The Long and Dark Shadow of Mandal Politics

Credit: Shuchi Kapoor

Credit: Shuchi Kapoor

Hardik Patel was unknown till last month. He shot to prominence in July this year when he parted company with the — rather colourless — Sardar Patel Group, to launch his own Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS). By all counts Hardik might well have remained colourless too. He has an average education, an average family background, average wealth, all in all, a typical underage boy next door.

Yet, at 22 years of age he is undoubtedly the youngest mass rabble-rouser our country has seen; a Justin Bieber of India’s political pop. As the reigning heartthrob of Gujarat’s Patel community, he is often called Patidar Hriday Samrat. This in-your-face take on Prime Minister Modi’s sobriquet, “Gujarat Hriday Samrat”, is meant to both challenge and slight the current government of the state.

Hardik Patel’s career is still at the first stage rocket phase, yet look how high he has flown. In the past 60 days or so, he has addressed dozens of rallies all over Gujarat, enchanted tens of thousands and won tremendous acclaim. Yet, doubts persist about whether he is as self-propelled as it is often made out to be.

Hardik sightings are now quite the pastime for many. Amongst others, he has been spotted in the company of Praveen Togadia and Gordhan Zadaphia, neither of whom are on Anandiben Patel’s official guest list. They are still part of the BJP flock, but as votaries of hard core Hindutva, they have been put out to pasture with other designated black sheep.

There is, however, a little history behind this. The traditional rivalry between Leuvas and Kadva Patels showed up when Keshubhai, a Leuva, opposed Modi’s ascension in 2012. At this point, the Kadvas stayed on with the ruling wing of the BJP and won. Even though Keshubhai had his pockets of strength in places like Rajkot, Mehsana, and Saurashtra, his faction was routed.

All of this was seemingly forgotten when Modi triumphed as Prime Minister. Yet the wounds must have still been there. Is it just a coincidence that Hardik Patel, Keshubhai Patel, Gordhan Zadaphia and Praveen Togadia, are all Leuva Patels? Probably this association has already been made which is why Hardik Patel announced that he was a leader of all Patels, “Kadva nahin, Leuva nahin” (not Kadva or Leuva).

Yet he missed out naming another branch of Patels, viz., the Anjanas. This community’s official entry among the OBCs has been a sore point with the Leuvas and Kadvas who are still trying to force the door open. Hardik’s main demand is that all Patels should be considered “backward” and that it is unfair to favour just the Anjanas. A prosperous distant relation hardly releases the kind of envy that a well-placed neighbour does.

Political opportunism

He has a point here because so many other castes have muscled their way into this category on the basis of pure political heft. If Jats and Marathas can demand OBC status, Gujjars ST status, why should the Patidars be left out? This absurdity was waiting to happen once the Mandal reservation scheme was accepted. As political opportunism, not social uplift, was the rationale behind OBC reservations, calculations needed to be considered “backward” were carefully doctored.

This aspect is best expressed in the way social backwardness is detailed. This fact is exaggerated manifold because it carries more weight than what is given to either educational or economic backwardness. Social backwardness has four sub-criteria, each more ridiculous than the other, but together they account for a whopping 12 points.

To begin with, a community gets three points if it performs manual labour, which any prosperous Jat, or Maratha or Patidar would proudly lay claim to. Another three points if the women in the family contribute to household income; even milking your buffalo or weeding the garden patch qualify. Three more points if other castes think poorly of you. Which caste has universal acclaim? Finally, another round of three points if a significant proportion of marriages in the caste takes place before the permitted legal age. In other words, people are now being rewarded for actually breaking the law.

Add them all up and we already have 12 points, while it needs only 11 to be considered as an OBC. There is little reason, therefore, to even think of economic and educational backwardness and consequently, these criteria are rarely brought up. As social backwardness is hard to disprove, most “backward” aspirants harp on this aspect most of all.

