Friday, August 24, 2012

The rise and fall of Patels

Patels are a powerful community of Gujarat. Today they call themselves ‘Patidar’, but before independence they were slaves of Girasdars (Darbars or Kshatriyas) and mere tillers and tenant cultivators of their lands. According to caste system (वर्णव्यवस्था) of Hindus, Patels were Shudras (शुद्र). And like other Shudras, derogatory words were used for Patel, too. They were called Kanabi (कणबी). Sarth Gujarati Jodanikosh (सार्थ गुजराती जोडणीकोश), the first dictionary of Gujarati language published by Gujarat Vidhyapith, an institution founded by Gandhiji, had given meaning of Kanabi as ‘coward and weak’ (बायलो अने अशक्त पुरुष).

In 1952, the Saurashtra land reforms act gave occupancy rights to 55000 Patels over 12.0 lakh acres of land, out of 29.0 lakh acres held by Girasdars, spread in 1726 villages all over Saurashtra. As chief beneficiary of land reforms and subsequently fattened by crop of groundnut, cotton, cumin and other cash crops and later graduating as promoters of cotton ginning and edible oil mills, the Saurashtra Patel lobby, known as Telia Raja's or more appropriately oil mafia, have come to occupy the position of dominant caste in the politics of Gujarat.
Since 1981, Patels (with Baniyas and Brhamins) were politically, economically and culturally de facto rulers of Gujarat. Emergence of KHAM (Kshtriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) theory propagated by congress started challenging upper caste domination and exclusion of Patels in the ministry of Madhavsingh Solanki’s cabinet only echoed this process. The political isolation of Patels inspired them to take active part in subsequent anti-reservation movements and in lending support to rightist Bhartiya Janta Party.

Since 1981 Patels are an important community in the strategy of right wing communalist organisations. Patels aided and provided muscle power to Vishwa Hindu Parishad. Pravin Togadia, the leader of VHP belongs to Saurashtra Patel community. Keshubhai Patel, the chief architect in the political revival of BJP is also Patel from Saurashtra. In Keshubhai, Patels had found post-independence Vallabhbhai, the Sardar. Though, quite rustic, Keshubhai could have been likely choice of Gujarati electorate even after unprecedented calamities like earthquake, had not Shankarsinh Vaghela surprised and shattered the party by his famous Khajurao episode.

The rift between Vaghela and Patel was ominous for Gujarat, as it paved way for a behind-the-curtain pracharak, a manipulator to grab an opportunity in the power corridor of Gandhinagar. Keshubhai, weakened by Vaghela rebellion, could not fight with the ‘Pracharak’, who was mastermind in manufacturing palace coup d'état. The Paracharak and his organisation had been using Patels in communal riots as musclemen since 1985. And during 2002 state-sponsored genocide Patels were in forefront in the killing battlefields of Gujarat.

The judgements in Ode and Visnagar and the investigations in cases like Naroda Patia have not only highlighted role of Patel community in the riots, it have also enlightened the community leaders that they have been used by BJP and particularly the Pracharak. The formation of a political party by Keshubhai Patel and his aides is strong reaction to this process. The utterances of Keshubhai that “Patels are frightened” are half truth. In fact, he can not commit that “Patels have been used, thrown and hence frightened.” We can not expect a powerful community to confess its own follies.

Patels have enough resources to manage the mess they have created. What about others who are not going to be benefited by this tussle between Patels and the Pracharak. The recent convention of Rohits (a sc community) invited Keshubhai Patel as chief guest has shown that Dalits are becoming party to a stupid tussle and Dalits have not realized that neither Patels nor Pracharak want to uplift them.

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