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Portents of Upper-caste Political Mobilisation

Urmilesh (urmilesh218@gmail.com) is a journalist and political commentator based in New Delhi.

In recent times, north and central India has witnessed protests against the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act led by the upper castes. These protests can be seen as part of a larger political consolidation of Brahmins and the upper castes in this region. What are the positions and manoeuvres adopted by major political forces which aid this consolidation?

[Translated from Hindi by Kishore Gaurav]
 

About two and a half decades after the tumultuous “Mandal–Kamandal” era, one witnesses a fervent mobilisation of the upper castes in the sociopolitical context in North and Central India. Owing to their near complete hold over the power structure, the economic system, the bureaucracy, the media and the other intellectual institutions in our society, the need for an upper-caste mobilisation or their caste-based movement has generally not been felt. If one takes into account the last three–four decades, one finds that the members of the upper castes have come out on the streets only when, owing to various reasons, the governments have announced some measures in favour of the Dalit–Adivasi or Other Backward Class (OBC) communities under affirmative action. In 1990, in the wake of the announcement of the ratification of the Mandal Commission recommendations, some individuals from the upper castes had created a ruckus in the entire North and Central India. To begin with, it was not a major or widespread opposition; but thanks to the overt support of the media and of some politicians and the covert support of the bureaucracy, it acquired a bigger form. Some political parties, too, used the turmoil to their partisan advantage. However, the kind of aggressive upper-caste mobilisation seen in 2017–18 in northern and central India is distinct from the earlier ones in many respects.

Protests in Madhya Pradesh

In the mobilisation that was seen at the time of “Mandal” against the government’s decision to extend reservation to the OBCs, it was the students and the youth who were brought to the forefront. But, there is no such context to the present situation. Nothing new is being extended to any class or community. In this case, in fact, that which was already available is sought to be snatched away or watered down. These days demonstrations, conferences, bandhs, sit-ins and anshan, are being openly organised under the banner of Brahmin Sabha or savarna samaj. After the 2 April bandh called by the local Dalit–tribal organisations against the dilution of the Scheduled Castes (scs) and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act (POA), the organisations of the upper castes too tried to organise a bandh. For the purpose, the names of various OBC organisations were also cited in solidarity; however, such OBC organisations clarified through announcements in public and on social media that they are not in support of the Bharat bandh called by the upper-caste organisations. Neither did any major political organisation express overt support to the bandh called by the upper castes, though local leaders of Hindutva organisations were seen and heard working and speaking in favour of the bandh. It was indeed their activists who were seen managing the organisational aspects of the bandh. Popular katha-vaachaks and religious gurus from various places, including Mathura–Vrindavan, Benaras, Bhopal, Ujjain and Jaipur were heard speaking against the POA or against reservations in promotions.

The aggressive sections of the upper castes have even earlier raised their voices against the POA. Hindutva politics has given it organised encouragement. Every mobilisation of the upper castes, generally, places at its target the Dalits–OBCs or issues like reservation. One may recall that in 2015, just before the Bihar assembly elections, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat had, through one of his interviews, ignited the situation by his opinions regarding the review of reservations. Despite the tireless efforts of the duo of Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had to face a comprehensive defeat in that election. Thenceforth, the major BJP–RSS leaders pronounce themselves cautiously on the issue of reservations and they reiterate their commitment to its continuance. However, this, in no way, is the case with the attitude of the local and ground-level leaders–activists of the BJP–Sangh. Their approach is generally seen to be aggressive vis-à-vis Dalit–Adivasi or OBCissues. A glance at the official data with the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) also confirms the same. After 2014, in most of the states of north and central India, incidents of atrocities against the Dalits have been rapidly on the rise. BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh (MP) witnessed the highest rate of growth of such crimes (Indian Express 2018). Out of all the atrocities/crimes committed against the SCs, 12.1% of the crimes take place in MP alone (India Today 2017). During the recent Bharat bandh called by the upper castes, the highest number of incidents of violence and disturbance was reported in MP. After major protests by the Dalits–Adivasis, the government at the centre had to get a bill passed in Parliament in order to render void the judgment passed by the court. It has been notified by the President. Despite this, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, for the appeasement of the upper castes, especially of the feudal Brahmin–Thakur lobby of MP, announced that the “stringent” provisions of the POA will not be implemented in MP. There were no comments regarding this from the Prime Minister or the ‘’Dalit’’ President of the country. During 2017–18, especially since April to September 2018, everywhere in north and central India, the upper-caste mobilisation was led by individuals belonging to the Brahmin community. Currently, this community is also considered the most vociferous supporter of the BJP.

