Socio-economic milieu of Gujarat has provided a fertile ground for the steady onward march of rightist ideology. A multitude of factors explain this.
Gujarat has a preponderance of a prosperous peasantry class that has displayed exemplary entrepreneurial skills. Facilitated by their control of political economy, this class invested its surplus capital from agrarian activities, in emerging industrial complex. Gujarat’s long coastline meant a history of mercantilism. Various social groups have developed significant stake in industrialization project thanks to relative lack of occupational rigidity in Gujarati society. Gujarat has an equitable geographic distribution of industrial clusters which meant sub-regional ideological variations have a lesser chance of playing out. Labour intensity of Gujarat’s industrialization also ensured that large section of the society did not fall to the prevailing political rhetoric of labor-capital being antithetical. Purposive and pragmatic interventions by the state have ensured a healthy collaboration with private capital, resulting in a win-win for state and market.
Socially too, the reformatory movements that emerged among the various caste groups did remarkable work in upliftment of its members but operated in a ‘Sanskritisation’ mode and contributed in building a larger Hindu consciousness. Moral influence of religious movements like Swaminarayana Hinduism also played a role fostering an inclusive identity. It will be interesting to know that religious dimension of right in Gujarat was largely dormant though it has always played out in a subliminal manner. Religious identity was never an organizing political principle in rightist discourse till the heady days of Hindutva mobilization
Given all this, spurious socialism that has dominated the political discourse in the rest of India has never found too much traction in Gujarat. Rightist political forces have always managed to set the agenda based on the factors unique to the context of Gujarat. It also partially explains why Gujarat, even in the days it experienced tumultuous political conditions, managed to attract investors and rapidly industrialize. Ofcourse thanks to pure providence, when state showed signs of decline, it found in Narendrabhai Modi, an inspirational and transformational leader.
Role of Patidars
Fragmentation of agrarian landholding due to the implementation of ryotwari system served as the bulwark against large-scale feudal landownership and created a much more broad-based landing owning peasantry class. Predominant among this class of marginal landholders were the members of the Patidar community. Crystallisation of Patidar community identity happened in the context of community’s deep involvement in the nationalistic struggle against the colonizers. Leading members of Patidar community were not only in forefront of freedom struggle but also played an instrumental role in the social and educational reform of their community. Using the nationalistic resurgence, leaders like Sardar Patel constructed a broader social coalition of Patidar by co-opting lower Kunbis in to the overall Patidar identity.
Patidar agrarian class, not content with leading a bucolic existence, invested their capital in creating a vibrant industrial base, engaged in manufacturing of industrial goods and transformed themselves in to an urban capitalistic class. Emphasis placed on education, diasporisation of Patidar community also provided momentum to the rightist ideological instincts being the natural political sensibility in Gujarat
Patidar, Kshatriyas and Swatantra
Even while Congress dominated the political landscape of Gujarat part of Bombay state and Saurashtra (which was a separate state before 1960) and in the state of Gujarat (formed in 1960), political hegemony of Congress was always challenged by formations whose ideology could be located in the rightist political idiom. In the first election, opposition to the Congress part in areas that constitute today’s Gujarat, came from a motley group of rightist forces including Saurashtra Khedut Sangha and Kedut Sangh-Lok Pasha. Ratibhai Ukabhai Patel, a farmer started the Kedut Sangh-Lok Pasha and organized the peasantry’s opposition in Gujarat to the Congress party. Opposition was based on government’s redistributional policies that envisaged forcefully taking away land and constituted a fundamental assault on economic freedom. However lack of organizational structure and resentment based mobilisation proved to be a limitation in mounting a sustained political challenge to Congress
In the Avadi session of Indian National Congress, Nehru reaffirmed his commitment to Stalinist statism and unequivocal commitment to collectivist ideas like co-operative farming 1955. Swatantra party voiced its trenchant opposition to co-operative farming and land ceiling as it clearly understood it was expropriation in a camouflaged form and was an assault on freedom of property. Swatantra party was formed in 1959 under the leadership of erudite and venerable Rajaji. Swatantra achieved an ideological synthesis combining an unrelenting commitment to economic freedom and capitalistic model of development, a subtle articulation of Hindu spiritual ethos as basis of cultural conception of our nationhood and affirming Gandhianstic ethos like probity, trusteeship etc. Swatantra platform found resonance with industrialists who saw the tyranny of license- quota-permit Raj (not the big business houses which supported protectionism), towering retired bureaucrats, a small section of middle class not invested in the idea of expansive state, disillusioned royalty, middle peasantry and high-minded Hindus who were uncomfortable with the crudity and rhetoric of more populist Jan Sangh.
