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Wooing Brahmins as vote-bank - Politics in U.P.

nabadip - Fri, 06 May 2005 23:36:39 +0530
Wooing Brahmins in name of Parshuram

Vijay Upadhyay/ Agra

Once known as the icon of "Brahmin pride", Lord Parshuram is now the centre of a tug-of-war ensuing between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party to get the "BJP's Brahmins" to ride on an "Elephant" or a "Bicycle".

At this crucial point, when the outcome of the Kheragarh by-elections in Agra could depend upon the inclination of the Brahmin vote-bank, "Lord Parshuram" has come as a saviour for both these parties with his birth-anniversary falling just in time on 11th May, a month before the Kheragarh by-polls.

Suddenly, images of this Brahmin idol are sweeping Agra. While the BSP hoardings are placed strategically all over the city featuring Lord Parshuram with the party leader Kanshi Ram, the Samajwadi Party is not far behind in publicising the fact that it was the Mulayam Singh Government that officially recognised the importance of this mythological Brahmin icon by declaring the "Parshuram Jayanti" as a state holiday.

Apparently, all this exercise is centred over the Kheragarh seat that was held by Rameshkant Lavania, a Brahmin BJP MLA, hoping that the Brahmin community will play an important role in the electoral conquest on this seat which shall go for by-polls on 2nd June.

Traditionally, the Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh have been a vote - bank of the BJP while both the SP and BSP kept this large & powerful community at an arm's distance, remaining centred in their own constricted caste-circles of Yadavs and Dalits. So far in the caste equation in the state, the BSP had opted to extend its patronage to the large Dalit community only and this patronage extended to such an extent that the BSP conclaves are nick-named "Jatav Panchayats".

But the winds of change was evident from the "Brahmin Sammelan" called by the BSP in Agra on Sunday which showed a significant Brahmin following that this party has been able to capture in the recent years.

Similarly, the Samajwadi Party too had opted to become the party of backward castes and most predominantly, Yadavs. But while the Yadav community boasts of a large population in the Mainpuri-Etawah belt, the party had rarely made any advances in Agra due to the poor representation of the Yadav community in this "urbanised" district. This drought ended only when Samajwadi Party too decided to move out of the constraints of being a "Yadavwadi party" and openly embraced the Vaishyas & Brahmins, two large community groups of this region. While the party has been able to attract the Vaishya community, the Brahmins still remain aloof. Dr Sri Bhagwan Sharma, a Brahmin leader who participated in the BSP sponsored "Brahmin Sammelan" claims that the Brahmins are willing to extend their full support to any party that offers them with a political representation but the question of Brahmin honour is foremost and the community shall not tolerate any attempts from both these parties to belittle its importance.
nabadip - Sun, 12 Jun 2005 23:56:37 +0530
BSP's bait to Brahmins

Subodh Ghildiyal/ The Pioneer, New Delhi

If conch shells and tilaks at Bahujan Samaj Party's well-attended Brahmin rally confounded the rivals and critics alike, they probably missed out the ambitious strategy on which the Dalit leader Mayawati is working - Exploiting the resentment among Brahmins over their dwindling representation in the politics of Uttar Pradesh. by promising them a share in power and leadership, the Dalit leader has gambled on the Dalit-Brahmin synthesis which, if it works out , could once again dramatically alter the political landscape of the heartland.

Brahmins form part of a calculated strategy by Mayawati which is at odds with those who doubt that the party screaming "tilak, tarazu aur talwar; inko maro joote char" can win them over with "haathi nahin ganesh hai, brahma, vishnu mahesh hai". The bait of power, observers feel, may tempt the Brahmins - the foremost among uppercastes - whose clout in politics has dipped sharply with the rise in the influence of backward castes and Dalits. Tactful, the Brahmins drifted from the Congress to the BJP in the phase of its growth during the Ram Mandir years. The BSP is hopeful that the saffron party's marginalisation is pushing the Brahmins towards a new patron with potential for power.

With the community ceding the political primacy to other social segments, the possibility of Brahmins as 'floating votes' was lucidly hinted by noted political scientist Zoya Hasan in her research Quest for Power. Tracing the peak of their influence, Ms Hasan found that 28 per cent of Congress MLAs in 1952 were Brahmins and the number rose to 30 per cent in 1962. While one-fifth of Congress MLAs were Brahmins, half of them were from uppercastes. Besides the power structure, the party's organisation too was firmly in the hands of Brahmins, accounting for 42 of the 70 district presidents. She found that Brahmins, Thakurs and Vaishyas dominated the six cabinets formed between 1952 and 1974.

Shift in power structure and social unheaval saw the Brahmins change loyalty to the new power aspirant - the BJP. Researcher Christophe Jaffrelot has found that Brahmins and uppercastes came to dominate the new party of power. In 1991, the first Kalyan Singh cabinet reflected the change. Eighty nine per cent of upper-castes were awarded ministerial berths with independent charge. It was clear that Brahmins were clearly mobilised behind the BJP, which had substantial support of the OBCs with Kalyan Singh at the helm.