Upper-caste Appeasement

In such times, the position and the trajectory of the other political parties also ends up benefiting the Hindutva–upper caste agenda. The largest opposition party, which still links itself to the legacy of Gandhi–Nehru, also clearly appears to be under the pressure of the Hindutva–upper caste agenda in the name of tackling new political challenges. As the assembly elections draw closer gradually, it has been seen indulging in the appeasement of the upper-caste Hindu community in MP, Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (UP). Some days back, the highest office-bearer of the media and campaign department of the Congress party, Randeep Surjewala, who is also perceived to be Rahul Gandhi’s special political adviser, said in a caste meeting in Haryana: “Don’t forget that in Congress party’s blood there runs a Brahmin’s DNA’’ (Firstpost 2018). The MP Congress Chief Kamal Nath said in a public meeting that if the Congress comes to power in the state, then in every district they would set up a major gaushala (Sharma 2018). This is not the individual initiative or a reaction of a handful of Congress politicians in which one clearly perceives their Hindutva tilt; rather, the manner in which the Congress advisers–strategists displayed the janeu of their young, national president on public platforms, or made him do temple parikramas and finally during the Karnataka elections sent him to Kailash–Mansarovar in order to express his gratitude to Lord Shiva for having saved him from a possible helicopter crash, gives concrete evidence of the desire of the Congress to endear itself to the “upper-caste Hindus.” The party’s strategists think that it can woo the Hindu upper castes angered by the increased participation of the OBCs, etc, in the “social engineering” of the BJP and thereby regain a part of its lost upper-caste support base. They have no idea in what ways they are contributing to the Hindutva road map of achieving the “Hindu rashtra” because of this false belief of theirs.

As far as the Sangh–BJP is concerned, they appear consistent in their thinking and their strategy. They are assured that their upper-caste base will certainly not stray away from them because of their so-called “social engineering.” Their social engineering is an electoral strategy, not a policy of “social inclusion.” From the experience of the last four years, the upper-caste Hindus of the Hindi belt appear to be largely satisfied with the policies of the Sangh and with the major decisions of the BJP government. Anexample of the shrewdness with which the present government has rendered meaningless the reservation policy can be seen in all the universities–colleges of the Hindi belt. With appointments being made as per the new roster, the appointment of teachers belonging to the Dalit–OBC community has come to a near standstill. Despite the governmental assurance that such injustice would not be allowed to be done to the Dalit–OBC community, the new roster system continues to be in practice. Despite the issue being raised in Parliament and the minister for human resources development having to issue an assurance to the effect that injustice would not be allowed to be done, in universities–colleges across Benaras, Allahabad, Gorakhpur and Bhopal, appointments through the new roster continued unabated. In this process, instead of the university or the institution, the department or the centre was taken as the unit for preparing the roster. This led to an automatic reduction in the number of reserved seats. Being relatively better educated and trained, this step by the government had a great impact amongst the upper castes. The upper castes gained the impression that the BJP-led governments do for them more than what they actually proclaim to do. The confidence of the upper castes in the BJP arises not just from the Mandir–Kamandal agitation; it is by virtue of the likes of the above-mentioned concrete socio-economic policy positions/manoeuvres, that it has evolved as the most dependable and the most favoured party of the upper castes of the Hindi belt. Since the BJP government has ascended to power in UP, a specific pattern is visible from appointments to arrests.

