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Issue No.: 576 | June 2015

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part II)

Usha Thakkar
Politics of castes remained important. The feeling of newcomers taking away power from old workers revived the historical Kshatriya-Patidar antagonism. Although the top leadership fought hard to counter this, there is no doubt that the Swatantra Party was divided into two factions based on caste.

This is the second part of the three-part article on the history of the Swatantra Party in Gujarat.

The Elections in 1967

The 1967 election was a turning point in the politics of India and Gujarat. The prestige and influence of the Congress had declined due to factors like the 1962 Indo-China war, Nehru’s death in 1964, economic issues like devaluation of the rupee and the growing desire for change among the people.

The Swatantra Party now wanted not to be just the opposition, but wanted to be an alternative. There was an increase of two seats in the Lok Sabha and 14 seats in the Assembly for Gujarat due to an increase in the number of seats for these bodies from 1962 to 1967. In the 1967 elections the Party fielded 148 candidates from all the 17 districts for the assembly of 168 members. 66 members were elected from 15 districts; however the Party drew a blank in the districts of Amreli and Bulsar; it was second in 69 places and lost deposits in 5 places. The Party polled 37.5% of votes. Out of 66 seats won by the Swatantra, 62 belonged to the rural areas. This was in accordance with the scene at the all-India level. There was clear bi-polarisation between the Congress and the Swatantra. More than 83% of the votes were divided between the two Parties. There was straight contest between the Congress and the Swatantra in 35 constituencies.

The Swatantra remained strong in Surendranagar and Sabarkantha areas. It could make a good entry in Saurashtra also and improved its position in North Gujarat. It maintained its position in Central Gujarat and was weakest in South Gujarat. It won 5 seats in Surendranagar, 8 in Sabarkantha, 7 in Kaira, 6 each in Ahmedabad and Mehsana and Panchmahal, 5 in Baroda, and 4 each in Rajkot and Jamnagar and Junagadh, 3 each in Banaskantha and Bhavnagar, 2 in Kutch and 1 each in Ahmedabad city, Broach and Surat. The Party’s performance was weaker in Kutch and Kaira compared to the 1962 elections. There was tension caused by resignations of a few stalwarts and sitting MLAs like Gulab Shankar Dholakia and Jadavji Raghavji from Bhuj and Rapar (Sharma, 1976:333). Some members also complained that the Swatantra Party in Kutch was completely under the control of the Rajputs, who were anti-Patidars. The Party’s unexpected defeat in Kutch and Kaira districts and poor show in South Gujarat crushed the Party’s hopes to rule. It tried to forge an alliance with the opposition parties, but could not succeed. Its efforts for alliance with the leftist parties like PSP were also unsuccessful. It had made electoral adjustments with Jan Sangh for 15 seats.

The number of the Patidar MLAs of the Swatantra was 8 in 1962 and 13 in 1967.The number of the Kshatriya MLAs was 8 in 1962 and 23 in 1967. (Sharma, 1976:395-6) Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha had supported the Swatantra in 1962 and 1963 elections. But in 1967 there were dissensions in the Sabha on the issue of the support to the Swatantra. Mahida had resigned from the Party because of his grievances: he did not get the desired position in the Party; he did not get enough financial help to fight his case in the Supreme Court in 1965, and his Anand seat was taken from him to offer to H. M. Patel to fight the Lok Sabha election. Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha was divided between the Swatantra and the Congress in 1967 elections. Mahida and Solanki, two architects of the Sabha, were on opposite sides. Mahida’s resignation from the Swatantra in 1965 and re-joining the Congress, and the ‘accommodative strategy’ adopted by the Congress created a political fury.

The economic policies of the Swatantra Party attracted some industrialists like Pashabhai Patel, Manubhai Amresey and Viren Shah. The Party was strengthened by the joining of retired and experienced bureaucrats like H. M. Patel and C. C. Desai. Support of many ex-rulers like those of Jasdan, Chuda, Dhrol, Idar, Jamnagar, Devgadh-Baria, Santrampur, and Dhangadhra was helpful.

The results of the Lok Sabha elections were encouraging for the Swatantra. It contested 21 seats and won 12 seats. It was second in 8 constituencies and got 39.92% votes. Like the Congress, the Swatantra tried to take in its fold all the sections of the society.

