New Delhi: Just who are the Modis? Congress MP Rahul Gandhi was Thursday convicted of defamation for a 2019 campaign speech where he named PM Narendra Modi alongside fugitives Lalit Modi and Nirav Modi, and questioned why “all these thieves” have Modi as their surname.
The complaint in the case was filed by a Modi as well — BJP MLA and former Gujarat minister Purnesh Modi.
‘Modi’ is the name of a community whose origins lie as a nomadic tribe, and whose members eventually got into the oil-making business and are settled across Gujarat.
People with the surname Modi can also be found in several other states, including Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana and Jharkhand.
The Modis are said to have arrived in Gujarat from north India around the 15th or 16th centuries as a nomadic tribe. The community got the ‘OBC’ tag in the state in 1994.
“Traditionally, this is a nomadic trader community, which settled in the state in the 15th-16th century. They would eventually settle in parts of the state and adopt the profession of grinding groundnut and sesame into oil and then trading in the same,” said Professor Ghanshyam Shah, a retired JNU professor and sociology researcher.
Being a ‘teli-ghanchi (oil-maker)’ community got them categorised under the caste of ‘Modh Vanik’ or ‘Vaniya (Baniya)’ in the state.
However, Shah added, the Modis were always viewed as a trader community and did not face any caste-related restrictions — as in, they were never forced by the upper castes to give away their wares for free — which helped them rise in economic status.
Two subsets of Modis
Gujarat-based author Achyut Yagnik further elaborated that there are two subsets of the Modi community.
“One was the Baniya trader community and the other was the teli-ghanchi nomadic tribe. The latter was the one that was given the OBC status, but the Baniya Modis had some social standing due to their economic status.”
Since the production of oil happened locally and manually, every village had a set of people involved in the work of grinding sesame and selling its oil.
“The Baniya Modis were spread across trades but majorly involved in selling household goods or moneylending,” Yagnik added.
Speaking about the rise of Modis in the world of Gujarat business, Jatin Sheth, an Ahmedabad-based social activist, said, “The Nirav Modis of today are most likely descendants of the Baniya Modis of the olden days. They have only shifted their business from small wares to more expensive, niche products.”
However, the three said the community never had enough economic strength to be able to hold a say in local politics.
“Texts from the 19th century suggest that the teli-ghanchi community never had to face any pressure from the upper castes for the sale of oil,” said Shah. “Though they never had to give it to the Brahmins for free, the community did not hold any significant position socially either.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
Also Read: A new seat for Rahul Gandhi, again? Congress explores Kanyakumari as 2024 choice for Wayanad MP