Madhya Pradesh 2018

Madhya Pradesh Assembly Elections 2018: Upper caste angst may queer pitch for BJP


Younger voters, concerned about the lack of jobs, seem to be lending some wind to the Congress’s sails this time around.

Vijay Kumar Dubey, a traditional BJP supporter, predicts a close contest in the Madhya Pradesh Assembly election.

The middle-aged Brahmin trader, who runs a shop near the bustling Bada area in Gwalior, has his reasons for the assessment.

“The Goods and Services Tax has cut into businessmen’s profits,” he says, with an air of bitterness. “Why is it that only traders are referred to when we talk about black money? Why are there no raids on rich politicians?”

And he has another grievance: “The Chief Minister said that no mai ka laal can take away reservations. Okay, but why this kind of tone? Who will talk about the Savarnas [upper castes]?”

For the first time in an election in the State, caste and reservations have become a common refrain. Madhya Pradesh, unlike Uttar Pradesh or Bihar, hitherto did not have nuanced caste-based issues casting a shadow over electoral outcomes.

Residents say the polarisation over the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act was the tipping point, with an undercurrent of upper caste concerns becoming distinctly discernible in political discussions in recent months.

Conversations with upper caste voters in urban areas reveal a broad pattern: while most expect the BJP will retain power, they predict — without revealing their voting intentions — a kaante ki takkar (a close fight) between the Congress and the BJP. There are also those who are openly critical of the BJP and wish to see change, flagging a likely splintering of votes from upper castes — a bloc that had largely been pro-BJP.

The upper castes — the Brahmins, Thakurs, Baniyas and Kayasths — constitute about 17% of the population of the State, show data cited by Christophe Jaffrelot in his book Rise of the Plebeians. They are more numerous in the Malwa, Bundelkhand and Baghelkhand regions than in the Mahakoshal region.

Sapaks, a spoiler?

While the Sapaks party is trying to capitalise on this undercurrent of Savarna unease,the BJP still remains the party that most upper caste voters trust, their discontent over the restoration of the SC/ST Act notwithstanding.

At the Dewas Gate area in Ujjain, a conversation with three elderly men, all Thakurs, shows their sympathies are still with the BJP. The Sapaks, they say, will cut into some of the upper caste votes, particularly among “short-sighted and misguided” voters.

However, it is the younger voters among the upper castes, who seem to be lending some wind to the Congress’s sails this time around.

“One good thing about Rajasthan is that it keeps shifting from one party to the other every five years,” says Ashish Tiwari, a Gwalior-based student who is a Brahmin. “Change is not bad sometimes. If you use the same umbrella for 15 years, it will begin to leak. You need to change it.”

Even in Budhni, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s constituency, jobs are a matter of concern for upper caste youth, though they agree that Mr. Chouhan will be hard to beat being the sitting Chief Minister. Rahul Rajput, a Thakur from Budhni who is in his mid-20s, says he has no job despite having a Master’s degree and a diploma in computer application. The town’s two textile mills do not employ local youth, he says.

“The Chief Minister has made too many promises, but his strike rate in terms of implementation is not good,” he says.

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 9:52:34 PM |

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