Elections

Why Are The Kshatriyas Up In Arms?

The Kshatriya community’s protests in Gujarat have crossed state borders and solidified their resolve to boycott the ruling party

Divya Tiwari
Members of Kshatriya community in Miyagam, Vadodara district Photo: Divya Tiwari
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About 200 km south of Ahmedabad, in Miyagam village in Vadodara district, Gujarat, a banner placed on an electrical pole read: “Until Puroshottam Rupala is given a ticket, Rajputs will continue to protest. No campaign vehicles will be allowed to enter.” At a little distance, sitting under a banyan tree under the scorching summer sun, a few members of the panchayat were having a discussion. They looked disgruntled.

“We will not vote for the BJP anymore. This is about our dignity. We will take this fight forward to the rest of the country,” says Sangram Sinh, Deputy Sarpanch of Miyagam. At the heart of the storm is Rupala, BJP’s candidate from Rajkot constituency, whose remark at a gathering insulted the warrior community. On March 22, the 69-year-old Minister of State for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry and Dairy attended a Dalit community event where he said that the erstwhile ‘‘maharajas’’ collaborated with the British colonisers and other foreign invaders and maintained “roti-beti vyavhar” (breaking-bread and marriage) relations with them. Although he did not directly name the Kshatriya community, they took offence as most maharajas were Rajputs.

This is not the sole instance of a protest announced by the Kshatriyas of Gujarat. The warrior community is enraged and has refused to simmer down their agitation over Rupala’s remarks.

For the past 25 years, the lotus has been in full bloom in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s home turf. Barring a few protests here and there, Gujarat remains the stronghold of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) which won all 26 seats in the past two Lok Sabha elections. Therefore, the fact that thousands of Kshatriyas have been up in arms in the Saurashtra region since last month, has made little difference to the party seeking a third term at the Centre.

By the time PM Modi reached Gujarat for his first and only election campaign in the state which went to polls on May 7, the Kshatriya community had already decided they would not vote for the party. During his 48-hour tour, the PM, however, made it a point to meet the scion of Jamnagar’s erstwhile royal family, Maharaja Jam Saheb Shatrusalyasinh at his residence.

Shatrusalyasinh gave him a halari paghdi (royal turban) which he donned during the roadshow to rekindle ties with the Rajputs. But how far will this gesture take the BJP whose attempts at damage control has otherwise been seemingly absent? Over the last few weeks, thousands of saffron-clad members from the Kshatriya community took to the streets in Rajkot, Anand and Devbhumi Dwarka while the women threatened to perform jauhar (self-immolation) outside the BJP headquarters in Gandhinagar. Dharma raths were flagged off, slogans and black flags were raised and posters were put up across several districts announcing a boycott against the party, with Rupala’s face crossed out. Over a hundred protesters have been arrested.

Rupala apologised several times afterwards. The BJP's state president apologised as well, but the Kshatriya community remained steadfast in their demand to cancel Rupala’s candidature. They announced they would boycott the party and threatened to launch a nationwide stir if he was not replaced.

“We did not have any problem with the BJP, we have voted for them for many years. This is not political but it is about society. After such a nasty comment (by Rupala) about Kshatriyas, we cannot vote for the BJP anymore,” says Sangram Sinh.

The Undercurrent

It is not overnight that a remark by a senior BJP leader triggered anger among the Kshatriya community. The socio-cultural agitation also encapsulates a history of caste dynamics which control the power structure and economics in Gujarat. Historically, Kshatriyas were a community of rulers, while Patidars were farm labourers or land tillers. In pre-Independence India, Gujarat had several princely kingdoms. This changed with Bhavnagar state in Kathiawar becoming the first of the princely states in the region to agree to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s scheme of integration with the Indian Union. Sardar Patel was a leader of the Patels, or Patidars.