Politically, the Patels are undoubtedly on top on every front. They dominate the private sector and control, among other things, the diamond polishing business and the groundnut oil trade in the state. At least one third of ministers in Gujarat’s cabinet today are Patels, even though this caste comprises but 15% of the state’s population. According to estimates, about 70% of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) are owned by Patels.

Patel domination

Over and above all of this, they have another unique feature that sets them apart from all other castes in India. No other caste dominates both the urban and rural economy the way the Patels do. They have one foot in the village, another in the city, and more than a toe hold in Africa, the UK and the US. It is this trait that probably took the BJP ideology easily from city to village in Gujarat.

That is all very well, but each state is unhappy in its own way. Out of roughly 261,000 MSMEs in Gujarat, as many as a third of them are officially “sick”. According to Hardik Patel’s organization, the slogan of Vibrant Gujarat has yet to become a reality with the small businessman. This obviously implies shrinkage of urban jobs in the private sector, leaving the state to pick up the slack in terms of employment.

A possible boost to Hardik’s Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti could well have been the failure of many Patels to secure jobs in the recruitments held recently in the public sector. If only they had a 5% share in the OBC pie, so many Patels might have made the grade. A cynic might well say, when there are over 140 communities listed as OBC, what difference does one more make?

Yet this agitation led by Hardik has a bellwether quality about it. If this movement succeeds, will others come out in the open and trample all over the well laid garden Narendra Modi left behind? If Hardik Patel becomes the cat’s paw of Togadia and Zadaphia will the right turn in Gujarat get sharper?

Understandably, for this reason, the Centre and the state are concerned and, as we all know, once the issue of cultural pride gets recognition it’s hard to beat it down. Hardik Patel’s organisation realises this too, which is why they are pushing their luck right up to the margins. Political brinkmanship will be on full display on both sides and, no matter which side wins, from now on OBC movements will always be led by prosperous castes.

The sad news is that politicians are tempted not to look at economic issues in the eye but to cast them aside as a caste related matter. Apart from those who seek to gain immediate advantage by squeezing themselves into the OBC category, the limitations of such niche politics are so clearly limiting. Yet, attempts to redress economic issues will remain caste coded because we have politically ceded territory to Mandal ideologues.

Apart from the instant damage such policies bring about, they also firm up the Orientalist view that India is caste ridden by definition. Mandal’s recommendations helped further this point of view, including among academics who should have known better. After OBC reservations became a live reality, no politician was willing to bell it for fear it would wake a sleeping dog up.

Caste calculations don’t always work

All of this added up to make caste politics a self-fulfilling prophecy. This, in spite of the fact, that there are so many instances when election outcomes made caste calculations look stupid. When Indira Gandhi won in 1971, or the Janata in 1977, or Rajiv in 1984, or Mayawati in 2007, or indeed Modi in 2014, where was caste? In fact, contrived caste calculations will fail again in the forthcoming Bihar elections.

Yet, in the interregnum when little people strut out, the call of the OBC bellows, as if stereophonically, from all sides. This process has not yet been formally conceptualized but, for the time being, we could call it “Mandal’s curse”.

Dipankar Gupta is Director, Centre for Public Affairs and Critical Theory, Shiv Nadar University.

  • My Humble Request to Sri Hardik Patelji!

    Dear Sir, I am not an expert in the matter you are trying to resolve but I wholeheartedly felt it was my duty as a human being to submit this comment/feedback. I humbly request and pray other listeners/readers submit their comments too on how to best solve these types of problems with you standing by your side. Sometimes we tend to think the members of our communities, religions, castes, tribes, languages, gender (including LGBT), towns, states, countries etc. are like us. Like us, they have same principles, ethics and morals. However for most of the time, for Indian borns, it looks like not the case. For instance, most of the time, I trust all Indians share their burdens, problems and discuss/consult each other. However, when incidents like these happen, my trust, unity, empathy and compassion towards fellow Indians are wearing down.

