The cracks in U.P.’s ‘socially engineered’ caste wall

There could be an electoral fallout with backward communities feeling a sense of estrangement with Hindutva politics

January 19, 2022 12:02 am | Updated 01:02 pm IST

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath walks back after the inspection of Purvanchal expressway in Sultanpur district, India, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the 211 miles (341) kilometers long expressway Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath walks back after the inspection of Purvanchal expressway in Sultanpur district, India, Monday, Nov. 15, 2021. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to inaugurate the 211 miles (341) kilometers long expressway Tuesday. (AP Photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh)

Of all the five State Assembly elections to be held soon, it is perhaps the one in Uttar Pradesh that is drawing the most attention. Expressing confidence that his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government and also party would retain power, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath alluded to this in his recent statement, ‘80 per cent versus 20 per cent’. The intention is clear — to polarise the upcoming elections on communal lines in order to win. After his controversial statement generated much political heat, Mr. Adityanath tried to give his statement a very different interpretation. Apart from such polarisation, he had great faith in the caste-based ‘social engineering’ of the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

But last week, the unthinkable happened when cracks began emerging in the famed ‘social engineering’ of the BJP-RSS in Uttar Pradesh. There was shock and surprise when several Ministers and MLAs, including BJP leader Dharam Singh Saini and senior Minister Swami Prasad Maurya resigned from the party. Many of them have joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) and there is much speculation about more BJP leaders resigning. Most of these leaders are from the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBC). In recent years, the BJP-RSS combine, under their so-called social engineering agenda, had campaigned to connect the non-Yadav backward castes to ‘Hindutva politics’. There is no doubt that it was successful in this to a great extent.

The BJP is a party that has not only won most elections in recent years but also has strong financial and organisational roots. In the last five years too, has not Uttar Pradesh been labelled the ‘new laboratory of the RSS’? Among the top leaders and strategists, Mr. Adityanath has also been considered the ‘most eligible face’ for the post of Prime Minister after Narendra Modi. Last year, an ‘RSS intellectual’, in an informal chat, told me that whether the Indian Constitution is changed or not, if Mr. Adityanath becomes the Prime Minister, India will effectively be called a ‘Hindu Rashtra’ due to his ‘saffron attire’ and ‘unwavering commitment to Hindutva’. It is under this Yogi Maharaj that we are now witnessing an exodus — with speculation of more resignations — of MLAs and even Ministers from his own Council of Ministers.

The most surprising thing is that apart from the central and State agencies, the RSS’s own network did not seem to have any inkling of this rebellion by so many Ministers-MLAs from the backward classes. The key questions are: Is this ‘rebellion’ reflective of the typical pre-election party-hopping when MLAs do not get their preferred tickets? Or is this a sign of something deeper? That the social base of the BJP-RSS among the OBCs in U.P. is indeed fragmenting?

From ‘Mandal’ to ‘Kamandal’

Sangh and BJP strategists have often proclaimed that even in a big State like U.P. — just as in Gujarat or Madhya Pradesh — they have split a large section of the backward population from ‘Mandal politics’ and brought them completely within the ambit of Kamandal politics, i.e., Hindutva. If this is true, then how does one explain why leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan or Dharam Singh Saini, who have had no trouble regarding their own ticket or tickets for their supporters in the BJP, rebelled against the party?

A writer friend based in Lucknow who shares a very close relationship with Swami Prasad Maurya (they hail from the same social background) had this to say when I asked him about the Minister’s political mood; this happened when Mr. Maurya was still a Minister: “After Maurya ji joined the BJP, I stopped visiting him. The Minister talks of keeping in touch, but I have clearly told him that it is not possible to have an easy relationship with him till he remains in the Hindutva party!” This is just an instance of how these leaders were perceived to be turning untrustworthy and unpopular in their own social base. For the last five to seven years, Dalit and backward communities have begun feeling a sense of estrangement with the politics of Hindutva, especially on the question of a reasonable share in the economic and social spheres, and in governance and employment, instead of the dominant ‘communal-secular’ discourse. But top BJP leaders were not ready to understand this process or even address it, confident that Prime Minister Modi’s eloquent speeches, the RSS’s ubiquitous network, the BJP’s money power and its election management ability would be able to overcome these issues. But now, the BJP leadership is baffled and upset by the rebellion of OBC leaders.