Over the next few years, the Kshatriyas and the Patidars shared absolute trust. However, by the mid-eighties, the latter started feeling disillusioned with the Congress and the grand old party’s KHAM (Kshatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim) theory was the last straw. Eventually, the Patidar community shifted its support to the newly formed BJP and over time, gained a significant political hold in the party. Several chief ministers in Gujarat have been Patidars.

The Kshatriyas, on the other hand, have seen very few candidates from the community and not a single CM face. But in the post-Godhra years, Gujarat had seen a unison of castes along religious lines. The Kshatriyas had strengthened their support to the saffron party despite their apparent sidelining.

Rupala is a Kadva Patel from Saurashtra, and the Kshatriyas have felt their political hold in the BJP in Gujarat slipping away and moving to the Patidars. Many believe that Rupala’s remark worsened the wounds in a state which is polarised along caste lines. However, Harshadsinh Gohil, a retired BJP worker and Kshatriya advocate, says that this is a false portrayal. “We are not protesting because he (Rupala) is a Patidar. We have nothing against the Patidars. These rivalries are just shown for the sake of politics. Hamara andolan Kshatriya samaj ki asmita ko lekar hai (This fight is about the dignity of the Kshatriyas).”

Veteran journalist R K Mishra says that while the Kshatriyas and the Patidars have shared a troubled relationship for decades, the protest has a larger significance. “It is not merely a protest, it is a boiling over of the discontent against the BJP from forces within the BJP. What we are witnessing is a churning within the BJP and the unhappiness of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak (RSS) cadres. Kshatriyas are the poster boys of this movement,” he adds.

Despite this recurring sentiment on the ground, reports have of Kshatriya leaders expressing support for PM Modi and urging community members to show their support as well have surfaced. A joint statement of the Kshatriya leaders in the party, including Bhupendrasinh Chudasama, I K Jadeja, Pradipsinh Jadeja, Balvantsinh Rajput, Mahendra Sarvaiya and others said that Rupala’s remarks have hurt the community’s sentiments but “we must strive to strengthen PM Modi’s resolve to make India a developed nation”.

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Ahead of the prime minister’s visit to Jamnagar, the Gujarat Rajput Samaj Organisation’s Coordination Committee (GRSOCC) also issued a press statement saying they will not protest against his rallies “out of respect”. This came as a welcome breather for the BJP’s electoral campaign in the state.

Gohil says, “There may be a few Kshatriya leaders who are still backing the BJP but the community at large has decided that we will not vote for the BJP this time. We are not even letting their cars enter our villages here. This anger will not die down.”

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Kshatriya Unity Beyond Gujarat

The Kshatriya community constitutes about 10-15 per cent of Gujarat’s population and has a sizeable presence in Rajkot, Surendranagar, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Kutch, Banaskantha, Patan, Sabarkantha, Mehsana and Bharuch. However, the resentment among the Kshatriya community has crossed state borders this election season. Rupala’s comment did not stir anger only among the Kshatriyas of Gujarat and calls for boycott reached neighbouring states too. In Rajasthan’s Barmer, a Rajput candidate has been giving sleepless nights to the party which had won all 25 seats in the desert state in 2019. Similar sentiments echoed in Ambala in Haryana where the Rajput community regretted the “hate” it has been receiving from the BJP.

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Meanwhile, in western Uttar Pradesh, Rupala’s remarks are just a part of the disgruntlement the community feels. Tensions were simmering among the Kshatriyas here—the Thakur community— over the row about Samrat Mihir Bhoj’s lineage and getting the lowest number of tickets in the elections this year has further fuelled their anger. Led by Thakur Puran Singh, founder president of the Kisan Mazdoor Sanghathan, the Kshatriyas of west UP have also declared that they will not vote for the BJP and will instead choose the candidates best placed to defeat the party across the country.

Regardless, the BJP continues to extend its unwavering support for Rupala, underscoring a strategic focus on the non-Kshatriya voters this election. But will the party be able to leverage the caste dynamic to its advantage?

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