Brahmin Power in Uttar Pradesh

In a state like UP, since quite a long time, instead of the development of a civil society a strange type of society based on the contradiction of caste-based enmity is developing. During the rule of Mayawati, a big chunk of the upper caste population felt that she worked only for the Dalits and neglected the upper castes. Mayawati too immediately addressed this anger amongst the upper castes. Through her special adviser, Satish Chandra Mishra, she began to organise Brahmin conferences at various places. In order to strengthen its hold in electoral politics, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) started to raise the slogan of sarvajan instead of bahujan. Something akin to this was seen during the period of the governments of Mulayam Singh Yadav or Akhilesh Yadav.

During its rule, the Samajwadi Party (SP), in order to address the grievances of the upper castes, not only ended the three-tier reservation system but also relieved of his post the then secretary of the state Public Service Commission, Anil Yadav. Mulayam and Mayawati, for the “appeasement” (one must show gratefulness to the Sangh–BJP for giving currency to this word) of the Brahmins, even went to the extent of promising that they will soon extend reservations to the upper castes. Although they were wholly aware that such an announcement would be unconstitutional, both the parties made repeated announcements to this effect. Mayawati, in fact, still keeps repeating this announcement every other day. To trace the reasons behind this, it is important to understand the unique specifics of the sociopolitical landscape of UP. According to a non-governmental estimate, UP is the third among the states where the percentage population of the upper castes, especially of the Brahmins, is in double digits. In UP, their stronghold over the administrative, judicial, intellectual-cultural and economic spheres is still in place. There is a great deal of a split amongst the OBCs. They do not have any unified political forum, nor do they have any specific political direction. The BJP has succeeded, by virtue of its social engineering, to secure the support from castes like the Kushwaha–Maurya and Rajbhar. The Dalits are, more or less, with the BSP.

This social landscape is currently favourable to the upper-caste–Hindutva politics of the Sangh–BJP. But, if the Dalit–OBC–Muslim social alliance—which can get strengthened by the political alliance of SP–BSP—fructifies into reality for the next Lok Sabha elections, it will compound the difficulties of the Sangh–BJP and it can mount an immediate challenge to their upper-caste–Hindutva political agenda. Even though Akhilesh and Mayawati, as leaders, might not be very reliable or have a coherent ideological position, the pressure of their social basis can force them to unite against the upper-caste–Hindutva agenda of the BJP. However, it should be kept in mind that at this juncture, at the ideological level, one does not see a pro-people, coherent and concrete political stream or forum against the upper-caste–Hindutva political agenda of the Sangh–BJP in north and central India.

References

Firstpost (2018): “Congress Claims Brahmin Samaj Runs in Party’s Blood: Surejwala Alludes to ‘Gods and Demons’ as He Compares Rahul to BJP Leaders,’’ 5 September, https://www.firstpost.com/politics/congress-claims-brahmin-samaj-runs-in....

India Today (2017): ‘‘5 BJP Ruled States Have Highest Crime Rates against Dalits, Reveals NCRB Data,’’ 30 Novemner, https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/ncrb-data-reveals-5-bjp-ruled-stat...–2017–11–30.

Indian Express (2018): “Bihar Has Highest Rate of Crime against SC/STs, Bengal Lowest: NCRB Data,’’ 14 April, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/crimes-against-sc-sts-140-higher....

Sharma, Aman (2018): “MP Congress Chief Kamal Nath Promises Gaushalas amid BJP’s Gau Sadan-opening Spree,” Economic Times, 5 September, economictimes.indiatimes.com/articleshow/65678942.cms?utm_source=contentofinterest&utm_medium =text&utm_campaign=cppst.

Updated On : 26th Nov, 2018

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