Updated: January 13, 2022 9:34:43 am
Swami Prasad Maurya, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), The two ministers in the Adityanath government and at least four MLAs who quit the BJP in UP soon after the announcement of assembly election dates, have sought to give an ideological veneer to their resignation from the party. Speaking for the group, Minister for Labour and Employment and influential OBC leader Swami Prasad Maurya said the decision to leave the BJP — by all accounts, they are poised to join the Samajwadi Party — was provoked by the alleged neglect of “Dalits, backwards, farmers, unemployed and small traders” by the Adityanath government. Maurya’s reference to Dalits and backwards is a pointed invocation of caste in the UP poll matrix in a time when the BJP is perceived to have successfully subsumed it in an overarching Hindu identity.
Since the 1990s, Mandal and Mandir have been the ideological poles in UP politics. If Mandal mobilisations helped bring caste identities to the fore and enabled political parties that spoke for the empowerment of Dalits and backward castes to win office, the BJP used the Mandir project to paper over the hierarchies and cleavages within Hindu society and presented itself as the custodian of Hindu interests. Further, the BJP has deftly wedded the Mandir agenda to nationalism and development to consolidate its position and shrink the space for the SP and BSP, beneficiaries of Mandal. At the same time, since the 2014 general election, the BJP has also used Mandal to defeat Mandal. While championing the Hindutva agenda, it has not shrunk from playing the caste game itself, stitching together a social coalition of various castes to counter its political opponent, according to the local configuration, ahead of every election. This helped the party triumph over the SP and BSP in the 2017 assembly polls as well the 2019 general election. The BJP’s domination of UP through its playing of both the Mandir and Mandal cards has helped the party to further the perception of invincibility nationally, even as, during the same period, it lost elections in West Bengal, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Punjab, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand as well as in the five big southern states, where Mandir has far less traction and social justice politics follows an older and different trajectory.
The interplay of Mandal and Mandir that has defined politics in the Hindi heartland since the 1990s may see a rerun in UP 2022. The SP has been working on building an alliance of smaller OBC-centric outfits and leaders to undo the social engineering of the BJP ahead of the 2017 polls. Under the saffron-robed Adityanath, who was pitchforked into the chief minister’s office after the 2017 elections, the BJP was seen to relegate caste appeals and focus on Hindutva. It is anybody’s guess if the current round of defections in UP, in the name of “social justice”, can undercut the BJP’s Hindutva project in the state. Whether or not the defections of Maurya and others become a turning point, or are only plot twists among many more to come in the UP poll arena, remains to be seen.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on January 13, 2022 under the title ‘Twist in UP plot’.
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