    Truly I feel anguish that entire Gujarat halted…what about a worker feeling anguish because he could not find work for just one day to feed himself and his family…..what about a small dhukan businessman who is feeling anguish that the sales weren’t enough that day to meet the expenses and how he is going to pay back his loans and what happens to his entire family if he goes bankrupt in future!..What about a farmer who is praying anxiously for rain, water and electricity for his village so he also could repay the loans and don’t need to worry about the fate of his wife and children if he goes bankrupt in future!

    I hear sayings “Blacklivesmatter”, “Whitelivesmatter”, “Christianlivesmatter”, “WomenLivesMatter”, “GayLivesMatter”, “LesbianLivesMatter”, “WeaversLivesMatter”, “KissanLivesMatter”, “JawanLivesMatter” etc… Just as they are expressing their frustrations, I too feel like expressing ‘Every Single life matters’….”AllLivesMatter”… If one wishes to eat plants, even how the plants lived/raised with what fertilizers before they ended on the dinner table matters. If one cannot get away eating meat for health reasons, even how that animal lived(its hygiene, what it ate) before it ended on the dinner table matters …then how much more it should matter the lives of human beings(especially in a democracy)? ”EverySingleLifeMatters” in the universe. I read in newspapers that 9 lives were lost and many injured. If that life was of your own brother or sister or parents, how would you feel? Would you have felt they died in a great cause or they died early in vain following you?

    Sardar Vallabhai Patel may be from your community, however he was an Indian first and Gujarati next and not Patel first, Gujarati next and Indian afterwards. If he was alive, would he be happy with your speeches? I read and listened to your speeches. You have very valid points but the way you are presenting them matters. Though I am not affiliated with any religion, sometimes I am inspired listening to ‘Asaduddin Owaisi’ or ‘Baba Ramdev’ or ‘Pope of Vatican’. They make every effort to see that their followers do not deviate from the causes for which they stand. However, hearing your speeches, it appears you are polarizing not just Patels but everyone else in Gujarat/India/World against Patels…..Even a Hollywood movie called “Elysium” has a villan named “Patel”…

    World watches instantly via internet what happens. News and comments posted via Internet are probably being read by nations across the world. Imagine you were at a festive gathering and a fight broke out between family members…everyone at the gathering are watching and doesn’t it generate awkward feelings? Then how much more damage these kind of agitations are causing Patel communities across the world?…Did you assess? Did anyone assess? I implore all rich, affluent, powerful elites of Patel community to assess the situation in Gujarat and take necessary steps to prevent further violence which will only damage the Respect and the Reputation of Patels among Indians and other nations of the world. As a match-stick can set forest trees on fire and char them and those amongst them and around them, I urge everyone not to be frustrated, to be humble, compassionate, wise and impartial in their judgments. As Hon’ble PMji noted, please seek elderly-educated-powerful Patels to negotiate(talks) with State and Central Governments. I am sure some solution could be worked out which will benefit not only Patel communities of Gujarat but also every other Caste/Jathi across India.

    What is more important…that which you eat, that number system to count your moneys and wives and children, those herbs by which you get healed, that which you play with, that which you exercise/meditate or that with which you kill or that which you switch on and watch/talk from or that which comes out of your mouth? As a match-stick can set forest trees on fire and char them and those amongst them and around them, tongue has the power to set minds on fire. Hence please don’t be frustrated, spread hate in the hearts of Patels and others, please be wise, humble, compassionate and impartial in your judgements.

