The ascent of Sindhis in Chattisgarh

“No, no I’m told not to discuss any money issues here. Central offices will directly deal with it,” with these words, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) candidate in Raipur North nearly whisked himself away to give an interview to a television channel. It took a while to explain it to Shrichand Sundrani, the candidate, that it was not money but a news story on Sindhis in the election that had brought this correspondent to his office.

In Chhattisgarh, politicians have stopped believing that news can be produced without cash transfers to journalists or media managers, especially during election. But once Mr. Sundrani was convinced that he did not have to pay for the story featuring him, he looked relaxed and even offered to be photographed with a picture of his personal saint, Gulab Baba of north Maharashtra.

Influence increasing
Mr. Sundrani did not deny that the political influence of Sindhis in Chhahttisgarh, “is increasing alongside Marwaris or Jains,” as other parties are also putting up Sindhi candidates. Members of the Sindhi community said that they did not mind who won in Raipur North as long as only Sindhi candidates are nominated by all parties. “We wanted to ensure that Raipur North turns into a dedicated Sindhi seat. It nearly happened this time but the Congress withdrew its Sindhi candidate,” said a community member close to the BJP.

The Congress had dominated the central Indian province through Brahmins and 36 royal families for half a century. With the rise of the Jana Sangh, the Marwaris and Jains of Raipur, who were less organised in politics, gathered under the saffron flag. The BJP and the Vaishya community’s rise in Chattisgarh was thus almost synchronised to the formation of Chattisgarh in 2000.

Late entrants
Sindhis are late entrants. “There was no way we could be early entrants in Chattisgarh’s politics,” said Kanhaiya Lal Chuggani, Chattisgarh chapter president of the Bhartiya Sindhu Sabha (BSS), a wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the patriarch of the Sindhi community in Chattisgarh.

“We came as paupers and thus, it was a question of survival for a Sindhi. How can he give time to politics?” asks Mr. Chuggani.

“But Sindhis made money mainly through trading and their political aspirations increased. So, a few years ago, the Chattisgarh Chamber of Commerce had its first Sindhi president. Now, the Sindhis, who are 1% of the population, are joining politics,” said Mr. Chuggani.

The community was largely aligned with the BJP. “In 1940, RSS men, like the all-India president of BSS, Lakhsman Chandiramani (93), used to visit Sindh to campaign. The association [with RSS] continued and grew when L.K. Advani became the Deputy Prime Minister, and we naturally gravitated towards the BJP,” said Mr. Chuggani.
Sindhis now control many trades in Chattisgarh — from mobile phones, automobiles and clothes to kirana (grocery) stores, which were with other communities earlier. “We always work on a lower margin of profit compared with Agarwals or Jains. It is often said that wherever we go, we destroy the market,” laughed Mr. Chuggani, who feels that Sindhis can now financially influence both political parties and the public.

From within
Competition came from within the community in the 2018 election. There were nearly half a dozen contenders for the Raipur North constituency and Mr. Sundrani’s name was declared at the very end. Amar Parwani, a dynamic Sindhi businessman, and former head of Chattisgarh Chamber of Commerce, nearly bagged the BJP ticket.
“But Mr. Sundrani got it. The head of the Shadani Darbar, the most influential Sindhi pilgrimage, recommended Sundrani to the Chief Minister,” said a senior community member.

Moreover, “Parwani is a very new entrant in the BJP,” said a BJP official. But many in the Sindhi Samaj consider Mr. Sundrani, who won with a margin of a little over 3,000 votes in 2013, a weak candidate.

There are about 1 lakh Sindhis with 10%-15% votes in each of the four Raipur seats. But will they finally vote for a Sindhi? Mr. Sundrani thinks that “they definitely will.” But many Sindhis are in two minds. Whoever loses, Hindu Sindhis have won in Chattisgarh, 70 years after losing their homeland in southern Pakistan.

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