Patels and the neo-middle class syndrome

Gujarat, the first state to fight caste-based reservations, may also be the first to re-invent the system.

Written by Christophe Jaffrelot | Updated: August 27, 2015 2:47 am
Hardik Patel, Patidar agitation, Hardik Patel Patidar agitation, Hardik Patel gujarat, patidar gujarat, Hardik police, gujarat news, india news After Solanki’s victory, OBCs were admitted to quotas that had been decided in the 1970s for postgraduate medical faculties.

At first sight, the current mobilisation of Patidars in Gujarat for their inclusion in the OBC list is paradoxical.

This group, which forms 14 per cent of the state population, is over-represented in the elite groups that dominate the economy and polity of Gujarat. Historically, as the career of Sardar Patel shows, it was the first rural community to transition to the city. After Independence, those among them who, as agrarian capitalists, were good at commercial agriculture, invested in industrial ventures such as diamond-cutting in Surat. They were clearly the main beneficiaries of the business-friendly state policy supporting small-scale enterprises while resisting the licence raj. Patels are probably better represented among professionals and industrialists than any other peasant caste in the whole of India. As a result, Gujarat is one of the few states where non-ST, non-SC and non-OBC groups represent a minuscule minority of those below the poverty line. In 2004-05, according to the NSS, only 4.2 per cent of those living in rural Gujarat and 7 per cent of urban dwellers were in this category, of which Patels are the largest component.

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Patels have also made a fortune overseas. They are probably in a majority in the Indian diaspora in the United States. There are about 1.7 million Patels in the US, working primarily in hotels and motels (sometimes nicknamed “potels”). Gujarati politicians have cultivated relationships with these non-resident Gujaratis who send money back home, making local Patels even richer.

Politically, Patels are also dominant. Not only the chief minister, Anandiben Patel, but seven senior members in a ministry of 27, the BJP chief in the state, five MPs and over three dozen MLAs also come from this group.

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Another paradox is that Patidars shifted loyalty from the Congress, their traditional party since the Sardar’s days, to the BJP because of their rejection of the very idea of quotas. This movement took place after Madhavsinh Solanki, a Kshatriya (OBC), initiated a formidable alliance that included Kshatriyas, Harijans, Adivasis and Muslims during the electoral campaign of 1977. This KHAM coalition could not, then, deal with the unpopularity of the post-Emergency Congress, but the party successfully repeated this strategy in the 1980 elections. For the first time, OBC MLAs formed the largest group in the legislative assembly, with 24 per cent; Patidars came second with 21 per cent. Solanki’s government was overwhelmingly lower class in composition: 13 of its 22 ministers were either Kshatriya, OBC, Dalit or Adivasi. None was Patel, as Patidars started to be referred to 1980s onwards.

After Solanki’s victory, OBCs were admitted to quotas that had been decided in the 1970s for postgraduate medical faculties. In response, students from B.J. Medical College in Ahmedabad launched an agitation in December 1980 and submitted to the government a memorandum to dilute the reservation policy. Solanki immediately made concessions, but these were rejected by the students, who demanded the abolition of all employment and education reservations.

Solanki continued with his “quota politics” during the 1985 elections. He supported an increase in quotas up to 28 per cent for OBCs. This 28 per cent, added to the 14 per cent reservations for STs and 7 per cent for SCs, meant that 49 per cent of positions in higher education and state government employment were now “reserved”. These decisions partly explained the success of the Congress in the March 1985 state elections, in which it won a record number of seats: 149. In his ministry, 14 of 20 ministers were Kshatriya.

Anti-reservation demonstrations multiplied after the formation of the government, in which only one Patidar had a senior post. Once again, students were at the forefront of the protests. Their leader, Shankarbhai Patel, was a member of the Janata Party — the party of Chimanbhai Patel, who became CM in 1990-94. Students took their protest to the streets. It was the first time that middle-class men and women took to the streets in this context, displaying no apparent qualms about targeting their low-caste neighbours.