Factors behind a waning

My assessment is that the appeal of the BJP’s Hindutva politics among U.P’s backward classes has been gradually waning. First, there is an absence of an effective and authentic OBC leader at the Centre. In U.P. too, there is no such leader. Due to his ineffective reach under Mr. Adityanath’s chief ministership, Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has remained irrelevant. The BJP only used him to deliver communal rhetoric. Mr. Modi may have called himself an OBC at one point of time. But now, no one in States with a dense population of OBCs, such as U.P. and Bihar, considers him an OBC. After the farmers’ movement, he is now seen by the OBC farming communities to be more a representative of big corporates and Hindutva, i.e., the ideology of ‘conservative upper-caste Hindus’.

The 103rd Constitutional Amendment to give 10% reservation to upper caste Economically Weaker Sections (EWS) has also contributed in denting the Prime Minister’s ‘OBC image’. Such an extra-constitutional amendment was deemed to have been enacted under pressure from the RSS, leading to strong protests by OBC youth on social media.

The manner in which the OBC reservation was thrown into jeopardy admission to the all India medical courses, etc., also created resentment against the BJP. In this case, the efforts of a regional party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, to restore reservation has drawn applause from among the backwards in U.P. and Bihar. Social media has been flooded with complimentary messages for Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin from the Hindi-speaking backward populations. Another episode related to reservation which has pitted the vocal section of OBCs against the BJP has been the initiative of dividing OBC reservation into categories, this time based on the report of Justice G. Rohini Commission — some backward leaders of the BJP have made critical remarks against this endeavour.

Issues in agriculture, census

OBCs, like every other community, have also been deeply troubled by inflation and unemployment. The official figures of unemployment highlight the alarming situation in U.P. Due to a controversial decision taken by the Yogi Adityanath government, farms are being affected by non-milch or surplus animals, causing damage to the agricultural profession. In a State like U.P., OBCs take up the largest share of the population in agriculture. In response to a Right to Information (RTI) query on the beneficiaries of the Pradhan Mantri KIsan SAmman Nidhi (PM-KISAN) scheme, the Union Agriculture Ministry said that OBCs account for 41.5% of the people involved in farming in India. In my estimate, this number in U.P. will not be less than 52%. Apart from Punjab and Haryana, western U.P. was also one of the most affected by the farmers’ movement, but the entire farming community in U.P. experienced its fervour. OBC farmers have been angry with the way farmers were repressed during the movement.

The third and important reason has been the BJP and the central government’s categorical denial of their earlier decision regarding caste census. There is now great resentment among the backwards and numerous rallies, seminars and press conferences on this issue have been held in many areas that include Varanasi, Ghazipur, Jaunpur, Azamgarh and Lucknow.

Now, Ambedkar’s ideology

The fourth reason is that in the last few years, a growing section of OBC youth in the entire Hindi-speaking region, including U..P, has come under the influence of Dr. B.R. Ambedkar’s ideology. Till a few years ago, the names of Narayana Guru, Ayyankali, Periyar, Jyotiba Phule, Shahu Ji Maharaj, Savitribai Phule, Fatima Sheikh, etc. were known to only a few intellectuals. Today, their names and their work resonate in almost every village in the Hindi-speaking region as a result of efforts made by educated youth from the Dalit and backward community. Social media too has been a catalyst.

In the post-2014 era, the ideology of social justice has been publicised and disseminated more by the youth of these communities, and not by leaders such as the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Mayawati and the SP’s Akhilesh Yadav in U.P. Due to various reasons, these two leaders have not been very vocal about their basic politics of social justice. One of the reasons could be their worry about the reopening of cases by central agencies.

But lakhs of Dalit and OBC youth community are obviously unafraid. The impact of their campaign has not only had an impact on officers, teachers, lawyers or farmers from a Dalit and OBC background, but also felt by leaders who have been continuously ‘bowing to’ the BJP after 2014 for reasons such as a government post (and its accompanying social prestige), or for economic and political success. All these factors have loomed large over the ‘social engineering’ of the BJP-RSS combine in U.P. What will happen next is hard to say. It can be safe to say that the ruling party in U.P. will not find this election to be easy.

Urmilesh is a Delhi-based independent journalist and writer, and a former Executive Editor of Rajya Sabha TV (RSTV). His recent books (Hindi) are ‘Ghazipur Mein Cristopher Caudwell’ and ‘Mam Ka Gaon Godse Ki Gali’. The article was translated from Hindi by Awanish Kumar, British Academy Newton International Fellow, University of Edinburgh

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