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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Why possible consolidation of OBC identity in Uttar Pradesh could pose a challenge for BJP

🔴 Suryakant Waghmore writes: In a battle for Ram Rajya across castes, who wins is yet to be seen. One only hopes that constitutional principles and morality do not continue to be a casualty.

Written by Suryakant Waghmore |
Updated: January 20, 2022 9:45:21 am
Swami Prasad Maurya joins the Samajwadi Party in presence of Akhilesh Yadav in Lucknow on Jan. 14, 2022. (PTI Photo/Nand Kumar)

Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini shifting to the Samajwadi Party must be a matter of urgent concern for the BJP. In several ways, OBCs constitute the lifeblood of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh. While “pure castes” (Max Weber uses this term to refer to “upper” castes) like Thakurs and Brahmins will continue pledging support to the BJP in coming assembly elections, the party’s future in UP rests substantially on the shoulders of OBCs.

The last five years of Yogi Adityanath’s rule have seen an elected Thakur priest turning the state machinery into a temple apparatus, with privileged and exclusive access for certain castes. What has been extraordinary is the apparent subduing of Muslim and Dalit citizens in this caste-temple-state nexus. The force used by the state against anti-CAA protestors (Muslims), or even farmers (dominant middle-castes) and the use and abuse of sedition laws are viewed as both a moral and martial victory for the “upper” castes. The damage inflicted by the mismanagement at the state and central levels during the first and second waves of Covid-19, rising fuel prices, inflation, job losses and a crumbling economy have had devastating consequences for all castes. But elections are not only about rational economic choices. Caste morality is equally at play. The normalised anti-Muslim, anti-Constitution discourse is a sign of anxiety of the privileged castes, who perceive that their social power is under threat, and the BJP remains the only rational choice for most of them.

With several cases of caste atrocities reported and highlighted in the (social) media, major groups amongst Scheduled Castes may, arguably, not vote for Yogi. While the BJP-RSS emphasise and even attempt inclusivity for Dalits, the power vested in the temple-state apparatus invariably releases caste sentiments against these groups. Yogi rule has sent a message that Scheduled Castes cannot be Hindus in substantive social life — their inclusion can only be political and decorative. Mayawati may well continue to be the foremost choice for SCs in UP.

The attraction of Hindutva amongst OBCs, on the other hand, is driven by their proximity to Brahmanism. Despite the Mandalisation of politics in north India, OBCs are more politically scattered and do not constitute a politicised collective. What we have, therefore, are individual caste-centric parties like the SP that develop pragmatic political patronage and alliances with other castes and Muslims.

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Material opportunities and advancement in a neoliberal economy coupled with an increased presence in the state structure have, over the past three decades, led to a major churning amongst OBCs. A sense of Hindu-ness driven by anti-Muslim sentiments was mobilised under the nationalist Hindutva project of the BJP. Together with their material and political advancement, this has evoked a sense of proximity with the “upper-caste” Hindu social world among OBCs. However, the BJP’s regime of the last five years in UP may have led to a sense of fraternity amongst different castes identified as OBCs.

All of this may have begun with Yogi “purifying” the CM’s residence on the evacuation of Akhilesh Yadav and, thereafter, showing Yadavs their “place” in several ways. The reservation for “upper” castes (EWS) and under-representation of OBCs in the state apparatus has mobilised a collective feeling amongst OBCs. The SP is making the most of this by forging alliances with similarly placed castes.

OBC consolidation under the SP, even if temporary, may be an omen for the recovery of Akhilesh Yadav and simultaneously points to the possibilities of a new collective identity amongst OBCs. Further, the RLD aligning with SP has added the “farmer” (Jat) advantage to the SP’s political campaign. While the SP seems to be ahead in the pack of Opposition parties right now, all Opposition parties could also be staring at the possibility of a hung assembly.

The consolidation and politicisation of OBCs and the making of a new collective identity could be a positive political development in the long run. However, upper OBCs are like “pure castes”-in-the-making or, at best, they straddle different aspirations. And Akhilesh Yadav’s dreams are a signifier of this straddling — he dreamt recently of Lord Krishna assuring him of a “Ram Rajya” under his leadership. Yadav has in the past also promised to “repurify” the CM’s residence once Yogi Adityanath vacates the premises.

In this battle for Ram Rajya across castes, who wins is yet to be seen. One only hopes that constitutional principles and morality do not continue to be a casualty.

This column first appeared in the print edition on January 20, 2022 under the title ‘A new alignment in UP’. The writer is professor of sociology, IIT-B

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