Eventually, Solanki had to resign. Over 100 people had died and thousands made homeless. The memory of this violence probably explains Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent call for calm. Solanki accused the Patels of ousting him, an interpretation that is corroborated by the fact that the Patels shifted massively to the BJP in the following years. First the BJP joined hands with Chimanbhai and then, in the 1995 elections, the party nominated many Patidar candidates and projected one of its senior leaders, Keshubhai Patel, as the new leader of the Patidars. While in the 1995 state elections, according to CSDS data, as many OBCs (38 per cent) supported the BJP as the Congress, 67 per cent of Patidars voted for the BJP (against 20 per cent for the Congress). Patidars now represented 30 per cent of the BJP’s 121 MLAs (up from 28 per cent in 1990), while the OBCs had declined by 5 per cent (43 against 48). The Patels remained solidly behind Modi when he became CM. In 2002, 82 per cent of them voted for the BJP.

While the Patels’ demand to be recognised as OBCs is paradoxical, it can be explained. Like in the 1980s, politicians play a role. The Congress is probably trying to destabilise the CM and replace communal polarisation with caste-based social polarisation to consolidate its support among the OBCs, from where come party leaders like Shankersinh Vaghela and Shaktisinh Gohil. Anandiben may exacerbate passions she thinks she will be in a position to pacify in order to assert her authority vis-à-vis the BJP president, Amit Shah. Her opponents within the state BJP, and even the government, play with fire in the usual factional manner.

But while these three scenarios are plausible and not mutually exclusive, it is difficult to imagine that hundreds of thousands of Patels could be so manipulated. There is always some substance in mass movements. In that case, the Patels may well be victims of the neo-middle-class syndrome. Those who have not yet arrived, who are part of this aspiring class, and find it difficult to achieve their goals because jobs are scarce, education is expensive (especially if you can’t buy your degree), buying a car is hard, to say nothing about a home. The so-called Gujarat model has not favoured the SMEs as much as the capital-intensive industries that do not create as many jobs. Frustrations are particularly acute when expectations have been fanned in the name of “achhe din”. As a result, young Patels fall back on the old issue: reservations. Not necessarily to get their share of it — even if they try, they know it will be hard — but to destabilise the system and dilute it. In that sense, their movement is not too different from the “aandolans” of the 1980s.

This agenda is in tune with the views of the BJP and Modi, the OBC leader who did not need reservations to rise. For them, reservations, if any, should be on a socio-economic basis. Gujarat, the first state to fight caste-based reservations, may also be the first to reinvent the system. But following such a path may result in counter-mobilisations from the OBCs and resurrect the ghost of Mandal, as clashes between Patels and OBCs in some villages already show.

