CHENNAI, March 22, 2011
Caste politics at work in Gujarat
Modi holds his friends close, his enemies even closer
Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi used "caste resentments" to
"tighten his grip on power," after his "autocratic leadership style"
provoked consternation in the Bharatiya Janata Party and forced an
expansion of his Cabinet in 2005, the U.S. Consulate in Mumbai
The August 10, 2005 cable (38300: confidential; only partial extract
accessible), which was issued under the name of Public Affairs Section
Director Linda C. Cheatham days after the expansion, took a close look
at its timing and the allocation of portfolios.
Mr. Modi's moves, the cable explained, were the result of a direction
from BJP president Lal Krishna Advani following criticism from party
members. According to the cable, "Modi consented under the condition
that the BJP appoint a state party president loyal to him. In early
June, Advani kept his part of the bargain when the BJP appointed
Vajubhai Vala as Gujarat BJP president."
The Gujarat Chief Minister made the most of the development, the cable
said, explaining that he "ingeniously weakened his critics by only
appearing to devolve some power to them and by securing pledges of
The cable noted: "Many contacts, including journalists Anosh Malekar
and Uday Mahurkar as well as BJP official Pankaj Mudholkar, told us
that none of the new ministers will have any significant policy-making
clout or sizable budgets that can be diverted for political patronage.
The newcomers received departments such as women and child welfare,
employment guarantee and fisheries. The CM and his core supporters
still control the most important portfolios, such as Home, Finance,
Industry, Irrigation and Rural Development."
"Modi timed the expansion of the cabinet," the Mumbai Consulate cable
pointed out "to take advantage of the absence of the leader of the
rebels, former Gujarat chief minister Keshubhai Patel. Patel is
currently in the U.S., where his wife is undergoing medical treatment.
Modi reportedly focused on two influential Patel supporters and
enticed them to join his cabinet under conditions that Patel himself
would probably never have supported."
The Consulate's reading was that Mr. Modi appeared to "be using the
cabinet expansion to change the power equation among castes."
The cable elaborated: "Tensions between the sizeable, landowning and
better-off Patel caste and … 'Other Backward Castes' (OBC) have long
simmered in Gujarat's politics. Modi belongs to a small and
economically weak OBC group…Our contacts tell us nine of the 11 new
cabinet members are from the OBC grouping. They are also drawn evenly
from all regions of Gujarat. Having effectively manipulated religious
strife to strengthen his power base during and after the 2002 riots in
Gujarat, Modi is now using caste/class resentments within Hinduism to
tighten his grip, many of our contacts believe."
The Mumbai Consulate surmised that the refusal of BJP MLA (and a VHP
member) Govardhan Zhadapia to take the Cabinet posting offered to him,
and the appointment of Purushottam Solanki, wanted by the Mumbai
police for "extortion," could potentially alienate both VHP and urban
middle class voters.
However, the confidential cable concluded that "in a BJP beset by
internal struggles, Mr. Modi's revival sets him up nicely to influence
the king making when the time comes." In fact, he seemed "stronger
than at any time since the rebels took their opposition public" —
indeed a "force to be reckoned with."
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the
US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.)
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