The rise of BSP and Samajwadi Party saw the BJP look towards dalits for a social alliance with OBCs and uppercastes.

Installation of Mayawati as chief minister in 1995 was a strategy to woo the dalits. It did not pay off and only nine per cent dalits voted for BJP in 1996 assembly elections.

BSP's wooing of uppercastes (Brahmins) is an attempt to break the saturated caste mobilisations of UP and the opportunity has been offered by the marginalisation of BJP, reduced to 89 MLAs from the unassailable premier position in the 2002 assembly elections and only nine MPs in 2004 Lok Sabha polls. Not surprisingly, SP too has tried and succeeded with Thakurs..

Whether the Brahmins will bite the bait remains to be seen but some unease in the rival camps is palpable. BJP president Kesharinath Tripathi has wondered why Mayawati brought down the government headed by a Brahmin Atal Bihari Vajpayee if she had such love for the community. The SP, too, has betrayed similar fears. A further stress on BSP's Brahmin rhetoric can fuel the fears further.

But the targetting of Brahmins has been planned shrewdly contrary to the view that it would confuse the party's core votebank, the dalits. The Brahmin rally on June 9 was preceded by the inauguration of the 'Prerna kendra' with an all-India workers' meeting on June 3. The unveiling of the lifesize statues of dalit icons was marked by detailed Buddhist rituals conducted by monks. The message was loud and clear on both the occasions.

nabadip - Fri, 01 Jul 2005 23:42:38 +0530
UP's caste cauldron is boiling

CP Bhambhri
(The author is a retired Professor of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi)

The Pioneer, Delhi

Uttar Pradesh's special place in India's national life is owed not just to the fact that 80 of the country's 543 seats in the Lok Sabha are located here but also because it is bang in the middle of the Hindi heartland. Its proximity to Delhi also makes it the "real" centre of power in India. So much for truisms which should be recalled when important developments unfold.

Like the one which happened on June 9 when Mayawati, the uncrowned queen of the Dalits of UP, sought to extend her party, the BSP's,social base by organising an impressive "Brahmin Sammelan" at Lucknow. Not only were Brahminical rituals performed on the occasion, but Mayawati also joined her favourite slogan, Jai Bhim with Jai Parashuram, a Brahminical innuendo.

Mayawati wanted to send the message loud and clear that the BSP also cares for the Brahmin community. Ambiguous slogans such as Yeh haathi nahin, Ganesh hain, Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh hain were raised. So, was she abandoning her "Dalit-oriented" ideology by joining forces with the Brahmins? After all, Kanshi Ram, Mayawati's mentor, had founded the BSP on April 4, 1984, with "DS4" (Dalit Soshit Samaj Sangarh Sangarh) to fight the domination of the minority upper castes over the majority Dalit Bahujan Samaj. What has happened to Mayawati? Isn't she the one who always targetted the Manuvadis, as the "oppressors" of the Dalits? She emerged as a tall leader of the Shoshit Varg in UP who look to her as their champion and protector. It deserves to be stated that when she became chief minister for the first time in 1993, she had said, "I am not a leader of Bahujan Samaj but of the whole society." But her politics was solidly linked with the distinct social constituency of Dalits and Jatwas. Is it a new avatar of Mayawati when she said at the Brahmin rally "jiski jitni taiyaari hogi, uski utni bhagidari hogi"?

Mayawati has announced that the so-called upper caste will be given party tickets as "partners" of the Dalit castes. This is not the end of the story. Mayawati extended her hand of friendship towards the "poor Brahmins" and she criticised the political leaders drawn from them for not doing enough for their impoverished brethren. She continued that upper caste leaders had only cared for their family and close friends. "What has Atal Bihari Vajpayee done for the uplift of Brahmins in his own state?", she said. In keeping with her new formula, Mayawati unambiguously stated that seats will be allotted to Brahmins on a proportionate basis.

Political leaders who are involved in the cut throat politics of parliamentary democracy do not make shifts or carry out fresh adjustments in an absent-minded manner. Political parties have necessarily got to grow or else they face the threat of extinction. And growth depends on their capacity to adapt and respond to the changing social reality at the grassroots levels.

The Rashstriya Lok Dal of Ajit Singh remains confined to the same agrarian society of Western UP and continues to be identified with the Jats. Every effort made by Ajit Singh, and before him his father, the late Charan Singh, to extend their area of influence outside western UP to the state's other regions failed miserably because the party and its leaders were identified only with the Jat agrarians and that too drawn from a particular sub-region. They raised the demand for the creation of a new state called "Harit Pradesh" to realise their dream of establishing a hereditary chief ministership.

