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BJP faces a tricky balancing act in Madhya Pradesh

Controversy over remarks by now-expelled OBC leader against Brahmins continues

August 21, 2022 07:29 pm | Updated August 22, 2022 12:34 am IST - Raipur

Expelled Madhya Padesh BJP leader Pritam Singh Lodhi. Photo: Twitter/@Pritamlodhi5

Expelled Madhya Padesh BJP leader Pritam Singh Lodhi. Photo: Twitter/@Pritamlodhi5

Following an uproar over key Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader Pritam Singh Lodhi’s controversial statement against Brahmins and women last week, the Madhya Pradesh BJP expelled him for six years on August 19. The controversy, however, refuses to die down with the expulsion, or even an FIR that Mr. Lodhi faces for the statements. 

Mr. Lodhi — who earlier said he was apologising to the community and was even willing to place his head at their feet — is now on the offensive. He flexed his muscles with a show of support in Gwalior on Saturday, a day after the expulsion. Addressing his supporters, he said that his fight was for the downtrodden and that he was “ready to spill the last drop of his blood” to continue the fight, even as he questioned the alleged double standards of “influential people”, a reference to Brahmin leaders and the State BJP leadership. 

He said that while he faced an FIR for his words that merely intended to explain a point to poor people in the audience, those who threatened him do not face such consequences. “Bagheshwar Dham Sarkar, who openly threatened me in front of his disciples, does not face such prospects. This country cannot have different laws for different persons,” Mr. Lodhi said. 

Mr. Sarkar is a popular religious preacher from Chhatarpur who has substantial clout in the ruling BJP and counts Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Narottam Mishra among his followers. The Akhil Bharatiya Brahmin Samaj has now demanded that the National Security Act be slapped on Mr. Lodhi for his statement against Mr. Sarkar.

An aggressive stance by Mr. Lodhi on the one hand, and some Brahmin groups and even voices within the party demanding further action against Mr Lodhi on the other, has concerned the BJP. Some leaders in the Congress, which was thus far attacking Mr. Lodhi’s statements on Brahmins, are also questioning his expulsion when “many Brahmin leaders, making controversial statements, stay on”. 

What Lodhi said

A video of Mr. Lodhi, purportedly from an event on August 17 at Badarwas in Shivpuri, went viral. In that, he could be heard saying that Brahmin priests make people crazy, fool them, and loot their money and food grain. He also said that some of them stare at women and make young women sit in the front rows during discourses.

Lodhi’s importance

Mr. Lodhi has unsuccessfully contested two elections from Pichhore in Shivpuri district. However, he is considered a prominent leader of the Lodhi community, a numerically strong sub-set of the OBCs, who constitute well over half of the State’s population. The fact that he is related to veteran BJP leader and former Chief Minister Uma Bharati also adds to his heft, BJP leaders say.

On the other end of the spectrum are Brahmin and upper caste voters that the BJP is trying to keep together. The party fears that if Lodhis and other OBC groups rally behind Mr. Lodhi, an OBC versus Brahmin situation can be created, which is not a welcome sign.  

“For us, this situation is a throwback to another controversial statement in 2016, when Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan had said that until he was there, no one could end reservations. That was damaging in the 2018 elections, when we were virtually wiped out in the Gwalior-Chambal region, with upper castes voting for the Congress,” a party functionary said. 

He added that the Brahmin vote in Madhya Pradesh cannot be seen in isolation. The stance taken by the community percolates down to all the General Category votes. 

“In recent times, the election of Kavita Patidar, an OBC, or Sumitra Valmiki, a Dalit, to the Rajya Sabha, or the election of Draupadi Murmu, a tribal, as the President of India, has antagonised the general voters, and they don’t see [their] representation anywhere. Such disparaging remarks further aggravates the upper caste voter, especially at a time when we are recovering from the mayoral losses in the same Gwalior-Chambal region that happens to be Mr. Lodhi’s home turf as well. Upper caste anger may come back to haunt us,” the party functionary said.  

The party acknowledges that the story is not over yet. Mr. Lodhi’s own stature notwithstanding, his association with former Chief Minister and senior leader Uma Bharti, and the dominance of the Lodhi caste in Madhya Pradesh politics, will be factors to watch out for.

“Ms. Bharti and Union Minister Prahlad Patel, both come from the Lodhi caste, and so far, they haven’t reacted on the issue. If both of them join hands and publicly question the decision, things might get a little tangled,” the functionary said. 

Ms. Bharti was not available for a comment.  

Mr. Lodhi’s diatribe also had comments for Brahmin women, which could have potentially isolated women voters, the party fears. “They have played a significant role in keeping us in power for such a long period, and going into an election year, if Mr. Lodhi had got away with a lighter punishment or a warning, it would have necessitated even more damage control later,” he said. 

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