Quota for Patels? The
Neo-middle-class Syndrome and
the (partial) Return of Caste
Politics in Gujarat
The Patels, a dominant caste of Gujarat, rallied around the Congress in the 1920s and remained behind
the ruling party until the 1980s, when they shifted to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because of the
pro-Other Backward Classes (OBCs) reservation policy of the Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh
Solanki. As evident from the 2015 local elections, rural Patels are getting back to Congress. They resent
the fact that the BJP, the ruling party for almost two decades, refuses to include Patels on the list of the
OBCs. This demand, articulated by Hardik Patel, and other youth leaders, reflects the growing socio-
economic inequalities within this caste group, not only because of the gap between peasants and urban
dwellers but also because of the scarcity of good jobs in the private sectors, one of the outcomes of
the ‘Gujarat model’.
Patel, Patidars, neo-middle class, BJP, OBCs, reservation, Gujarat, Gujarat model, quota
The political trajectory of the Patels1 (also known as Patidars2) in Gujarat, which shifted in the 1980s for
the rst time in post-independence India, is changing its course again—and in relation to the same issue:
reservations. Representing 12.3 per cent of the population of the state, this dominant caste of farmers
which had rallied around the Congress behind Vallabhbhai Patel in the 1920s–1940s remained behind the
ruling party after independence, while it beneted from the abolition of the zamindari system (especially
in Saurashtra) and quickly seized the opportunity of growing and marketing commercial cash crops,
such as tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and groundnut, with some of them moving to the cities as business
prospered. Ghanshyam Shah emphasizes the fact that at the same time ‘The Patidars follow[ed] many
1 Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, France.
The arguments and data on which this article is based were first presented in the framework of seminars at Stanford University
and CEPT (Ahmedabad) in 2015 and 2016. I wish to thank Thomas Blom Hansen, Bimal Patel, Howard Spodek and Pratyush
Shankar for having provided me with opportunities to improve the text. I am also most grateful to Mahesh Langa for his reading
of an earlier draft of this article. The shortcomings that remain are naturally mine.
2 On the anthropological trajectory of this caste group that explains its different names, see Pocock (1972).
Studies in Indian Politics
© 2016 Lokniti, Centre for the
Study of Developing Societies
Christophe Jaffrelot, Senior Research Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po/CNRS, Paris, France.