The writer is senior research fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, professor of Indian Politics and Sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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First Published on: August 27, 2015 12:00 am
  1. H
    Haradhan Mandal
    Aug 27, 2015 at 9:48 pm
    If GUJRAT is the most 'developed' state in India and it is a MODEl state for the rest of India - this demand for reservation in GOVT jobs (and STATE funded educational insutes) by the "Patels" of Gujrat (who are synonymous with the state) raises questions about the claim. QUOTE- "Patels form (ONLY) 14 percent of the state potion - BUT are over-represented in the elite group that dominates the economy and polity of Gujarat". Patels are synonymous with Gujrat. (like Marathas in Maharashtra), If Gujrat is so developed - even more developed would be the Patels than the REST of the state and REST of India. Two CONFLICTING CLAIMS (HIGHLY developed STATE of Gujrat and BACKWARDNESS of PATELS) can not be true at the same time.
    Reply
    1. R
      Raje
      Aug 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm
      Time has come for India to abolish reservations based on religion and caste. Reservations should be given only to economically backward people. That too, after checking parents income, properties and such details. This reservation quota politics will hurt the unity of people and nation eventually. We have lot of fence sitters like stan, China and people within nation (CON-g) who will make people fight in name of reservations and eventually end up getting elected sacrificing nation's interest.
      Reply
      1. K
        K SHESHU
        Aug 27, 2015 at 12:03 pm
        The Gujarat incidents show how the issue of 'reservation' can be used to achieve political attention and unwarranted publicity. It becomes necessary to relook the issue by thoroughly with caste potion and the availability of jobs for a particular community/caste and fulfilling the aspirations of all backward castes. The divulgence of caste statistics and proportional unemployment in each caste should be considered for framing policies, especially, reservation policies.
        Reply
        1. A
          Anil Bharali
          Aug 29, 2015 at 8:15 am
          The Patel's community's demand for reservation is paradoxical as rightly said by Jefferson. In am while Bisnu Medi was CM Koch Rajbanshi demanded reservation which was the dominating community in Am,Medi belonged to majority Koch Community. Commision rejected the demand as the Community had Cm how this community can demand reservation. same thing happen to Patel community in Gujrat.
          Reply
          1. Z
            Zen Bhatia
            Aug 27, 2015 at 12:25 am
            Do you like to know; who is a leader asking for the quote for Patel? A failed student and leader!!!! The charismatic convener of Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti is 22 years old. A BCom graduate from Sahjanand College in Ahmedabad and an inhabitant of Virangam, Hardik ped with a score below 50 per cent, and went on to help his father in the family’s water-pumping business. He was a member of the Sardar Patel Group (SPG), and president of its Virgaum unit. Patel is reported to have been ousted from the post and the party due to internal politics. SPG members also lodged an FIR against Patel, according to a report in The Times of India , accusing him of not returning Rs 2 lakh, which he allegedly owed the group.
            Reply
            1. D
              DA
              Aug 27, 2015 at 1:25 pm
              Stop employing people in government, that will solve the problem. As Modiji had promised - minimum government. Start with minimising number of employees.
              Reply
              1. R
                Rajeev
                Aug 27, 2015 at 7:06 am
                While a good article, Solanki, Waghela nor Gohil of Congress are OBC, they're Kshatriya and even among them, represents Darbar, the erstwhile rulers in Princely states. All the early years, Patidar were kind supressed, especially. In Saurastra. They just became strong after 30 years, mostly after post anti reservation stir ...
                Reply
                1. F
                  FrankOpinion
                  Aug 27, 2015 at 4:46 pm
                  Well,, just because you "feel" disadvantaged doesn't mean you are. what is the logic of being "disadvantage" ? And all this is going on for no more than few thousand jobs in government ?
                  Reply
                  1. H
                    Harsh
                    Aug 27, 2015 at 5:42 pm
                    This is not at all about reservation, it is a leader in making and he is learning his first practical lesson of violence. I think all the sponsors of cap movement must be happy that another Asian nation is at the verge of crumble socially and thus economically. This is not only profitable news for marketing countries but back home those have lost their 50% reservation because of hi they may get their 100% back in near future. One way we can say it is about reservation but certainly not for social justice, it is surely for getting power for making money.
                    Reply
                    1. I
                      indian
                      Aug 27, 2015 at 8:31 am
                      We are truly 'incredible' - we fight to be recognised as 'backward' and seek concessions, instead of wanting to become better ??
                      Reply
                      1. I
                        ismail
                        Aug 27, 2015 at 12:47 pm
                        The political history of Gujarat politics full of opportunistic game pla with cards of ideny either it may caste, creed or religion. The differential treatment on basis of differentiation is good but it is card game for politicians for purpose of vote bank. It is high time civil society come out and start agitate againt these kind of political gimmick.
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                        1. T
                          Tellitasitis
                          Aug 27, 2015 at 7:53 pm
