Triumph of the Gujarati

Election 2019 reflects a victory of the Gujarat model. But not the model you are thinking of. Not even that other, more sinister model. It is something very fundamental, rooted deeply in economic ecologies.

Human beings are shaped fundamentally by the networks they find themselves embedded in. In India, these networks overwhelmingly take the shape of caste groups marked by an occupational role, social status and marital rules.

For the North Indian peasant, with an economy driven by land and service to an imperial power, caste identity emphasizes kinship and honor. Biradari literally means brotherhood, and membership is conditioned on izzat.

For the Gujarati merchant, in a dry region of relatively unproductive land, caste identity emphasizes pooled resources, adherence to fiscal norms and shared interests. Even for the peasant Patels, caste is today fundamentally an economic union, channelized into farming and dairy cooperatives.

2019 might well be the year that the North Indian peasant realizes the futility of imbibing a kinship and honor based caste identity. On the one hand, these networks simply do not provide the resources to grow and thrive in a post-agrarian world. And even if optimally politicized, the sheer number of caste groups makes the gains from achieving political power limited and concentrated.

The North Indian does realize the need for new kinds of networks. And Modi’s opening up of North India to the world, via a liberal visa policy, river transport from the Bay of Bengal all the way upto Noida and big ticket global engagement platforms like the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Shinkansen would not have escaped the eye of the sharp Yadav and Jat, who realize that they will have to reach out to the world to grow.

After all, previous engagements with foreigners in the recent past have given Indians globally important automobile and IT industries.

India today is more open to the world than ever before. Everybody from Peru to Russia to Ghana to Indonesia can come in after submitting a simple electronic form. Less than 7 million people visited India in 2013, by 2016 that number more than doubled to 15 million. Modi’s Gujarati mind grasps the decisive role of networks in the growth of individual, and he might have well coaxed the North Indian to look beyond his caste tunnel.

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23 Replies to “Triumph of the Gujarati”

  1. Bro , perhaps you are reading a bit too much into that (supposedly post caste politics). It is just one win. Glorious but nevertheless just one. I am a N-Indian and even i dont think we are that clever to grasp what the Gujrati is trying to show us. LOL

    No one can pull us N-Indians (and Indians at large) into a post caste society .

    What you are seeing is the solidification of the total U-Caste as a vote bank , with addition of large section of Hinduized OBC and some dalits. An unbeatable alliance under the large umbrella of Hinduism/Hindutva /Nationalism . The alliance in a sense of the “others”/ the rest of 50 percent of the population (outside the conventional vote banks).

    Until it cracks , the “King in the North” can fend off the White Walkers. But what happens when it does crack…

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    1. It won’t crack given the low levels of development and outrageously high TFR in BIMARU states

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      1. This state based dichotomy of development is fundamentally flawed. Take undivided Andhra for example, 75% of the state’s revenues came from Hyderabad.

        Indeed, the rural economy of northern states actually fares better than the southern ones in general due to better water supply and soil quality.

        The perception you are alluding to is driven by the presence of larger urban areas in the South, and their location is driven mainly by historical reasons. Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai are all old British outposts created by surplus extracted from rural areas across India.

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        1. It’s a perception driven by virtually every meaningful indicator of meeting developmental goals.

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          1. Yes, and the difference in those indicators is driven heavily by revenues and head starts. For example, Haryana’s fertility rate is 2.2 because of its superior rural economy and Gurugram revenues. At independence, states like UP and Bihar had much poorer indicators than those in the West and South, and this was rooted in the policies of British India.

            I would agree with you that NW India is more patriarchal and racially charged. But that has little to do with governance.

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    2. Human participation in networks (and associated identities) is not set in stone. People switch all the time. In fact, possibly the most competent explanation of conversion from Hindu to Muslim in medieval and pre-modern India (outside Bengal) is the desire to be part of a global Muslim political and economic network. This pressure was probably felt most by non-UC Hindus who, unlike the UC’s were not as useful to the Mughal administration and lacked the cross regional networks the UC’s already had.

      And the UCs themselves switched to an Anglophone identity to participate in the English speaking world. They may huff and puff about the Vedas and Ramayana on twitter but their children are reading Harry Potter and Tolkien.

      If caste politics collapses, caste networks have to as well. There is no reason for a Yadav to insist that his daughter marry another Yadav, if that network cannot benefit his family any more.

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    1. I think they were all unqualified triumphs.

      Gandhi ensured that Indian civilization kept its shape and did not descend into chaos and genocide in the way that Europe, Middle East and China did.

      Patel (along with Nehru) managed the translation of Gandhi’s ideas into a coherent political and economic structure.

      Jinnah quarantined a volatile portion of the subcontinent from its core, while keeping it firmly in the Indic orbit via the insistence on Urdu.

