion giving chance to politicians in India to play "Robin Hood" i.e. take from rich and buy votes from poor. lt;br/gt;Constructive Nation building is not the agenda on the table, at least yet
                    1. G
                      Dec 1, 2016 at 5:22 am
                      OK, so Mr. writer, How will you explain BJP sweeping local body elections just two days ago?
                      1. A
                        A villager
                        Dec 1, 2016 at 10:17 am
                        Seems author is talking about his dream. Kuchh lete kyo nahi?
                        1. S
                          Dec 1, 2016 at 6:15 pm
                          It seems writer personally knows all the communities in gujarat and asked them whom they are goin to;br/gt;I am patel and i am with BJP.
                          1. H
                            Hari Baswa
                            Nov 30, 2016 at 10:57 pm
                            This author seems to be an anti-national and trouble maker by indirectly displaying that he would have coordinated with three so-called leaders to cause troubles in Gujarat and elsewhere to create social disharmony and social unrest. Further it seems, this author himself is ignorant and not aware of enough criminal laws exist in our legal system to book him under various provisions.
                            1. J
                              Dec 1, 2016 at 2:58 am
                              Unity of Oppostion can only save millions from dying in near future because of Modi's policies.
                              1. K
                                Kumar Kumar
                                Dec 1, 2016 at 2:00 pm
                                This analysis has been going on since 2002 !! Just with some edits !! Pity on this author who sits in an AC room and doesn't know the ground reality as recently bjp has won local election with a great margin !! Gujaratis are not fool to elect congress which is corrupt from core !!
                                1. K
                                  Nov 30, 2016 at 9:55 pm
                                  was this article written well before the results of the recent civic polls ? In the light of the election results which gave a sweeping victory to BJP, the analysis of the author appear to be far removed from reality.
                                  1. K
                                    Dec 1, 2016 at 5:12 am
                                    this psuedo liberal n sickular auther is anti hindu n anti modi so no merit in his observation. actually the indian express itself is propoa machine against modi
                                    1. M
                                      Nov 30, 2016 at 8:06 pm
                                      While thanking the author for his analysis, please remember that he does not mention the background to many of the changes made to the Laws on Land Acquisition. Economic development has been much hampered in India because of the foolish paralysis of the Congress governments on this land front. Nobody likes his or her land being acquired by the State. 'Not in my back yard' mentality is the reason why the State has been given compulsive power to acquire land on fair market price. I do not know why this author is bringing 'caste' into all this. The recent local election results in Gujarath show none of this 'alliance' between Patels and Dalits that the author is celebrating here.
                                      1. M
                                        Dec 1, 2016 at 7:30 am
                                        Good article, exposing the Hypocrisy of Gujarat gov.
                                        1. M
                                          Nov 30, 2016 at 9:32 pm
                                          How the author wishes, this were true. Just like how confident the media was about brexit not happening, about trump not winning? Every lie the media says comes to bite in the butt but they never learn.
                                          1. M
                                            Manoj Parashar
                                            Dec 1, 2016 at 2:01 pm
                                            Ask this moron if these cles are against BJP, why has it managed to win 109 out of 125 local bodies seats? C.....No.1
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