    When one feels anguish one seeks remedies…some pray according to religions….some tell friends and families….Some go to Psychologist for counseling….Some are coaxed/forced to Psychiatrist for medicines to silence them…some are silenced permanently etc…Amazingly many found answers in those methods but some like me haven’t…. What kind of my fate(Karma) is it that we both are born in a democratic country like India where no one is concerned/partake in Democracy until one gets a chance to secretly vote otherwise one perishes or they isolate us or seek revenge? Or is it a remedy that I too resign from my profession like you and join a political party or a religion or an activist Five-star NGO to meet my needs to survive in the largest democratic nation of the world? After introspecting, I think my remedy is to meditate/investigate/collect evidences…seek the truth as Sri Krishna Bhagavan said, Jesus said, as Muhammad(PBUH) said, …as Mahatma Gandhiji said…seek the truth…So after work, when I find time instead of watching fiction, I research on internet…on weekends I go to library and read newspapers and magazines….I pursue the matter with the same zeal as if I was learning for the sake of my profession, for passing exams, like a doctor learning to save lives….Indeed, I tell you the truth, every single whole-hearted learning(not just by-heart learning) by every leader(including you) ultimately saves lives across India(world) even if my learnings cannot save my own life.

    Hence, I beg every leader/every representative of Patel community to not be discouraged. If you yourself get discouraged/agitated/frustrated, who is going to guide ordinary people like us? I was reading/hearing the news.…at least the Media workers get paid….Political leaders get paid/have money….Does it mean I cannot participate in a Democracy if become poor like a day-wage worker in future?….or should I actively participate in a Democracy only after I become so poor like that and have got nothing to lose including my life like you?…..Hence, please wake up and realize there are bigger causes that I pray you take up the mantle for!

    Please kindly exchange your faith, beliefs and thoughts peacefully with patience, respect and dignity. If peoples of Gujarat(India) are convinced, you have them at your side; even if they are not convinced you may have plausible friends on the other side that do not harm people or vandalize properties! Violence will only ruin the respect and reputation of Patels not only across Gujarat and India but also in the community of nations. Unfamiliarity breeds fear and contempt in ignorant/naive people. Hence, please have patience, compassion and empathy towards even your aggressors and clearly articulate so they become your supporters, your friends and empathizers.

    I wish you understand my message of peace, love and hope. I do not wish nobody hates nobody for the problems though we were at the same level as them when we all came out of our mother’s wombs (without malice and deceit)…. I am not affiliated with any religion, any caste or any political party; however I would say everyone who has empathy, patience, love and compassion is divine born. Such a person cherishes life. Everyone who comes to know the value of life is for peace. And where there is peace, there is hope for the living. When there is hope every member of community strives for its prosperity.

    India has been a secular nation even before the birth of collective religions in the West Asia/Mediterranean. Most of Indian culture, traditions, customs, art, temples, and scriptures got destroyed in the last 1500 years. They(invaders and those trying to appease invaders) created several caste systems which never existed in India before. India had only four Varnas which too are not birth-rights (Please Check Bhagavad Gita/Vedas/Upanishads). People’s houses, farms & families were torn and properties, wifes, sisters and children were confiscated. Few thousand human libraries were killed and ancient universities/mandirs (only mode of knowledge transfer in those days) got destroyed…People walked into oceans as deep as possible with boxes of scriptures in their hands and sacrificed themselves. They constructed temples inside oceans to bury those scriptures….but still even the ocean temples got blasted since 1500A.D. and scriptures destroyed. Entire fabric (social, climatic, economic, political, biological, physiological and psychological) of India is torn apart and the common people living there now are so poor and suffering. (Please realize, we are all same people but the parties, languages, religions, castes and ideologies are so different).

    Now, there are 800 million strong youth in India. For me, it indicates not only optimism but also pessimism of civil-war. India’s youth need work. As you see, all the wars/protests in the Middle-East should not only be viewed from the perspective of Collective religious propaganda but also from the view of otherwise peaceful but hungry youth taking arms to feed themselves and their families. This indeed is a grave danger. However, they are not the only ones to blame. It is obvious that since the last 3500 years, West Asia/Mediterranean is torn by collectivist religious and political ideologies. Such ideologies even caught fire leading to the fires of slavery, women-trafficking/prostitution and colonialism across the entire world. One such fire got Gujarat into this current mess. In some nations of the world, entire population is taught to carry arms as part of military exercise just like those people of Middle-East/West Asia. What would these nations do if they did not have jobs? Hence, the biggest thing to worry for rich & powerful of all the religions/castes of the world is poverty. I hope you/they use everything in your/their domain to alleviate the problems and not scheme to exterminate the poor and the meek. As long as people are well and their needs are satisfied, they will be doing their jobs and stay pacified. When they become very poor, that’s when they challenge the status quo.