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  2. Modi’s “openness” does not extend to trade policy. India has erected more protectionist policies than any other country in the world this decade (Russia is on second place) and now has the highest average tariffs of any major global economy. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-47857583

    Growth will continue to undershoot expectations since no serious economic reforms are likely to be made. So the BJP will double down this cycle on Hindu consolidation and majoritarianism.

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    1. I’m not that pessimistic…BJP undershot the mark, but GST and bankruptcy reforms were good, and they’ve been decent on infrastructure and anticorruption. I predict a path of more slow and steady reforms.

      Also have to be careful with reforming too fast, or Indian voters will get angry and throw you out…eg, Rao and Vajpayee.

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    2. They don’t even believe in delegating to experts. Another commenter had a great comment about how Modi and Shah run things like a mafia. This is why Rahul Gandhi was a better candidate. It’s ok to be dumb, as long as you are aware of it. It’s dangerous to be dumb and not be aware of it.

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    3. Tariffs are no barometer of openness. They are policy devices to achieve political or strategic goals. In India’s case they are employed to protect local industry, not isolate the country.

      This is more about networks and contact. FDI and tourist numbers are much better indicators.

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  3. Why would any political leader in India bring reforms? So that it gets thrown out. The most ironic part is that regions/people which never vote for BJP are the ones who are at the fore front of demanding reforms from the BJP.

    In their very own states their own people /state govt have done no reforms what so ever and follow even larger social programme than what BJP has even imagined. and they want the “centre” to do reforms. LOL

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  4. This is a very good article.

    https://theprint.in/opinion/three-things-indian-liberals-held-dear-were-tested-this-lok-sabha-election/240116/

    “Left scholarship and intellectualism thrived for long on something called “behalfism”, a wonderful coinage by Mukul Kesavan in his seminal book Secular Common Sense. Propounded by renowned scholars like Ranajit Guha and Gayatri Spivak, it referred to all those who are outside the power structure – mostly rural, the underclass, underprivileged, marginalised, and the salt-of-the-earth. It was the responsibility of the intellectual elite to speak for the subalterns – since they could not presumably speak for themselves – and be their guardians.

    In his victory speech at the BJP headquarters Thursday, Modi said that just like Hindu god Krishna stood by the side of Hastinapur, Indian voters had sided with India. Modi begins his second term by invoking the dark-skinned son of a cowherd, not Ram, the king. The BJP’s mythological goalpost has just moved to a subaltern god. Except in this reimagination, the subalterns were speaking for Modi, not the other way around.”

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    1. Yes, that shift to Krishna in his speech did not go unnoticed. BJP rarely invokes him. He also used quite a lot of non-Indic vocabulary that he usually wouldnt (Megh Raja shareek hone aaye hain for example). He was back to Hindutva baiting with ‘secular jamaat’ though.

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      1. On Modi’s Krishna appeal, i think its a gujrati thing (just like he invoking Patel,Gandhi). Also non-indic language is reading too much (he uses words like “Fakeri” as well)

        To me one of the most fascinating thing is BJP unwilling-ness/inability (perhaps) to appropriate more gods in its political project.

        For example why do they need to “import” Ram to Bengal, rather than Durga which they can do easily (i think) considering the atheist-ness of the ruling left and the image of mamta being muslim appeaser, all this years. Why havent they tried to use Shiva for example , considering his more universal subaltern appeal(greater than Ram) . Why havent they used Krishna for the yadavs . Would (trying to) appropriate them a double edged sword? Perhaps with Krishna it wouldn’t work considering Krishna is not that subaltern but a Hanuman or a Shiva would.

        These questions fascinate me.

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  5. “To me one of the most fascinating thing is BJP unwilling-ness/inability (perhaps) to appropriate more gods in its political project.

    For example why do they need to “import” Ram to Bengal, rather than Durga which they can do easily (i think) considering the atheist-ness of the ruling left and the image of mamta being muslim appeaser, all this years. Why havent they tried to use Shiva for example , considering his more universal subaltern appeal(greater than Ram) . Why havent they used Krishna for the yadavs . Would (trying to) appropriate them a double edged sword? Perhaps with Krishna it wouldn’t work considering Krishna is not that subaltern but a Hanuman or a Shiva would.”

    This is a good set of questions and I hope someone more knowledgeable (Slapstik ?) can expound on it. AFAIK, the most important festival in Eastern UP and Bihar is Dussehra and the native cultures there are shaped much more by Shaktism and Shaivism than Vaishnavism. Perhaps the shift away from the native Hindu traditions to a more NW form is an effect of the shift from Maithili/Bhojpuri to Hindi ? All the Maithil devotional songs I have come across are dedicated to Durga.

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    1. “the most important festival in Eastern UP and Bihar is Dussehra”

      The most important festival in Eastern UP and Bihar by an order of magnitude is actually Chhatth. Dussehra is certainly more important than Diwali, though.

      My college in UP had a full 9 day vacation for Navratri + Dussehra but only 2 days for Diwali. Almost reverse for my friends in Delhi.

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