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Gujarat Polls Show How Liberalisation Changed Identity Politics

The real reasons for the disenchantment various community groups have with the BJP government is economic.

Updated
Opinion
4 min read
Gujarat Polls Show How Liberalisation Changed Identity Politics
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Last three decades of unbridled liberalisation and integration of Indian economy with the vagaries of global finance capital has changed India like never before. The votaries of this LPG (Liberalisation, Privatisation, Globalisation) policy argue that Indian economy became the second-fastest growing economy because of this revolutionary move of the Narasimha Rao government.

Those who placed the derisive tag of ‘Hindu Rate of Growth’ on the Indian economy became happy that India is finally on a high-growth trajectory.

At the same time, despite the euphoria by economists who despise affirmative action by the State for the betterment of the disadvantaged, many expressed their apprehensions regarding the growth path.

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Burgeoning income inequality, jobless growth, agrarian distress and other vices that came along with this growth story have lend credence to their arguments. Despite struggles by the affected sections of society, there was no political will in their favour as all parties fell for the development narrative of neoliberalism. Even the mainstream Left fell in fine, albeit with less ferocity.

Neoliberalism Changed Trends in Identity Politics

Neoliberalism also seems to have changed the way identity politics is practiced in the country. Recent developments in Gujarat point to this.

When the Patidar agitation broke out in Gujarat in 2015, Madhav Singh Solanki, the Congress leader who successfully stitched together a social grouping called KHAM ( Khastriya, Harijan, Adivasi, Muslim), said that the agitation won’t last long. Patidars were seen as the social group which helped the BJP capture power in Gujarat.

The same caste group, which had vehemently opposed reservation, was now demanding the same. Economic reasons, and not identity politics, changed their attitude towards reservation and politics.

Sociologists and political observers offer many theories. Patidars had a predominant role in the economic activity of the state, especially in agriculture and trade. Observers point out that since they were in an influential position, the Patidars preferred to be identified as among the elite in Gujarat. However, the glory became secondary when economic issues hit hard.

When the government embraced neoliberalism, it exacerbated the woes of the Patidar community also. Farmers were brought down to their knees due to neoliberal policies the government, among other things. Fortunes of many industries were also hit, especially after the government opened up the economy. This affected Patidars, among others.

These problems had nothing to do with reservation. However, the community which tried to stall reservation in the 1980s ended up demanding the same.

Globalisation Has Compounded Problems for the Dalits

Though the Patidars never seem to think that economic policies are at the core of their problems, the Dalit community is increasingly aware of this. When neoliberalism was initiated, many Dalit intellectuals said it would help liberate Dalits from casteism. Dalits were asked to “look at capitalism as the crusader against caste”.

Dalit intellectual Chandra Bhan Prasad was exuberant when talked about the virtues about market. He said “along with globalisation came Adam Smith to challenge Manu. So that is why for the first time, money has become bigger than caste… bigger than Marx….in the marketplace only your ability is respected.”

Despite these claims, 25 years of liberalisation has changed nothing for Dalits. Though Chandra Bhan Prasad and people of his ilk might be still looking at the market, new Dalit leaders and movements are increasingly realising that market and capitalism will embolden the caste system. After the Una movement, Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani had said that globalisation has compounded the problems that Dalits are encountering. Different caste groups are now uniting against Gujarat government because their living condition has deteriorated due to various policies BJP government has been pursuing in accordance with their neoliberal agenda.

Various reports have suggested how the Land Acquisition Act enacted by the BJP government has infuriated Patels, Thakurs and Kshatriyas. The Act did away with the social impact clauses needed for acquiring land for projects linked to national security, infrastructure development and for industrial corridors. While this helped industrial capital, it added to the worries of the rural population cutting across the caste divide.

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Agricultural Land Ceiling Act (Amendment) bill has antagonised Dalits further. In 1960, Agricultural Land Ceiling Act sought to redistribute land to the poor. Although thousands of acres of land was attached by the government, it did not redistribute it to landless people, by some estimates amounting to 5.5 million people. The BJP amended the Act ostensibly to help big industries and made the allocation of this land to industrial projects possible. The amendment once and for all sealed the fate of the landless people in the state.

Neoliberalism Has Pushed Identity Groups to Think Politically

In the 1980s, the Congress created KHAM for political advancement. Now, a new social grouping which the BJP and its offshoots contemptuously call HAJ (Hardik Patel, Alpesh Thakor and Jignesh Mevani) has come into being, as part of an effort to overcome the challenges that their communities are facing.

The Gujarat model of development where BJP governments were unabashedly implementing neoliberal policies have pushed identity groups to become more political.

Neoliberal policies have forced community groups to think beyond the confines of identity politics and look for political alliances. The anti-BJP plank adopted by Hardik, Alpesh and Jignesh is going to survive only if they clearly understand the real force that made them unite. The question is how far the Congress party, which is trying to reap political benefits of these alliances, understand the real reasons for the disenchantment various community groups have with the BJP government. The reason is not superficial or related to the identity, it is economic.

(The writer is an independent journalist. He can be reached @NKBhoopesh . This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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