Updated: September 16, 2021 7:30:14 am
Bhupendra Patel, the 17th chief minister of Gujarat, is the fifth politician from the Patidar community to occupy that office. However, he is arguably the first chief minister from the Kadva sub-group of Patidars. (Anandiben Patel was a Leuva married to a Kadva Patidar.)
Who are the Patidars — the Leuvas and the Kadvas — and what role have they played in the politics of Gujarat over the decades?
The word ‘patidar’ describes “one who owns a strip of land”. In medieval India, members of the community were among the more industrious farmers, and rulers of the erstwhile princely states made them tenants of the best and largest tracts of land in their kingdoms.
After Independence, when tenants got land-ownership rights, Patidars became owners of large swathes of prime agricultural land.
The traditionally land-owning community has a reputation for enterprise and risk-taking as well. Some Patidars ventured into industry in the 1970s and 1980s — and over time came to wield significant clout in the field of business and trade.
Many left the country — Patidars today make up a very large chunk of Gujarati immigrants in the United States, United Kingdom, and Africa.
Patidars are estimated to constitute around 1.5 crore of Gujarat’s 6.5 crore population. The OBC Kolis are believed to be more numerous than Patidars, but the community is divided into many sub-castes, and has been unable to leverage their numbers for political gains.
Among Patidars, by contrast, the sense of both community and political constituency has been strong. Although the customs and social norms of the two major sub-castes, Kadvas and Leuvas, differ, they have by and large voted as a single political group for more than two decades.
The community came together behind the BJP in the 1980s as a reaction to the Congress effort to consolidate a Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim (KHAM) coalition. Rallied by the late Keshubhai Patel, the Patidars, along with other upper caste groups, propelled the BJP to power in Gujarat for the first time in March 1995.
The party has ruled the state ever since, except for a brief period of President’s Rule, and a year and a half in 1996-98 when Shankersinh Vaghela’s Rashtriya Janata Party was in power.
Leuvas and Kadvas
Patidars or Patels claim to be the descendants of Lord Ram; the Leuvas and Kadvas claim to have descended from Ram’s twin sons, Luv and Kush respectively. The Leuvas worship Khodal Ma as their clan deity; the Kadvas worship Umiya Mata.
Barring the tribal belt in the east of the state, Patidars are spread all over Gujarat, with higher concentrations in North Gujarat, Saurashtra, Central Gujarat and in Surat in South Gujarat. To keep community bonds strong, Patidars prefer marriages within their sub-groups.
Leuva Patels marginally outnumber Kadvas. They dominate Saurashtra and Central Gujarat; the Kadvas are the dominant community in North Gujarat. South Gujarat has a mixed population, thanks to the migration of members of the community from other parts of the state to Surat.
The Patidars of Central Gujarat have sub-groups such as Chh Gaam (six-village) Patidars and Sattavis Gaam (27-village) Patidars, who get their name from particular villages in the Charotar region.
There is also the community of Chaudhary Patels who are concentrated in North Gujarat, and are listed as OBC.
Patidar chief ministers
In 1973, Chimanbhai Patel of the Congress and later Janata Dal, became the first Patidar to be elected to the top office in the state. He was succeeded by Babubhai Jashbhai Patel in 1975 as the leader of the coalition of the Congress (O) and the Janata Morcha. Babubhai Patel became chief minister again after the Emergency was lifted in 1977, this time of a Janata Party government.
In 1990, Chimanbhai became CM for the second time as the leader of a Janata Dal-Congress coalition.
In 1995, Keshubhai of the BJP became the third Patidar to occupy the top chair. However, Shankersinh Vaghela, a Kshatriya, rebelled against him and forced Keshubhai to step down within months.
Keshubhai led the BJP to victory again in the election of 1998, and became CM for the second time. But the BJP replaced him in 2001 in the aftermath of the Kutch earthquake, when more than a year of his term was still left. Narendra Modi became the new chief minister.
Chimanbhai, Babubhai, and Keshubhai were Leuvas. After Modi was elected Prime Minister in 2014, his long-time associate Anandiben, a Leuva married to a Kadva, was made CM. But she was forced to resign after two years in the wake of the Patidar quota agitation.
The Patidar rebellion
The BJP won 127 of the 182 seats in the 2002 elections, its best performance ever. But the Patidars were smarting after the sidelining of Keshubhai, and a rebellion had started brewing within the BJP.
Over the next five years, even as Modi tightened his grip on the state and party, Leuva MLAs such as Dhiru Gajera and Bavku Undhad defected to the Congress. Gordhan Zadafia, who was minister of state for home in 2002, floated the Mahagujarat Janata Party (MJP) in 2007 to challenge Modi on the strength of the Patidar constituency, but failed.
In 2012, Keshubhai came out in the open to protest the alleged “injustice” to Patidars, and started the Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) to take on Modi’s BJP. Zadafia joined the GPP, but the new outfit could win only two seats in the Assembly elections of that year. Zadafia himself lost.
The GPP merged with the BJP in 2014, paving the way for Zadafia’s return to the BJP, and marking Keshubhai’s retirement from active politics.
Hardik Patel’s agitation
In mid-2015, Hardik Patel, a then 23-year-old Kadva Patel, launched an agitation demanding that Patidars be recognised as OBC on the ground that most members of the community were poor due to dwindling landholdings, and needed quotas in government jobs and higher education.
The agitation had a pronounced anti-BJP tone, and rallied lakhs of Kadvas and Leuvas behind Hardik. Perceiving a threat to their authority, leaders of established community organisations such as Umiyadham Sidsar (Kadva) and Shree Khodaldham Trust (Leuva) in Saurashtra; Umiyadham and Unjha (Kadva) in North Gujarat; Vishv Umiya Foundation (Kadva) and Sardardham (both) in Central Gujarat; and Surat-based Samast Patidar Samaj (both) in South Gujarat, banded together.
These organisations, which are mostly inclined towards the BJP, formed a coordination committee to try to unite Kadvas and Leuvas so that the political heft of the community was not lost. On the other hand, agitators like Lalit Vasoya took out an Uma-Khodal Yatra in Saurashtra to bring together Leuvas and Kadvas as one community, and eventually channelled it against the BJP to become MLA on a Congress ticket.
BJP’s political jugglery
Following the quota agitation, Parshottam Rupala (a Kadva) and Mansukh Mandaviya (a Leuva) were made ministers at the Centre in July 2016. The following month, Anandiben was replaced by Vijay Rupani, a Jain Baniya, and Nitin Patel, a Kadva, was made deputy CM. The anger from the quota agitation, however, persisted, and in the Assembly elections of 2017, the BJP barely scraped through with 99 seats, its worst performance since 1995.
Community leaders say the quota agitation brought the two sub-caste groups closer, but hurt the community as a political constituency. They see hope in the fact that the stir has largely petered out, and its prominent faces — Hardik, Gopal Italia, and Reshma Patel — have joined the Congress, AAP and NCP respectively.
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