                          I think I have a solution. All government jobs must be allocated caste wise. If there aren't many jobs to go around, chop a day's working hours into two or three hour slots and a full day's job will be done by three or more people. Every employee will be paid by the hour. We may even end up with strange practices like a doctor cutting up a patient, another in the next slot taking out the tissue and the third or fourth or fifth one suturing him up! Similarly we can think up of dividing every government job thus and ensure every caste will have a share of it. Long live our caste! Long live my caste leader! Long live mera Bharat mahaan!! Rahul baba, are you listening?
                          Reply
                          1. T
                            Tellitasitis
                            Aug 28, 2015 at 3:56 pm
                            Unfortunately. caste and reservation are the gift of the g old party, Congress that started and continues with such doles, dividing the nation into bits and pieces of caste/tribe/region/religion so that its dealers can steal voters away from rival parties. Every group wants a big piece of the small cake and none is interested in making the cake big. That is the tragedy of India and it will continue to keep us in fetters
                            Reply
                            1. K
                              Kirit
                              Aug 27, 2015 at 6:07 am
                              well. Even if I believe your story, it is still how he feel about reservation that matters. He is comparing himself with guy who got 45% and got better job. He feel disadvantaged and being taken. His sister got 90% and did not get admission. These are all valid reasons. You can not just put under carpet. Indian government policies in social justice is to rob Peter to pay Paul. It has created resentment among many communities. It prevails in all states and need to be addressed. People are mostly against OBC category. This OBC category has nothing to do with social justice it is purely political which has harmed many other communities. Unless government understand it, it will be this kind of problems in every states. It is ludicrous to expect someone getting 90% and not getting admission. It is unjust and not good for India.
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                              1. K
                                Kirit
                                Aug 27, 2015 at 10:46 pm
                                And what is logic behind socially backward? Just because you do not know how to deal with other people or you can not make friends? He has clearly explain living situation in villages where he came from. Read what he said. It is available everywhere. Reservation simply not tenable.
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                                1. K
                                  kk
                                  Aug 27, 2015 at 10:25 pm
                                  Indians love their caste ,gets all benefits in the name of caste but talks aginst reservations based on caste.is it not a hypocracy? first annihilate caste then automatically reservation system wiill be disappeared.
                                  Reply
                                  1. A
                                    anandap
                                    Aug 27, 2015 at 6:39 pm
                                    Government job means like freebies given to our MPs and MLAs. So Dominant community always take advantage affirmation action or reservation of poor socially backward. This will automatically stop once all government jobs are getting reduced so reservation.
                                    Reply
                                    1. M
                                      Murthy
                                      Aug 27, 2015 at 12:46 pm
                                      Apologies to all for the double entry of my post. Sorry, Moderator.
                                      Reply
                                      1. M
                                        Murthy
                                        Aug 28, 2015 at 2:20 am
                                        Ask a neutral sociologist. Caste is draining away in India, socially, economically and matrimonially. With urbanisation, it will speed up. That is how, after the second W.War, cl dissolved in Britain. BUT in India the political parties win elections ONLY through caste - that is through "reservation and quota". So, please think if your formula has got it the right way.
                                        Reply
                                        1. M
                                          Murthy
                                          Aug 28, 2015 at 2:29 am
                                          In progressive societies, some 22 year old college drop-outs dream of building world cl companies, such as Microsoft. In India, some of them dream of guaranteed government jobs, although they are not qualified. I must say, the "Indian Dream" is easier - burn 100 buses, break 100 traffic lights, seriously wound 100 policemen, set fire to 100 tyres, force 500 shops to close, Lo and Behold, "Praise be to DEMO-CRAZY", the 'Indian Dream' becomes REALITY. Patidars can overtake the Joshis into government jobs, IITs ( get 6% marks in the Entrance Exam, you have a chance) IIMs ( show your 'caste Certificate', that is enough). The Indian Dream is called "Urinating in one's own Bed".
                                          Reply
                                          1. M
                                            Murthy
                                            Aug 27, 2015 at 12:38 pm
                                            Sad that the Congress Party is behind this agitation. My disenchantment with this party is because of its obsession with caste as a means of winning elections. The party must have known since the late 1960s, that it was playing with fire in extending reservations beyond the Dalits - the only group that deserves such positive discrimination. Today, India realises, but not the Congress Party, the madness and emptiness of this "reservation quota" politics.
                                            Reply
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