This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.
India Today, August 20, 2015
The Patel community's demand for inclusion in OBC quota threatens to blow up in the Gujarat government's face
On July 6, 1985, Madhavsinh Solanki stepped down after being the chief minister of Gujarat for a little over 100 days in his second successive term. Problems began when Solanki decided to increase the quota of reserved seats in educational institutions for Kshatriyas, a backward OBC community in Gujarat. The decision sparked off protests, which led to violence, leading to his resignation. The anti-reservation agitation was led by the Patels, on the whole an affluent community that forms 12 to 15 per cent of Gujarat's population. Just over 30 years on, an organisation called the Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) brought the city of Surat to a halt on August 17 with a rally attended by more than 400,000 people. Patidars are Patels in Gujarat, and the organisation is demanding inclusion of the community in the list of OBCs and a share of the 27 per cent reservation pie. The wheel, it seems, has come a full circle. The once anti-quota Patels are now making their pro-reservation demands become more than just an irritant for another CM-one from their community, Anandiben Patel. The ongoing stir, led by Hardik Patel, 22, a small-time businessman from Viramgam, not very far from Mehsana and Gandhinagar, the home districts of PM Narendra Modi, CM Patel and BJP President Amit Shah, is supported by several Patel caste groups. That they are more than just bluster was evident from the words of Hardik: "It's a misnomer that all Patels are affluent; only a handful are. If we don't get reservation we will show our political power in the elections to come." While some believe Hardik is ambitious and is using the agitation to realise his political ambitions, he denies any political involvement.
The speeches made at the Surat rally and the placards carried by those in attendance, primarily young and middle-aged men from the community, bring home the first real threat for CM Patel's 15-month-old government. "Arise Patels, demand reservation" and "Patidars can make or break governments", they proclaimed. Even if one considers that the gathering had a fair sprinkling of jobless Patel workers of the much weakened Surat diamond industry, it set the alarm bells ringing. And the bells grew only louder as the day wore on, with talks between a ministerial committee and Patidar Andolan Sankalan Samiti (PASS) in Gandhinagar yielding no result. Led by Gujarat cabinet minister Nitin Patel, the committee was set up by the state government at the behest of Amit Shah. Nitin Patel says the Supreme Court's recent judgment striking down reservation for relatively affluent caste groups such as the Jats means the state government has little role to play in this case. "But we are still willing to talk," he adds. Despite some differences on strategy the newly formed PASS supports Hardik's PAAS. The Patel community's demand meanwhile has led to similar appeals from Brahmins and upper caste Thakkars, a trading caste. It has also led to threats of protests from powerful OBC groups such as the Rabaris (shepherds) and Bharwads, as well as the backward Kshatriyas, in the event of any division in the OBC quota. At least one organisation, Thakore Kshatriya Sena, has announced that it will oppose any move to include Patels in the OBC list. "We will not brook any interference in the OBC quota. We will oppose it tooth and nail," says its leader, Alpesh Thakore. The Sena has a presence in 9,000 villages-nearly half the state-where it runs programmes for social uplift of OBC Kshatriyas. The PAAS and the Sardar Patel Group, another organisation of Patels, have held 107 rallies in the state at the city and tehsil headquarter-levels since July 6, when the first Patel rally was staged in Mehsana. Even the smallest rally has seen participation of 5,000 to 10,000 people, and the total participation to date is estimated to be around 2 million-nearly 17 per cent of the Patel population, and about three or four per cent of the state's residents.
Despite denials by Hardik Patel and others about any political affiliation to the ongoing protests, the way the whole agitation has taken shape indicates the presence of political leaders in their camp. Many in the political circles say some leaders sidelined first by Modi and then his protege, Anandiben, are stoking passions. And if that be the case, the Chief Minister, with governance in Gujarat weakened in the absence of Modi's charisma, could be staring at a full-blown crisis sooner rather than later.
