They are considered one of the most indulged communities in Gujarat. Each time the state has gone to the polls for more than 50 years, the Patidars or Patels, have enjoyed maximum attention. Every party that wished to come to power had some plan up its sleeve to appease this vast Patel population with financial and agriculture-based incentives and industrial policies that favoured Patels. The first financial strategies to woo this votebank were not devised recently, but between the 1960 and 1972 assembly elections.
The Patidars — a conglomeration of various sub castes of Patels — according to ‘The Regional Roots of Developmental Politics In India: A Divided Leviathan’ by Aseema Sinha, drew their strength from the commercial agriculture prevalent in central Gujarat.
Though the state’s food cultivation was stagnant during the 1960s, the extension and growth of commercial and cash groups such as vegetable oils, cotton, groundnut and tobacco into central, south and western Gujarat gave economic power to this community. Back then, both agrarian capitalists and urban industrial houses formed a strong regional base in Gujarat. Beside this, the state government was desperately trying to replicate Bombay’s industrial model and was trying to create a new entrepreneurial class — with the Patels at the forefront, claims Sinha.
For this, the state bureaucracy fasttracked setting up of industrial estates in south Gujarat soon after the formation of the state in 1960. A new provision of extensive credit to small scale business, especially for entrepreneurs in Vapi, Kheda, Valsad, Bilimora and other villages in central and south Gujarat was extended. Entrepreneurial training and easy loan facilities from Gujarat Industrial Investment Corporation (GIIC) and Gujarat State Finance Corporation (GSFC) were announced — this helped Patels and other medium castes to further strengthen control over economic life and also took the Congress to electoral victory in the 1960, 1962, 1967 and 1972 assembly elections. While Patels are about 20% of the population, they have consistently held 20 to 26% of seats in the Gujarat assembly from 1960 onwards. No other social group held a higher share of seats in this period. Their share of the seats increased from the 19.6% to 26% in 1972. In 1973, Chimanbhai Patel became chief minister.