If, on the one hand, one casteist party like the RLD has shown its incapacity to broaden its social base, the old Congress of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, GB Pant, Sapurnanand and CB Gupta have been completely decimated in UP. Its alliance with the upper castes, the Dalits and the Muslims is not only in a shambles, every sign of revival eludes it. Mulayam Singh Yadav displaced the Congress in UP in 1989 by creating an alternative social alliance of intermediate peasant castes, particularly the Yadavs, and, in the process, he began attracting other social groups who were completely disenchanted by the Congress after supporting it almost unceasingly from 1947 to 1989 (the exception was in 1967 and 1977).

VP Singh, who had been Congress chief minister in the late 1970s-early 1980s, laid the foundations for the burial of the party by dramatically announcing the acceptance of reservations for the backward castes in public institutions in 1990 when he was a purely temporary Prime Minister for only 10 months. Uttar Pradesh witnessed the complete mandalisation of society and polity and an already caste-divided and caste-conscious society was completely frozen into castes and sub-caste loyalties. The first beneficiary of this was Mulayam because he had organised a powerful intermediate peasant caste of Yadavs and attracted Muslims who completely shifted from the Congress, which was perceived by them to be practicing "soft Hindutva". The Muslims wanted a party with a leader who could take an uncompromising stand against the BJP, and Mulayam emerged as a great champion of their interests.

The ascendancy of intermediate peasant castes like Yadavs or Jats was a danger signal for the Dalits and the landless scheduled castes who were victims of the tyranny of the backward caste peasantry in rural society. A clear political space emerged for the BSP, a party of the Dalits, and Uttar Pradesh politics of the 1990s witnessed the emergence of a political triangle of Mulayam, Mayawati and the forces of Hindutva. In this social trifurcation, the first to be completely marginalised was the Congress. Mulayam Singh Yadav's social constituency is represented by castes which are perceived as "oppressors" of the Dalits in rural UP. Mayawati's BSP filled in the need for a Dalit party to counter the Yadav party of Mulayam. Meanwhile, the Muslims of UP, moved over to Mulayam's side. The emergence of Mayawati as a Dalit party leader also attracted a section of them.

But in 2005, UP politics seems to be shifting away from the BJP-SP-BSP triangle to a contest between two major contenders, the SP and the BSP. The BJP is emerging as a marginal third player. The premise of Mulayam and Mayawati is that the BJP has reached its political plateau in UP and the Ram Temple frenzy is dead. To them the time is opportune to woo the so-called higher castes who had formed the constituency of the BJP. The logic of democratic and competitive politics is that competing contenders for power make calculations about the assets and weaknesses of political opponents. The first signal came from the Rajput/Thakur castes of UP and Amar Singh, a Rajput leader of the SP and comrade-in-arms of Mulayam, made inroads into his caste constituency to wean them away from the declining BJP. Mulayam launched his present term as chief minster with a shaky support base. Following the principle that an enemy's enemy could be a friend, he released from jail the notorious Raja Bhaiya, an alleged Thakur criminal, who Mayawati had sent to jail. To top it, Mulayam made him a minister by declaring Raja Bhaiya a "liberator"!

Mayawati has proved to be a quick learner in politics and has come to power by keeping her eyes and ears open to the changing scene of UP politics. She reflected deeply on Mulayam's rise and saw through his gameplan. If Mulayam Singh created an electoral bloc with the Yadavs, Thakurs/Rajputs and Muslims, Mayawati had to mobilise an alternative social and electoral base to contain her arch political rival. This explains her strategy to win over the Brahmins who have no contradiction with the Dalits in the rural society of UP. The Yadav, Thakur/Rajput, Muslim supporters of Mulayam have to be opposed by Dalit, Brahmin and Muslim supporters of the BSP. This was the message of the Brahmin Maha Sammelam of June 9. The BSP leadership has launched Brahmin mobilisation rallies in the districts as well. The state is now witnessing a very deft game of caste-based political strategies.

The upshot is that India's largest state is caught in a bog where politics is purely caste-oriented. It is a situation that criminals are manipulating to their advantage by backing one side or the other. The bureaucracy and police are also divided on the basis of caste identity and caste loyalty. Every institution of civil society is involved in the battle to win advantages. Truly, UP is in the dark ages.
nabadip - Fri, 01 Jul 2005 23:57:27 +0530
Strategic alliance for self preservation

Chandrabhan Prasad,Author and commentator on caste issues

Many a BSP watcher, among them social scientists and political analysts, are perplexed over the party's June 9 Brahmin conference. The balanced and non-partisan of them have an explanation: Even after the Dalits rallied behind the BSP en masse, the party's vote share is stuck at 21 per cent. This has been the experience in the last couple of elections. So the party of the Dalits has hit its prime - or plateau, depending how you look at it. Over the years, the BSP ignored the necessity to add other social categories to its vote-bank. A disaster was waiting to happen. So, Mayawati the politician is doing what a politician must do to survive.