    The modern world is faced with grave challenges of more poverty, pollution, dirty politics, parasitic economies, adverse climate changes and Global warming. Let’s humbly meditate and introspect

    “Do we, even now in 21st century, fight amongst ourselves and try tearing Mother India apart or we now vow to stitch a new garment of Peace for her?”

    Message to Gujaratis:

    Instead of killing your own people, vandalizing their properties(including their Govt properties), I hope all privileged know your own country, its laws, its constitution, its people, their cultures, customs and traditions. I wish you also travel across Gujrat/Diu/India not only to enjoy the trips but also advise/teach your fellow citizens your experiences/wisdom (old & new) for peace, progress and prosperity of not only Gujarat and India but the entire world. (Given a chance, like you, they are also keen, highly adaptive and always refine themselves!) Different members of communities of villages, towns and cities (including Govt officials) may meet (civic engagement/community engagement) once in a while to meditate what’s good for themselves, communities, humanity and creation…It need not happen only in some remote place or a state capital or a nation’s capital or any world capital or a holy city or even in Heaven… It should start in every home or every city/town/village in a chai dhukan, cricket maidan, online, or park or just in a plain ground where everyone can hear everyone else…And that’s the true gathering of people in the name of Allah/God/Gods of any religion!

    Let’s strengthen ties between all “human beings”(Manavatha Vadi) and make the world one big global village. (Vasudaiva Kutumbakam!)

    Please kindly forgive me if I said anything wrong or hurt your feelings! Also due to time constraints, please kindly forgive my Indlish mistakes too!

    Om Sarve Bhavantu Sukhinah
    Sarve Santu Nir-Aamayaah
    Sarve Bhadraanni Pashyantu
    Maa Kashcid-Duhkha-Bhaag-Bhavet
    Om Shaantih Shaantih Shaantihi

    Satyameva Jayathe!

    Kal Gandikota

    Note: I am not affiliated with any political party or any religion and and I have no interest in starting one! Before some mischievous people hack my comment, copy To:

    1. All Political Parties
    2. Naxalites and other Revolutionaries (in SAARC Nations and the world)
    3. Newspapers of SAARC Nations and the world.
    4. Translators of all languages of the universe.
    5. All sentient beings of the universe

  • Ravikumar Rathod

    goood information with rational perspective, point for social backwardness indeed new to me, thanks for aware..

  • TAI

    Caste doesn’t work at that much higher level like PM. But it surely works in smaller levels like MLA elections in many areas. Only a genuine guy who has done some work for the constituency defies caste based voting. The problem is that we don’t have much genuine guys fighting elections.

  • Anil Maheshwari

    Wish Prof. Gupta view the present political situation in Gujarat in the light of his well-researched observations on the emergence of Tikait in Western Uttar Pradesh. Is Hardik Patel’s rise the first fluke in the Indian democracy? No! Barring the charismatic rise of the BSP, led by Kanshi Ram and Ms. Mayawati, following the decade long hard labour by the both, the bubbles like of Anna Hazare, Tikati (Maulana Bhasani in Bangladesh about four decades ago) have become irrelevant in the due course. Prof. Gupta is correct in predicting ” contrived caste calculations will fail again in the forthcoming Bihar elections.” The media persons, sitting in AC rooms, travelling by AC class and staying in AC rooms are so devoid of ground realities that they find it easy to base their analysis on the contrived caste figures.

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