Want Gujarati's independence

Dispute over the caste system in India: On the blessing of the backward

The most influential caste in Gujarat wants to be considered "backward". That brings in money. Prime Minister Modi is embarrassed.

The violent caste fights leave clear traces in Ahmedabad. Photo: Reuters

DELHItaz | In the Indian state of Gujarat, nine people were killed in clashes between protesters from one of the largest castles and the police. The state government asked the army for help on Wednesday and imposed a curfew in numerous cities and towns after demonstrators attacked government and police buildings, stones were blown and hundreds of buses went up in flames.

Paramilitaries have been flown into the cities of Surat, Vadodara, Mehsana, Rajkot and Morbi to bring the situation under control. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who himself comes from Gujarat, felt compelled to call for calm in Gujarati in a televised address.

"Any problem can be solved through conversation," said Modi. “I appeal to all brothers and sisters in Gujarat not to use violence.” For Modi, who was Prime Minister of Gujarat for more than twelve years and who has always touted his home state as a model for successful economic development in India, the unrest is particularly embarrassing . Because they look like a film from another time.

The Patidars or Patels currently taking to the streets are one of the most influential and economically successful castes in Gujarat - and yet they are now demanding to be recognized as a backward caste.

It's about money and lucrative jobs

The current Prime Minister Anandiben Patel, who like her predecessor Modi, belongs to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is a Patidar. Just like the former interior minister Vallabhbhai Patel, a colleague of Mahatma Gandhi. Another is the entrepreneur Tulsi Tanti, who is known in this country because his company Suzlon has taken over the German wind turbine manufacturer REPower.

Christophe Jaffrelot, political scientist

"The box-based quota system is in a dead end."

Why do the Patidars, who make up 15 percent of the population in Gujarat, want to be included as “Other Backward Caste” (OBC) in the complicated system of quotations that the Indian state created after independence in 1947 to counter the greatest injustices of the caste system to act?

The short answer is: They want the - in the case of the Patidars, vegetarian - meat pots from lucrative government offices and university places, which in India are largely allocated on the basis of quotas.

The long answer is more complex. There is much to suggest that the quota system will reach its limits with the emergence of a new middle class in India, but no one has yet known how it will be reformed.

On the media keyboard

While many formerly disadvantaged castes and their members have gained influence over the past decade due to economic growth and successful lobbying policies (Prime Minister Modi, who is one of them, who is a member of an OBC), others have been left behind.

This also includes many patidars who, in the traditional caste hierarchy, were landowners directly under the Brahmins, but who did not get rich. They see themselves exposed to supposedly unfair competition from lower caste members for university places and government jobs.

At the same time, in 22-year-old Hardik Patel, they have a leader who has mastered the entire range of social media and political mobilization and who has found influential supporters.

French political scientist Christophe Jaffrelot thinks that the state of Gujarat, where caste-based quotas were fought back in the 1980s, will be the first to change the system. It is always in a dead end.