Many analysts are worried that the BSP has compromised its ideology, and Mayawati's lust for power is the beginning of the destruction of Kanshi Ram's Dalit movement. But then, these are same guys who criticised the BSP's ideology even when it was faithful to its original line. The historic origins of this "turnabout" must be considered. Kanshi Ram conceived the Backward and Minority Communities Employees' Federation (BAMCEF) as early as 1971 and registered it in Pune. It was converted into an all-India body in 1973, and re-launched in Delhi three years later with headquarters in Karol Bagh. Between 1971 and 2005, the BSP and a host of its affiliates officially held that the "Dalit-OBC-Minority" segment of the population is a common victim of caste-varna order.

The Dwijas, headed by the Brahmins, were depicted as the common tormentor. The caste arithmetic based on the 85 per cent Bahujan (as BAMCEF groups were designated) versus 15 per cent Dwijas, or Manuvadis, came into being. Between 1971 and his illness which forced Kanshi Ram to withdraw from active politics a couple of years back, he propagated his Bahujan ideology all over India. In the north, he left hardly a town uncovered in his travels. He was joined by Mayawati, who, along with millions of his followers, activated units in all states down to humble villages. How many hundreds of tonnes of newsprint was used in propagating the Bahujan ideology, telling the OBCs and minorities to join the Dalits as their natural allies will never be known.

There were thousands of Dalit outfits outside the BSP's framework who joined in propagating the same Bahujan theory. In the 1990s, the largest ever ideological campaign involving, several hundred million people, was undertaken to instill in the consciousness of the Indian backward communities the need to rally. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the Bahujan ideology consumed Kanshi Ram's entire life. The result? The OBCs and minorities saw Kanshi Ram and Mayawati as their leaders. The BSP was viewed by all sections of society as a political movement of the Dalits alone. The OBCs and the minorities chose their own path. They dismissed the Bahujan Samaj as a special group. The Dalits, on the other hand, rallied behind the BSP, as they readily identified with the movement.

While Kanshi Ram was passionately engaged in spreading the ideology of Bahujanwad throughout India, the countryside was undergoing a fundamental transformation. In 1971, India was a food deficient country. By the late 1990s, it had turned food surplus. In the interregnum, thanks to the Green Revolution, the urban centres expanded. The Dwijas had begun emigrating to urban India, handing over the rural economy and its institutions to the upper castes among the OBCs. Large masses of Dalits were landless labourers when Dwijas dominated the countryside society, and continue to remain so in the changed society.

Mayawati's Brahmin theory has its theoretical basis in the philosophy of BR Ambedkar himself. Ambedkar, in his celebrated book, Who Were Shudras, argued: (1). The Shudras were one of the Aryan communities of the Solar race ; (2). There was a time when Aryan society recognised only three Varnas, namely, Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas; (3). The Shudras did not form a separate Varna. They ranked as part of the Kshatriya Varna in Indo-Aryan society; (4). There was a continuous feud between the Shudra kings and the Brahmins in which the Brahmins were subjected to much tyranny and indignity; (6). As a result of the hatred towards the Shudras generated by their actions, the Brahmins refused to perform Upanayana ceremonies for the Shudras, and, (7). this denial led to the social degradation of the Shudras from the Kshatriya fold to something below the Vaishyas. Hence, they came to form the fourth Varna.

Now, history is hitting back with vengeance. All over India, the Shudras, or OBCs in constitutional vocabulary, have been claiming Kshatriyahood. But that status is not ritually confirmed by the Brahmins, and the Dalits don't recognise it either. With Kshatria-like domination over resources and institutions, the Shudras have become an innately violent social class. To them, violence is an urgent social necessity which brings their torn social emotions immediate gratification.

The proposed Dalit-Brahmin coalition is a coalition of the social proletariat and the cultural bourgeoisie. The British daily, The Guardian, published a story titled "Villagers fall victim to India's caste war" on June 14, 2005. The newspaper correspondent reported that there were 140 killings in the past year, and most of the victims were either Brahmins or Dalits. The majority of the accused persons were OBCs.

Believe it or not, upper OBCs have turned into headhunters, and the proposed coalition is just against that, of course, with an electoral strategy in mind.
nabadip - Fri, 08 Jul 2005 18:51:49 +0530
"Brahmins constitute as high as 84 per cent of the population in Himachal Pradesh and 32 per cent in Utter Pradesh followed by 26 per cent in Gujrat and Maharashtra, about 20 per cent in Rajasthan, 18 per cent in Karnataka and 12 per cent in Kerala. In AP, there are 48 lakhs of Brahmins which is 5 per cent of population while in Tamil Nadu their percentage is 4.5 per cent. "