India File

Patel rap: out of tune?

Virendra Pandit | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on August 28, 2017

Future tense The Patidar protests, led by Hardik Patel, failed to get support from other communities. But the discontent remains   -  Ajit Solanki

Two years on, many wonder if the Patidar discontent will have a say in the upcoming assembly elections

In August 2015, the Patidar protest led by 22-year-old Hardik Patel shook the BJP-led Government in Gujarat. Hardik had gathered an estimated 10 lakh Patels in Ahmedabad, demanding reservation for his community among the OBC list. The Patidar agitation later triggered a counter-reaction with the OBCs, SCs and STs forming a forum under the leadership of Alpesh Thakore.

Two years later, as Gujarat hurtles towards assembly elections before the year-end, the ruling party might be worried about meeting its target of 150 seats in the 182-seat assembly.

But not everyone is convinced of the lasting impact of these caste-specific protests. “Unlike in the past, this caste-based agitation could not become mass-based as it failed to get support from other communities,” says Vishnu Pandya, a historian and political analyst. “Due to this limited appeal, the Patidar agitation remained restricted to some pockets in North Gujarat and Ahmedabad and soon petered out. With the various Patidar groups now fighting with each other, it may not really make any difference to the outcome of the coming assembly polls,” he adds.

But that doesn’t mean that the Patels are no longer discontent.

Proud history

The Patels of Gujarat have much to be proud about. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the best known Patidar, is one of India’s tallest icons. Abroad, in the US for instance, they are nicknamed “Potels,” after the string of motels they own. Back home in the the Saurashtra region, they revolutionised agriculture, and many of them emerged as oil kings, Teliya Rajas, after the cash-rich groundnut oil they produced.

The Teliya Rajas, in the 1960s-1970s, became movers-and-shakers in politics too. They became the backbone of the rightist Swatantra Party, and then the Bharatiya Jana Sangh and the BJP. The Congress, too, successfully wooed them. They called the shots in matters of religion too.

Their political ascendency continued until Narendra Modi became the Chief Minister in 2001. Apparently, in a bid to reduce the BJP’s dependence on the Patels, the Modi-era saw the ruling party’s vote-base transformation. Modi belongs to the Ghanchi (oil-crushers) caste, a sub-caste of the Modh traders (to which belonged both Mahatma Gandhi and Dhirubhai Ambani).

Much impact was also felt of the Congress stalwart Madhavsinh Solanki’s famous KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) experiment that saw the Grand Old Party win 149 Assembly seats in 1985.

But a combination of the economic downturn after 2008, which saw nearly 50,000 SMEs owned by the Patels closing down, and agriculture distress of the past few years, rendered many Patel youths jobless.

This dissatisfaction-cum-confusion found embodiment and expression in Hardik Patel, son of a BJP leader in Sanand in Ahmedabad district. Sanand had attracted global attention after the Tatas set up the Nano car plant there, followed by other auto majors. But within a decadethe Tatas plant is virtually shut down, and other projects have failed to take off. Farmers who had sold land to the companies now find their children unemployed. Sanand is no longer the Detroit-of-the-East it was expected to be.

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Published on August 28, 2017
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