Minoo Masani retained the Rajkot seat but with a reduced margin. Pravinsinh Solanki was victorious from Kaira once again. Other notable winners were Dandekar from Jamnagar, Viren Shah from Junagadh, Piloo Mody from Godhra, Ramchandra Amin from Mehsana, Manubhai Amersey from Banaskantha, Pashabhai Patel from Baroda and C. C. Desai from Sabarkantha. R. K. Amin defeated Prabhudas Patwari in Dhandhuka. Meghrajaji, ex-ruler of Dhangadhra, won both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly seats. He retained the Lok Sabha seat. The Congress became a victim of internal conflicts. The approach of veterans like Ratubhai Adani and Rasiklal Parikh indirectly helped the opposition. The Swatantra lost the Kutch and Anand seats to the Congress. In Anand, Narendrasinh Mahida, as a Swatantra candidate had defeated Maniben Patel, the Congress candidate, in 1962. However, in 1965, he left Swatantra and joined the Congress and in 1967 as a Congress candidate he defeated H. M. Patel, the Swatantra candidate. This once again showed the importance of the Kshatriya factor. The seat in Dohad also was lost. Lalit Patel was selected to contest in place of the sitting member Purshotamdas Bhil. South Gujarat continued to be under the Congress, and North Gujarat under the Swatantra. Both parties showed almost equal strength in West and Central Gujarat.

Some surprises of the election results were - a narrow victory for Bhaikaka, defeat of H. M. Patel for Lok Sabha by Mahida and for the Assembly by Shankarbhai Vaghela, defeat of ex-ruler of Kutch Himmatsinhji in Mandvi assembly seat and Kutch Lok Sabha constituencies, and defeat of the Congress leaders and ministers like Manubhai Shah, and Bhanuprasad Pandya.

In the 1967 elections, the Congress realised that it could not take the Kshatriya support for granted, so it tried to woo them. The 1962 experience had brought a change in the approach of the Congress to the Kshatriyas. According to Shah, as a result of the interaction with the Sabha, the Congress Party’s attitude towards the Kshatriya Sabha shifted from one of indifference and antagonism to consideration, and from consideration to accommodation. (Shah, 1975: 136) [i]

Politics of castes remained important. As observed by Kothari and Maru, "The feeling of newcomers taking away power from old workers revived the historical Kshatriya-Patidar antagonism. Although the top leadership fought hard to counter this, there is no doubt that the Swatantra Party was divided into two factions based on caste. It was a case of politics bringing together traditionally rival castes into an alliance based on a new identity of interest, and then once the alliance took form of a single organisation, the traditional groups reasserted themselves. These factions substantially influenced the outcomes of the elections.” (Kothari and Maru, 1970: 83-4) [ii]

The Swatantra tried and largely succeeded in uniting the Patidars and Kshatriyas of Saurashtra with those of Gujarat and of Saurashtra. Saurashtra Khedut Samaj joined the Swatantra. In November 1963 at the 15th Convention of Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha at Ahmedabad, the Kshatriyas of Saurashtra and Kutch came together. Bhaikaka tried his best to woo the Girasdar Association and erstwhile princes to be with the Kshatriyas. He followed the principle of allocating 33% seats each to the Patidars and the Kshatriyas and the rest to other communities. But this had its problems. Dayabhai Patel, Pashabhai Patel and Dadubhai Amin were against giving too much importance to the Kshatriyas. There were also some like Vadilal Lallubhai Mehta and Suketu Shah who did not approve of this principle.

Swatantra wooed the princely elements even at the cost of alienating its trusted lieutenants in Banaskantha, Surendranagar, Jamnagar and Panchmahal districts. It also gave tickets to some Congress dissidents. The Kshatriya leaders like Natvarsinhji and Jaydeepsinhji asked the Kshatriyas to remain faithful to the Swatantra. Natvarsinhji asked the community to defeat traitors like Mahida and consider the elections as ‘Dharmayudhha’.
The traditional enmity between the Kshatriyas and the Patidars continued. Patidars made open allegations against Bhaikaka for appeasing the Kshatriyas. It was more evident in the districts of Mehsana, Ahmedabad and Baroda. (Sharma, 1976:162)iii. Ramchandra Amin in Mehsana refused to consider any Kshatriya candidate and insisted on Patidar candidates. In Ahmedabad the Patidars put up candidates against the Kshatriya nominee of the Party. The Patidar faction encouraged setting up an unofficial candidate against Maharaja Fatehsinhrao in Baroda district and flaunted the understanding between the Swatantra and Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha.

Dr. USHA THAKKAR, retired professor, formerly Head, Department of Political Science, 
SNDT Women’s University, Mumbai. 
Currently, Hon. Director, 
Institute of Research on Gandhian Thought and Rural Development and 
Hon. Secretary, Mani Bhavan Gandhi Sangrahalaya, Mumbai. 

[i] Ghanshyam Shah, Caste Association and Political Process in Gujarat: a study of Gujarat Kshatriya Sabha, Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1975. 

[ii] Rajni Kothari and Rushikesh Maru, Federating for Political Interests,: the Kshatriyas of Gujarat, in Caste in Indian Politics, Rajni Kothari, ed., Orient Longman Pvt. Ltd., Hyderabad, 1970 iii P. D. Sharma, Swatantra Party in Gujarat: Rise, Growth and Decline (1960 to 1972),






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The Swatantra Party in Gujarat - A Historical Perspective

The Swatantra Party in Gujarat: A Shooting Star (Part II)

Usha Thakkar
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