The national level opposition to radical Nehruvian experiments reinvigorated the dormant rightist force in Gujarat. Swatantra emerged as the fulcrum around which the rightist forces mobilized their opposition to Congress’s socialist follies. Peasant outfits, that posed a spirited challenge to Congress in earlier elections, now coalesced under Swatantra umbrella to challenge Congress in Gujarat. It also achieved the almost impossible task of creating a social synthesis between two fractious caste groups of Gujarat- Kunbi Patidars and Kshatriyas. Kshatriya Sabha, which was firmly aligned to the Congress, increasingly realized that Congress was an opportunistic political force that used them merely for electoral purposes. A fledgling Swatantra party also provided new organizational opportunities for Kshatriya chieftains to be accommodated in party power structure and provide a passport to possible political power.
Swatantra party grew well in Gujarat and put a creditable performance in 1962 and 1967 elections. Infact one of the stalwarts of Swatantra party Minoo Masani won a famous byelection from Rajkot in 1963. Rajkot was considered an impregnable Congress bastion.
Swatantra which began to be seen as a genuine contender for power could not dethrone Congress as disaffected royalty, which was a natural constituency of Swatantra in most other states, was reluctant to join forces in Gujarat. However from 1969, Swatantra massively declined in Gujarat marked by internecine quarrels, re-emergence of Patidar-Kshatriya fault line and ‘elitism’ of its leadership which failed to recognize the imperative for building a cadre centric approach. Also it was days when Indira Gandhi’s empty sloganeering electrified India and Gujarat too was not completely oblivious to it. Disappearance of Swatantra party opened created a vacuum for an emergence of a new political force in Gujarat
Emergence of Hindu Right
Jan Sangh made a humble beginning in Gujarat in the 50’s and till the 1967 election did not even manage to open his account in the state. However the Navanirman students’ movement changed all this. ABVP played a pivotal role in organizing this anti-corruption movement against the brazenly corrupt dispensation of Chimanbhai Patel. The Movement was a precursor to the nationwide anti-corruption struggle which dethroned corrupt-authoritarian rule of Indira Gandhee. Incidentally a certain Narendrabhai Modi was a small player in this movement but later went to play significant role in opposing emergency.
Gujarat has its first non-Congress government in 1975. With the support of Kisan Majdoor Lok Paksha, the Janata Morcha stormed to power in 1975 . Key members of Jan Sangh, which merged with larger Janata party, were part of this government.
BJP inherited the Jan Sangh legacy in Gujarat but it was decimated in its first electoral foray in 1980. Surprisingly, in the 1985 elections, despite the Rajiv Gandhee wave sweeping the state, BJP made its presence felt winning 11 seats. In the earlier 1984 Lok Sabha election, held in the aftermath of Indira Gandhee’s assassination, when Congress ran a cynical communal campaign exploiting her death, entire opposition was obliterated. BJP won just 2 seats and one of them was Mehsana seat bagged by A.K Patel (interestingly other seat was Hanamkonda. Chandupatla Janga Reddy defeated P. V Narasimha Rao)
Typical rise of BJP in many states tends to follow 2 major patterns. A relentless outreach to various social groups with the help of Sangh network and ground level work and ability to subsume existing ‘Janata’ breakaway groups or atleast their key political operatives in its fold. In Gujarat, OBC and Kshatiyas were persuaded to sign up for Hindutva project with Ram Janmabhoomi movement providing the necessary momentum
BJP made Gujarat its citadel in 1995 by notching up a spectacular victory in the assembly elections. 4 successive victories in the last 17 years, Gujarat continues to be Indian right’s bastion. With Narendrabhai Modi, who has made “Minimum Government, Maximum governance” as the centerpiece of its governance philosophy, continuing to bestrode the political firmament like a colossus, rightward march of Gujarat continues. Gujarat should have no reason to complain for its ideological moorings it has served it well.
As Modi faces his 3rd re-election and possibly his toughest one and even if different political formation comes to power due to oddities of political democracy, what can be safely said is that Gujarat is an irretrievably rightist state.
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