Bhupendra Patel after being elected the leader of the BJP's legislature party in Gujarat | Photo: Hanif Sindhi | By special arrangement
Bhupendra Patel after being elected the leader of the BJP's legislature party in Gujarat | Photo: Hanif Sindhi | By special arrangement
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New Delhi: When first-time MLA Bhupendra Patel was sworn in as Gujarat Chief Minister Monday, there was little doubt in political circles that it had to do with his identity.

Bhupendra is a Kadwa Patidar, one sect of the Patidar community that the ruling BJP is looking to appease ahead of assembly elections next year. He replaces Vijay Rupani, a Jain, who resigned in a surprise move Saturday.

So, why is it that the BJP has to placate a community that is a mere 13 per cent of the population in the prime minister’s home state? ThePrint takes a look at the Patidar Patels of Gujarat and what makes them the significant driving force in the state’s power corridors. 

Who are the Patels?  

Patidars are traditionally an agrarian community. Currently, they are also an economic force to be reckoned with — its members dominate all sorts of sectors from pharmaceuticals, port development, to the steel industry and the food business, among others. 

Patels come from two major sub-castes — the Leuvas and the Kadwas, which claim to be descendants of Lord Ram’s sons Luv and Kush respectively. Historically, the Leuvas settled in Saurashtra and central Gujarat, while the Kadwa Patels settled in northern Gujarat. 

Originally farmers, the community also had members who owned pattas or strips of land giving them the name Patidar. The Patel community was largely engaged in agriculture and related activities. 

Also read: Fresh face was needed in Gujarat, Nitin Patel will be utilised: Union minister Pralhad Joshi 

How are the two different ?

An important fact remains that the Kadwas and Leuvas weren’t entirely on cordial terms, due to a difference in their customs and financial standing. 

Leuva Patels were financially better off than their Kadwa counterparts, since they were geographically placed in central Gujarat, a region with more resources and modern influence. 

“The traditions between the two subsets have always been slightly different, which is why the two kept each other at an arm’s length. The Luevas worship Khodal Devi and the Kadwas worship Umiya Mata,” said Professor Gaurang Jani, who specialises in caste and politics and teaches at Gujarat University, explaining the difference between the two.

“In addition to this, the Leuvas follow a practice of marrying only within their ‘Chha Gaam’ meaning six villages,” he added.

“The six villages that were home to some of the richest Leuvas included Nadiad, Bhadran, Dharmaj, Karamsad, Sojitra and Vaso and Savli in Kheda district. Even to date, rich Leuva Patels will only marry within these six villages.”

According to Jani, Kadwas follow a practice of ‘Satta Patta’ where the siblings or cousins of the bride and groom get married to each other along with the intended couple. 

What led to their rise in early India

According to Professor Jani, the Patels’ place in the caste hierarchy benefitted them immensely. 

“Patidars were never a part of the Brahmanical framework of the society, which is why they were able to rise and become the first among many to travel overseas,” Jani said. “This is exactly the reason why a Patidar Sardar Patel didn’t face opposition when he decided to study abroad in contrast to the opposition that Gandhi, a baniya, had to overcome.”

Patels travelled to countries in Africa and then eventually settled in progressive nations such as the UK, proving to be a rich diaspora for the community back home. 

“Another reason why they came to power was the fact that Patidars during the Mughal and British era were tax collectors, giving them a plush position in the caste hierarchy,” Jani added.

“They collected revenues from people in the 200 princely states in Gujarat then. While the upper caste Rajputs were landowners, the Patidars rose, eventually gaining ownership of the same land.”

Ghanshyam Shah, a retired JNU professor who specialises in political science and political sociology, said agricultural norms further helped the community. 

“The Patels of Gujarat benefited largely from the Land Reforms Act of 1955; the Green Revolution that followed made the already well-off community rich landowners within a generation,” Shah said. “With water reaching to far-off villages and cash crops becoming the norm, the Patidars became richer.”

Also read: Bypassed for Gujarat CM chair, Nitin Patel says live in ‘voters’ hearts’, can’t be thrown out

Their foray into power  

The Patels of Gujarat were largely mobilised and politically active during the Indian freedom movement due to the presence of leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi in the region, and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel from the community. 

After Independence, this translated into a mobilisation for better positions.  

Breaking down their involvement in state politics, Mahashweta Jani, a researcher with the Ahmedabad-based Lokniti CSDS, said, “The reason for the BJP’s rise in Gujarat of the 1980s was the support from Saurashtra Patel community. With the Congress supporting the land-owning Rajputs and the formation of the KHAM (Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim) alliance, the sidelined Patels, especially from the Saurashtra region, lent their backing to the BJP.”

The anti-reservation agitation of 1981 in Gujarat was largely BJP-backed and on the frontlines were the newly educated Patidar youth. Experts claim that this is when the BJP started gaining a proper foothold in the state. The appointment of Chimanbhai Patel, a Janata Dal candidate, as the state chief minister in 1990 was testament to the increasing power of the Patels as well. 

Shah also spoke about how the community, despite being small in number, still holds sway in the state’s politics.

“Right after this influx of wealth, they started investing in other sectors,” he said. “The Patels are now owners of some of the biggest industries in the country. You name the sector and you will find a Patel businessman there.”

The large wealth that the community holds also is a big factor, since money materialises into power and votes for political parties, Mahashweta Jani added.

Shah argues that the “unity” amongst the community members across the state is what makes them so important. “If the Patels feel that they have been wronged or sidelined, they can choose the party they want to support,” he said. “The entire Patel populace will follow and vote for the party that their leaders support.” 

As the community amassed wealth, he added, they started launching welfare programmes like universities and hostels for the poor and destitute within the community. This has  led to a feeling of unity within the community. 

The Patel agitation of 2015

A recent event that still has its echoes in Gujarat’s politics is the Patel agitation of 2015, when hundreds of Patidar youngsters took to the streets. 

The Hardik Patel-led Patidar Anamat Sangarsh Samiti demanded reservations for the powerful Patel community in government jobs and colleges. 

“The Patidar youth had been expecting an increase in job portfolios and education opportunities under the Modi regime in the state. But after a decade of waiting, the youth took to the streets and demanded reservations,” Gaurang Jani said. “Reservation is a provision put in place for the socially and economically backward in the country, two things which the Patidar are not.”

After the protests, the matter went to Gujarat High Court. The court in 2016 quashed the demand for reservation and found Hardik Patel guilty of rioting and arson. He was sentenced to a two-year term. 

In 2019, when the then Rupani government brought in 10 per cent reservation for the economically weaker sections, Hardik Patel, in a statement, called the agitation off, stating that the reservation now gave Patels an equal chance. 

(Edited by Arun Prashanth)

Also read: Facing Jat-Muslim unity in UP, BJP poll strategy targets farmers & caste equations



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