In the Hindutva Heartland: Bharatiya Janata Party’s Superficial Democratization in Gujarat

Date01 December 2020
AuthorSharik Laliwala
Published date01 December 2020
Subject MatterArticles
In the Hindutva Heartland:
Bharatiya Janata Party’s Superficial
Democratization in Gujarat
Sharik Laliwala1
This article examines Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s hegemony in Gujarat by studying the changes inau-
gurated by the party in the caste profile of Gujarati political elites. I showcase the transition of BJP from
a party of elite castes to a limited accommodation of a few Hindu backward castes, especially under
Narendra Modi’s chief ministership. However, I argue that the recruitment of Hindu backward castes
as ministers represents a case of superficial democratization as they were appointed in non-influential
ministries or were co-opted only near election time. Indeed, Modi’s developmentalist regime solidified
the dominance of upper castes and Patels from an urban background and a few Rajputs, and led to a
rural backlash in the form of Patel agitation. In the final section, I analyse these still emerging trends in
Gujarat’s polity, which became visible on a rural–urban continuum in the 2017 state election.
Hindu nationalism, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Gujarat, Narendra Modi, representation, asmita (pride)
An oft-quoted stylized fact about Gujarat’s polity and society goes as follows: Gujarat is a ‘laboratory of
Hindutva’ par excellence, thanks to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)'s hegemony. To its credit, BJP has
remained in power since 1995, barring a hiatus of 18 months, in Gujarat. In the last four decades, the
party—supported by an elaborate network of organizations linked to its parent group, the Sangh
Parivar—has successfully installed the Hindu nationalist ideology in Gujarati (read Hindu) public con-
sciousness. The party often harks back to K. M. Munshi’s concept of Gujarati asmita (pride), equating a
narrow vision of Hindu-ness with Gujarati identity, among other things—a genre of ethno-religious (sub)
nationalism noticeable even in the Congress party’s regional unit (Jaffrelot, 2017).
Studies in Indian Politics
8(2) 247–265, 2020
© 2020 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/2321023020963748
Note: In this article, I utilize my dataset profiling castes of Gujarat’s council of ministers—cabinets and ministries of states—since
the state’s inception in 1960. I developed this dataset under the framework of Social Profile of India’s National and Provincial
Elected Representatives (SPINPER;, a joint project by Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD) at Ashoka
University (Sonepat, India) and Sciences Po (Paris, France). A par t of this article dealing with Patel and OBC Kshatriya reassertion
in Gujarat was presented at SPINPER project’s conference held on 24–25 June 2020 in Paris. I am thankful to conference
participants for their feedback. I am also grateful to Ghanshyam Shah for his incisive comments on an earlier draft.
1 Affiliated Researcher, Trivedi Centre for Political Data (TCPD), Ashoka University, Haryana, India.
Corresponding author:
Sharik Laliwala, Aff‌iliated Researcher, TCPD, Ashoka University, Haryana, India.
248 Studies in Indian Politics 8(2)
While the cultural-ideological explanation is central to BJP dominance in Gujarat, the party’s consolida-
tion took place under Narendra Modi, the state’s longest serving chief minister (CM, 2001–2014) till date.
A self-termed ‘outsider’ to the state’s politics, Modi ruptured the Gujarati political experience in the most
intense manner. It is not an accident that the region’s contemporary history is heuristically periodized as
‘before’ and ‘after’ Modi. A great deal is known about Modi’s initial experimentations with the state’s
Hindu–Muslim disunities and his later political economy endeavours in this first-rate industrial-urban
region.2 However, the political sociology aspect of Modi’s rule, particularly of the state’s highest political
offices (e.g., the council of ministers) and BJP’s organization, is underexplored.
In this article, I explain the hegemony of BJP in Gujarat through the underappreciated logic of the
party’s social engineering, with a special focus on Modi’s time as Gujarat’s CM. To put it squarely, BJP
commenced its journey as an outfit of dominant castes—upper castes and Patels (middle or intermediate
caste)—who controlled the party’s key posts and subsequently, the top rungs of the state government.
From the mid-to-late 1990s, the party began to co-opt Hindu Other Backward Classes (OBCs) in a lim-
ited fashion as members of legislative assembly (MLAs), while ignoring Adivasis and Dalits.
On the one hand, Modi accelerated the recruitment of OBCs, especially as ministers; nevertheless,
OBC leaders were appointed in not so influential ministries, and their numerical strength remained sub-
ject to the electoral cycle, affirming their secondary position in Modi’s rule. On the other hand, by pro-
moting hyper-capitalist urbanization, he nurtured a new class of urban political elites among Patels and
upper castes (except for Rajputs). I term this process as superficial democratization of Gujarat’s polity,
whereby Modi neutralized pressure from below by increasing the numerical strength of OBCs in his
ministries, particularly near election time, while Patels and upper castes from urban areas and some rural
Rajputs captured most powerful executive and political offices. Indeed, the so-called Gujarat Model’s
fault lines have shaped the state’s politics on rural–urban lines and class distinctions in recent times
(Jaffrelot, 2016; Ranjan & Sircar, 2017). I mildly differ from this strand of argument to re-emphasize the
centrality of caste within the logic of rural–urban differentiation and class divide by analysing the last
state election’s data, ministries’ dataset, and party organizations.
Bharatiya Janata Party in Gujarat: Elite Revolt Against
Representative Politics
Since its inception in April 1980, BJP brought Gujarat’s dominant castes—Brahmin, Bania, Rajput, and
Patel (who together/collectively constitute about one-fourth of the state’s population)—on a common
political platform at a time when they had begun to lose their political power after Gujarat Congress cre-
ated a social alliance of backward groups.3 These four castes had monopolized the state’s political class
during the Mahagujarat movement—which culminated with the creation of a separate province of
Gujarati speakers—and in its immediate aftermath. The dominance of Brahmin and Bania politicians
was particularly well pronounced. From 1960 until 1973, Gujarat’s CM was either a Brahmin or a Bania,
and 45 (78%) of Gujarat’s 58 cabinet ministers were Brahmin-Bania (see Table 1). Patels and Rajputs
2 According to the 2011 census, 42.58 per cent of Gujarat was urban, over 11 per cent higher than the national average. Two cities
from Gujarat, Surat and Rajkot, feature in Oxford Economics’ (2018) list of world’s fastest-growing 10 cities; Surat is projected to
be world’s fastest-growing city till 2035. Gujarat’s economy leads in sectors such as petrochemicals, pharmacy, diamond polishing,
textiles, agro- and dairy processing and ceramics, contributing 17 per cent of India’s exports as against 5 per cent share in the
country’s population.
3 Brahmins and Banias/Jains together form around 7 per cent of Gujarat’s population as per India’s last caste census in 1931.
Rajputs and Patels (Patidars)—a shudra caste of agriculturalists—constitute about 5 per cent and 12 per cent of the Gujarati
population, respectively.

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