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Number theory: In Gujarat polls, class, not caste, differentiated parties

ByGilles Verniers
Dec 16, 2022 11:26 AM IST

What kind of representational outcomes did the 2022 Gujarat elections produce? A look at the caste composition of the three main parties’ candidates and MLAs, when read with the timeline of caste-based representation, shows all parties to be same in this election. This was not the case in the past. However, in terms of wealth or class, the three main parties were not alike.

What kind of representational outcomes did the 2022 Gujarat elections produce? A look at the caste composition of the three main parties’ candidates and MLAs, when read with the timeline of caste-based representation, shows all parties to be same in this election. This was not the case in the past. However, in terms of wealth or class, the three main parties were not alike. Here are four charts that show this.

In Gujarat battle, the three parties adopted similar caste representation strategy. But money or class remains a major factor of differentiation both between parties and between castes and communities. PREMIUM
In Gujarat battle, the three parties adopted similar caste representation strategy. But money or class remains a major factor of differentiation both between parties and between castes and communities.

All parties look alike

The candidates of the three main parties – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – shared a largely similar profile, with small variations. The AAP fielded more Patel candidates than the BJP and the Congress (28% against 25% and 22%, respectively). The Congress fielded more OBC candidates than the BJP and the AAP (39% against 35% and 32% respectively). Upper castes make 17% of BJP’s candidates, 14% of Congress’ and 13% of AAP’s candidates.

There was greater diversity of OBC representation within the BJP (16 groups represented) and the Congress (17 groups represented) than in the AAP (11 groups represented). Kolis, Kshatriyas and Thakors, three major backward groups in Gujarat, saw almost equivalent representation.

The main variation was the absence of Muslim candidates in the BJP. But with only six Muslim candidates in the Congress and three in the AAP, it did not make for a substantial difference.

Four groups emerge

Four groups make for a majority of the assembly’s MLAs: Patels (18%), Scheduled Tribes (STs) (15%), Kolis (11.2%), and Kshatriyas (11%). STs do not represent a homogenous group of course, but it is worth noting that they are the second largest community represented in the Gujarat Assembly. The BJP won 23 of the 27 ST seats in these elections.

Within the BJP, Patels make up 27% of all MLAs, followed by STs (15%), Kolis (12%), Kshatriyas (8%). Brahmins and Rajputs each account for 6% of the BJP MLAs.

There was a time where parties had different caste profiles, reflecting divergences in espoused identities and electoral strategies. In the 1980s, chief minister Madhavsinh Solanki of the Congress came up with the KHAM strategy (Koli Kshatriya, Harijans, Adivasi and Muslims), Gujarat’s version of a backward castes’ alliance. The BJP used to be associated more with traditional elites and other dominant groups such as Patels. Now, with a proportional representation of Patels and upper caste candidates across both parties (and now in the AAP as well), the days of sociological differentiation between parties is gone.

The long rise of OBCs

A timeline of caste-based representation shows how both OBCs and Patels have increased their presence in the Gujarat assembly at the expense of upper castes and, to an extent, Muslims as well. OBCs represent a large array of groups in which three groups emerge as locally dominant (Kolis, Kshatriyas and Thakors). Patels are also divided into Leuva and Kadva Patel. Anjana Patels are considered OBCs.

These dramatic changes took place in the 1970s, when upper caste representation fell, by the Congress’ own doing. Their representation has continued to go down after the BJP won power in the late 1990s.

As in other states, caste-based strategies are informed partially by local demography and by political affinities. No parties today can afford to alienate the Patels and major backward groups that have become increasingly mobilised over time.

A notable statistic is the complete absence of Muslim representation. There is only one Muslim MLA in the new assembly, elected on a Congress ticket. Figures mentioned above show how Muslims have been excluded or marginalised by the three parties. As the BJP became dominant in Gujarat, the Congress cut the representation it used to provide to Muslims among its candidates by half.

Important variations in assets

The next chart uses self-declared assets contained in the candidates’ affidavit and shows the average net assets of different castes and communities represented among candidates and MLAs in the Gujarat assembly. For clarity, I have excluded four outlier candidates with declared assets above 100 crore (two of them are Patels, one Thakur and the fourth one, from an OBC).

This chart reveals important disparities between groups. Rajput MLAs are on average considerably richer than any other groups (with net assets averaging 16.7 crore), followed by Patel MLAs ( 11.3 crore). Other OBCs, Banias, and Brahmin MLAs tend to be richer than OBC MLAs.

At the candidate level, BJP candidates were much richer (average assets of 14 crore) than Congress candidates ( 6.5 crore) and AAP candidates ( 3.1 crore). BJP’s Patel candidates declared, on average, 25.4 crore of assets, against 8.8 crore for Congress’s Patel candidates. AAP’s Patel candidates declared 1.7 crore of assets on average. BJP’s Koli candidates were also much richer on average than Congress’ Koli candidates ( 9.4 crore against 1.9 crore). Both parties’ Rajput candidates were equally wealthy. As far as SC candidates were concerned, Congress fielded wealthier candidates than BJP ( 4.7 crore against 2.8 crore).

What this exercise shows is that caste may not be the best factor of differentiation between parties, including the AAP. The three parties adopted similar caste representation strategy. But money or class remains a major factor of differentiation both between parties and between castes and communities. This is not a surprising observation, given the degree of wealth accumulation and disparities in Gujarat.

Gilles Verniers is director, Trivedi Centre for Political Data, and assistant professor of Political Science, Ashoka University. Provisional data collected by Sharik Laliwala. Views are personal.

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