Gujarat polls: Hindutva has a slightly longer history in the state than you may believe

The discovery of the state of Gujarat dates to the year 2002. That’s what many journalists, especially of the electronic variety, and many of their readers and viewers, seem to believe. That is rather nasty; let's rephrase that: There are two eras of Gujarat politics, Before TV—sorry—Before Modi and After Modi. We need to rephrase that too.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI.

Much before Modi was parachuted into the state in October 2001—because with Keshubhai Patel as chief minister, BJP was losing popularity in civic body elections and bypolls—the BJP and Hindutva had very much arrived in the state. It was in 1995 that the BJP came to power. Patel was the face of the party and hence chief minister. Shankarsinh Vaghela was in the Lok Sabha, but an equally big leader. And, behind the scenes, the state unit organisational secretary was Narendra Modi, the strategist and the kingmaker.

In the late 1990s, the hackneyed journalistic description of Gujarat was the laboratory of Hindutva. But before that? Here is a quick recap of the origins and the rise of Hindutva in Gujarat. Since personal memories as well as Google are not much of a help beyond a point, I turned to this excellent book, The Shaping of Modern Gujarat: Plurality, Hindutva and Beyond by Achyut Yagnik and Suchitra Sheth (errors and omissions in paraphrasing are mine alone).

Gujarat has a history of fragile relations between Hindus and Muslims. Here are some of the landmarks along the way: The facts and myths surrounding Muslim invaders vandalising the Somnath Temple. Any number of communal riots before and during the British rule. Sharing part of the border with Pakistan. The case of Junagadh, whose ruler wished to merge the princely state with Pakistan.

 The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) had a presence in Gujarat since 1940-41. The Bharatiya Jan Sangh arrived a decade later. They failed to make a mark, given the strong presence of the Congress, during the freedom struggle as well as during the first couple of decades of Independence. The state of Gujarat was carved out of the Bombay state in 1960 after the popular ‘Mahagujarat campaign’ in which the right wing too participated. However, once the new state was formed, people happily backed the Congress.

 The second chief minister, Balwantrai Mehta, was killed when Pakistan shot down his plane near the Kutch border. It was apparently by mistake, but the event added to the resentment against the neighbouring country during the war time, and for some people, against the minority community by extension.

 The 1969 riots in Ahmedabad, one of the worst in post-Independence India, slightly further widened the chasm between the two communities.

 The 1960s witnessed several mass rallies by the RSS and Jan Sangh leaders.

Electoral performance

1962 The first Assembly elections  (154 seats): 

Indian National Congress: 113, Swatantra Party: 26 [Jan Sangh contested 26 seats, failed to win any]

1967 Assembly elections (168 seats):

Indian National Congress: 93, Swatantra Party: 66 [Jan Sangh contested 16, won 1]

1972 Assembly Elections (168 seats)

Indian National Congress: 140, NCO: 16 [Jan Sangh contested 99, won 3]

In 1974, the Navnirman Andolan, led by engineering students of Ahmedabad and triggered by the hike in hostel mess charges, spread across the state. People expressed their anger against inflation, Indira Gandhi, Chief Minister Chimanbhai Patel (“Chiman Chor”), corruption and misgovernance. The student wing of the Jan Sangh, Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), saw an opportunity and joined forces with the protesters.

 ‘Navnirman’ proved to be the precursor for the dramatic events of the mid-1970s: Jayaprakash Narayan’s call for Total Revolution, the Emergency and the civic resistance movements. The RSS joined hands with civil liberty organisations in opposing the murder of democracy. (In Gujarat, the RSS representative on the frontal organisation spearheading JP’s agitation against the Emergency was a young Narendra Modi. He would pen memoirs of those days, Sangharsh Ma Gujarat)

The RSS/ Jan Sangh soon found early indications of what it was lacking so far: Acceptance among the urban, ‘upper-caste’ middle class.

Electoral performance

1975 Assembly elections (182 seats)

Indian National Congress: 75,  [Jan Sangh won 18 of 40 seats it contested]

1980 Assembly elections

Indian National Congress: 141, Bharatiya Janata Party: 9

The 1980s was a turning point in Gujarat politics. For more on caste and communal equations, please see a short profile of Madhavsinh Solanki. The Congress briefly veered away from the Patels and other upper castes, and wooed Kshatriya, Harijan, Adivasi and Muslim (KHAM). In particular, it enlarged the scope of education and job reservations and extended the same to more communities that would later come to be known as OBCs. The upper castes were not happy, and an impromptu agitation led by “parents” started in 1982. ABVP and BJP rushed to support it.

Madhavsinh Solanki extended further quota benefits ahead of 1985, and reaped a record-breaking 149 seats in 1985. Soon, there were anti-quota protests, which mysteriously acquired communal tones and in no time, Ahmedabad and other cities were burning. The communal divide grew further and the BJP emerged as the party the Patels, Baniyas and Brahmins could trust.

Add to that a series of yatras, religious campaigns throughout the decade. There were four by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad: Gangajal Yatra in 1983, Ram-Janki Dharma Yatra in 1987, Ramshila Pujan in 1989 (Yagnik and Sheth call it “the most impressive mobilisation since the freedom struggle”), and Ram Jyoti and Vijaya Dashmi Vijay Yatra in 1990.

In the same series, there was LK Advani’s Somnath-to-Ayodhya Yatra 1990. These campaigns immensely helped in mobilising Hindus politically.

Electoral performance


First victory, Rajkot Municipal Corporation

1984 Lok Sabha elections

One of the two seats BJP could win across India was from Mehsana (Dr AK Patel)

1985 Assembly elections

Indian National Congress: 149, BJP: 11


Second victory: Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation

1989 Lok Sabha Elections (26 seats)

BJP: 12

1990 Assembly elections

BJP: 67 + Janata Dal: 70, Indian National Congress: 33

1991 Lok Sabha elections

BJP: 20

The numbers clearly show the BJP had arrived by the end of the decade. The Chimanbhai Patel government of Janata Dal, propped up by the BJP, was just a stop-gap arrangement, and in the next elections in 1995, the BJP sealed its triumph.  The rest is, as they say, contemporary history.

The BJP’s fortunes in the state have, of course, seen ups and downs. Shankarsinh Vaghela led a rebellion soon after the first government was formed, and eventually led a split in the party: Unusual for an organisation known for cadre base and discipline. The cadre got a taste of it, and Modi’s initial years also saw a couple of rebellions led by Keshubhai.

Electoral performance

1995 Assembly elections

BJP: 121, Indian National Congress: 45

1998 Assembly elections

BJP: 117, Indian National Congress: 53

2002 Assembly elections

BJP: 127, Indian National Congress: 51

2007 Assembly elections

BJP: 117, Indian National Congress: 59

2012 Assembly elections

BJP: 116, Indian National Congress: 60

Ashish Mehta is editor, Governance Now 

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Updated Date: Dec 06, 2017 17:49:21 IST

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