As in 2021
“Patels are as common world over as potatoes.” Even Patidars will laugh at this old Gujarati joke, which is an acknowledgment of their success as immigrants. Patidars are famous for community bonding, known in Gujarat as Patels for Patels. And BJP changing its chief minister in Gujarat is a result, in part, of this P for P phenomenon.
The fact that the new CM, Bhupendra Patel, a softspoken real estate developer from Kadva Patel community, is a rookie administrator matters least for BJP. What matters is that Patidars, through their various religious-cumsocial organisations, had started asking for a Patidar CM.
So, what exactly is this community, and why does it exercise so much influence on a big national party like BJP?
Who are Patidars?
Patidars or Patels are a traditionally agrarian community. They consider themselves as descendants of Ram. Two dominant sub-castes of Patidars – Leuvas and Kadvas – claim to be descendants of Ram’s sons Luv and Kush, respectively.
Until mid-1960s, Patels were mostly farm workers with little or no land holdings. The economic transformation of the community began with the migration of many to East Africa and then to the US and UK. They repatriated money, helping families, and boosting the community’s economic power.
Why are Patidars crucial for BJP?
Patidars account for 13-14% of voters in Gujarat. But their political influence is deeper. Their vote matters in at least half of Gujarat’s 182 assembly constituencies. These seats are mostly spread over Saurashtra, north Gujarat and central Gujarat.
BJP got a taste of Patidar anger during the Hardik Patel-led violent quota stir in 2015. The saffron party was sandbagged in the taluka and district panchayat polls in 2016. In 2017 state polls, when Vijay Rupani, a Jain, led the party, BJP recorded its worst performance in two decades, winning 99 seats. Worse, in its stronghold of Saurashtra, the party lost 13 seats in that election.
BJP hasn’t forgotten that to widen its wafer-thin victory margin in 2017, it had to lure Congress leaders by offering ministerial berths. Also, of late, Aam Aadmi Party is trying to gain ground in Gujarat, and courting Patidars. All this was dangerous for BJP. And ironical, too, because Patels were part of BJP’s rise in Gujarat.
How did Patidars become a key BJP voting bloc?
In its 61-year political history, Gujarat has seen four Patel CMs. Bhupendra Patel is the fifth. These four Patel CMs, between them, governed the state for 14 and a half years. Known to be devoted Congress voters until late 1970s, Patidars were left fuming after the then Congress CM Madhavsinh Solanki came up with the KHAM (Koli-Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) theory. KHAM helped Congress win 149 out of 182 seats in Gujarat’s 1985 polls – still a record.
Patidars, just like Brahmins elsewhere, saw their relevance disappearing. They switched to BJP, and Congress paid heavily. Such was the saffron rise, then led by Keshubhai Patel, a Leuva Patidar, in 1995 that Congress was pushed to the brink of political oblivion in Gujarat.
So, why are Patidars angry at BJP?
It’s basically anger rooted in the feeling that Patels are under-represented at higher levels of political and government power structure. Patidars want to increase their clout in decision/policy making processes. Though community stalwarts are influential, Patidars feel their small presence in crucial civil services make them less powerful than they should be.
That was one of the reasons for the high-pitched quota stir against a Patidar BJP CM, Anandiben Patel, who was forced to step down after two years in office. Over the years, various Patidar organisations have laid great emphasis on education, providing top-class facilities for the young from their community, especially those aspiring for civil services. Sardardham, inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi recently, is one such institution.
Getting Bhupendra Patel in as CM was BJP’s response to this anger.
Will this Patel bet work for BJP?
The party seems confident that Bhupendra Patel as CM will assuage Patidar angst. First, because Patel is a non-controversial and widely acceptable choice. Second, because with a Patel at the helm, Congress’s anyway weak state-level organisation will be further hamstrung. Congress did gain from BJP’s losses during the Patidar agitation. But there are no strong local leaders and booth-level management is weak.
