By Abdul Bari Masoud
Instead of focusing on the ‘mis-governance and massive failures’ of the Yogi Adityanath government on all fronts, the Opposition parties are indulging in competitive appeasement of Brahmins, the ‘most privileged class’, in the politically crucial state of Uttar Pradesh as the time or Assembly elections in the State is coming nigh.
The perceived ‘discontent’ among Brahmins over the Yogi Adityanath regime’s ‘anti-Brahmin’ policies is driving even the so-called social justice parties such as Samajwadi Party (SP), and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to court them. Needless to say about the two ‘upper-caste’ dominated parties, Congress and BJP.
Numerically, Brahmins are not a formidable caste and constitute a little fewer than 10 per cent of the state’s population but unlike other castes, and because of their religious and social positioning, they can play an important role in creating favourable atmosphere for a political party. To top it all they vote en masse without attracting ‘vote bank’ slur. Because of this nature of their voting behaviour, a mad scramble among the entire major parties is going on to woo them.
It seems that the vote bank politics in India’s largest state is taking a turn from the Bahujans to the Brahmins. After the implementation of the Mandal report, the state emerged as the main battle ground between the social justice forces and status quoist forces. But with the emergence of Modi factor, the latter once again got upper hand in the state politics as leaders cutting across the political parties from Mayawati to Akhilesh Yadav to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra are cajoling these politically dominant Brahmins, who occupy nearly 60 per cent positions of power and privilege without any crutches of reservation.
The BSP took the lead in this mad-race. On July 23, the party leader and former chief minister Mayawati kicked off the ‘Brahmin Sammelan’ from Ayodhya. Though the event was later renamed as ‘Seminar in honour of the enlightened class’, it is clearly being seen as the BSP’s attempt to woo the Brahmin voters of the state. Since then, the BSP has organised a series of meetings which culminated on September 7 in Lucknow. In Ayodhya the party’s Brahmin face, Satish Mishra promised support for construction of Ram Mandir, which is being built on the land where historic Babri Masjid once stood. It is seen as another gesture to lure the upper caste voters.
In its initial days under the leadership of its founder Kanshi Ram, BSP used to raise the provocative slogan, Tilak tarazu aur talwar, inko maro jute char (Brahmin, Baniya and Thakur, thrash them with shoes). However, after the demise of Kanshi Ram in 2006, Mayawati has begun weakening the party’s social justice plank. Even for the sake of its so-called ‘social engineering’, she had stoutly denied that BSP raised this slogan at any point of time and the Opposition was raising the issue to malign BSP.
Her latest outreach does not come as a surprise for many as it’s a work in progress for her party since 2007 when the party won 206 seats out of 403 assembly seats. It fielded 80 Brahmin candidates in 2007, out of which 46 were elected. It wants to repeat this experiment. For this, it coined a new slogan, Brahman shankh bajayega, haathi aage jaayega (the Brahmin will blow the conch and the elephant will march forward).
But, analysts term it as an attempt to revive the sagging prospects of the party, which secured only 18 seats in the 2017 assembly elections. They feel that the slogan may not work anymore as the Brahmin voters are a very shrewd lot.
Not to be left behind in the race, the Samajwadi Party is also enticing this highly privileged community by holding a series of Brahmin meetings across the state. Recently, the party held a ‘Shiv Sevak Sammelan’ in Ballia as part of its attempt to expand its base.
The party has also set up ‘Bhagwan Parshuram Trust’, supported by SP leader Abhishek Mishra to build Parshuram temple in each district of Uttar Pradesh. Parshuram is believed to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. The party spokesperson Ghanshyam Tiwari contends that the party is not trying to entice Brahmins or playing competitive politics of appeasement.
“We are not looking at Brahmins as a vote bank. Our party stands for every caste and community and we focus on development and harmony of the state. There is a sustained campaign against Brahmins, which is initiated by the BJP government. Our leaders are reaching out to them by interactions, summits and conferences,” says Tiwari.