The new CM is also a card to be played against AAP, which made an impressive electoral debut in Surat Municipal Corporation elections earlier this year, winning most of its 27 seats in Patel-dominated areas.
July 2015 to December 2017
Hardik Patel, a timeline-July 2015 to December 2017
Ties with BJP
The Times of India, August 7, 2016
Narendra Patel, Mukesh A Patel, Mukesh M Patel, Mukesh S Patel, Dinesh Patel, Kirit S Patel, Kirit C Patel, Girish A Patel, Girish C Patel, Nilesh Patel and Janak Patel. What’s special here about these gentlemen in the news (other than the fact that this looks like a list of chief ministerial candidates)? Three days ago, Gujarat high court sentenced these 11 men to life for murdering two Gujaratis, Kalu Miyan Saiyed and his daughter Hasina, during the 2002 riots. The two Muslims were set on fire by the Patels.
A scan of the names of those convicted in the episodes of mass violence from that awful time reveals the same pattern. I will not bore you with further names (and why is there such sameness to Patel first names? It is an abiding mystery) but it is important to have a look at the numbers. On April 9, 2012, a court convicted 21 men for the murder of 23 Muslim children, women and men. All 21 of the murderers were Patels who, like all Indians, can be quite brave in a mob.
On May 4, the same year, a court convicted nine men, again all Patels, of murdering Ayesha, Nuri and Kader Vohra. On November 9 of the same year, a court convicted 31 men for the murder of 11 Muslim children, 17 women and five men. Thirty of the killers were Patels. On July 30, a court convicted 21 men for murdering 11 Muslims. Twenty of the 21 convicts were Patels. I could continue but you get the picture. The Patel is the sword-arm of Hindutva in Gujarat. Look for communal trouble anywhere in that state and you will find the Patidar. Almost any nasty Hindutva figure you can think of comes from my community. Pravin Togadia is a Patel. Babu Bajrangi of Naroda Patiya infamy? Also Patel. The Patel is very comfortable in the varnashram of Hindutva. The Brahmin and Bania form the brains trust of this ideology, but they do not get their hands dirty (must be some caste pollution thing). In Gujarat, the Patel is the executioner and he is an enthusiastic one.
If he leaves the BJP where will he go? Gujarat is a two-party state. On the Mark: New Gujarat CM Vijay Rupani is a Jain Bania but this is unlikely to affect BJP’s caste math
The Congress has no principles and is dynastic and corrupt and incompetent and all of that is fine and true. But it also lacks the interest to stoke deliberate communal mischief in the way Hindutva loves. This reticence is something of a dealbreaker for Patels and secularism repels them in the post-Ayodhya movement phase.
There is nothing the Congress can offer them. Can it assure this privileged and entitled caste of landed peasants reservations? No party can. The Prime Minister, the most talented politician of our time, and Amit Shah know this. The Patels are locked into Hindutva and have a blood bond with the BJP. They went nowhere when old man Keshubhai Patel pretended to lead a revolt against Modi and they will go nowhere now when a Jain Bania has been assigned to lead them.
The BJP often lectures us on how awful votebank politics is in India. The fact is that the majority of ministers in all BJP cabinets is comprised and has always been comprised of Patels. If anyone thinks the BJP is exempt from votebank politics, or indeed if they think the BJP doesn’t actively solicit and consolidate such votebanks they are living in innocence. The sociology of Hindutva is an under-studied phenomenon but even the most casual glance at its workings will reveal how it attracts specific castes. Those who have heard the language of the Patel agitation (some of the Gujarati speeches will make your hair curl) know that it is pure poison. The contempt and hatred for the Dalit shines through. It should not surprise us that the same ideology which stirs up mischief against Muslims in the name of mosque is today bringing its wrath down on Dalits in the name of cow. And there is more trouble ahead, I assure you.
The Patels want Hindutva plus reservations. The BJP can give them one. The Congress can give them neither. They are not going anywhere.