The Congress also jumped into this bandwagon which had undertaken a yatra in different parts in the state through a little known outfit ‘Brahman Chetna Parishad’ to launch what the grand old party called a “campaign for justice” for the community. The new entrant, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is also holding ‘Chanakya Vichar Sammelans’ for the similar purpose. Since holding caste based meetings have been banned, the political parties named their meetings differently, though it is meant for a particular caste only.
Perturbed by these programmes, the BJP also has started two week long ‘Prabudh varg sammelans’ across the state.
Though BSP and SP hope to reconnect with Brahmin voters, surveys show that the BJP has enjoyed unstinted support from upper castes, including Brahmins since Mandal politics took centre stage in 1989. Though the Brahmin community staunchly supported the Congress till 1989, political equations have changed thereafter, says senior journalist Jai Shankar Gupta, who hails from eastern UP.
According to Satish Prakash, an UP based analyst, Brahmin voters are mostly aligned with power and not with any political party who are floating voters. He says, “In 2007, they voted for BSP and brought Mayawati to power. In 2012, they helped SP’s Akhilesh Yadav to become Chief Minister and from 2014, they have shifted loyalties to the BJP.”
But Prof Gilles Verniers, a professor of political science and co-director of TCPD at Ashoka University, contests the theory that it’s Brahmins who swung the votes in 2007 for the BSP and SP in 2012 elections respectively.
“Going by CSDS numbers, only 17 per cent of Brahmins voted for the BSP in 2007. It’s not a big swing. What makes elections unpredictable is that small variations can have large effects in the first past post system,” says Prof Verniers.
Echoing this contention, Gupta told Radiance that Brahmins by and large are against any affirmative action for the backwards, so they do not support such parties wholeheartedly which run on the social justice plank.
A survey by Lokniti-CSDS reflects this reality. According to it, the BJP not only received more than 40 per cent of the total votes, but also got a massive support from Brahmins. An estimated 72 per cent of the Brahmins voted for the BJP in 2014. This trend was again repeated in the 2017 assembly and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections when the party got 80 per cent and 82 per cent of Brahmin votes respectively.
Despite overwhelmingly supporting the BJP, the Brahmin community has a grudge against the BJP leadership that any member from their community was not made the CM. Last time in 1989, ND Tiwari became the CM. After losing the CM’s race to a Thakur who is considered “anti-Brahmin”, several Brahmin leaders openly say how they are being ‘marginalised’ after the Yogi Government came to power in 2017. They are losing political clout over Thakurs.
Even the ruling party’s several Brahmin MLAs too had expressed concern over the way the community members were being treated by the Yogi dispensation.
BJP MLA Deomani Dwivedi alleged that many ‘Brahmins’ were killed in police encounters in the state. The killing of notorious don and gangster Vikas Dubey in a police encounter and other alleged atrocities against the community also has deepened the schism between the two.
While BJP leadership maintained that they are not flustered by SP and BSP outreach programmes but it enticed former union minister and Brahmin leader Jitin Prasada to defect from Congress into its fold to quell the growing anger of Brahmins.
Sensing that the ‘Brahmins’ are ‘angry’ with the BJP, opposition parties started cajoling them. Advocate Sharfuddin Ahmad blamed this state of politics in UP on former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who committed political follies by opening gates of the Babri Masjid to revive the Brahminical agenda.
Ahmad, who is the national vice president of Social Democratic Party of India (SDP) and has been with BSP, told Radiance that almost all the political parties are now openly indulging in appeasement of Brahmins or purposefully avoiding the issues of social justice in fear of growing leverage of Brahminical power.
It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in UP as all political parties are indulging in vote bank politics which divide the society on communal and caste line and disturb the social fabric, said Dr S Q R Ilyas, national President Welfare Party of India (WPI). Instead of raising issues of people, highlighting the misdeeds of the present BJP government in the state, they are only thinking in terms of caste-equation, he lamented.
Empowering the SC/ST and OBC was on the political agenda of all the parties but BJP through its social engineering manipulated the caste equation in UP without educational and economic empowerment of these groups and succeeded in pushing the social justice agenda on the back burner, Dr Ilyas told Radiance.
However, Gupta says these efforts of BSP and SP would not bear any fruit for them as Brahmins will never side in large numbers with them who matter only in Awadh and Purvanchal regions of the state.