Updated: September 9, 2021 9:54:49 am
The countdown to the battle for Uttar Pradesh, where assembly elections are due early next year, seems to have begun. After what appeared to be an extended period of political hibernation, the BSP has completed its first phase of meetings in an apparent bid to rebuild a coalition of extremes combining its core base, Dalits, and Brahmins. A vichar sangoshthi (symposium) in Lucknow Tuesday marked the conclusion of the party’s Brahmin outreach programme that was launched a month ago, significantly, from Ayodhya. The BJP has dominated UP since the 2014 general election by forging a formidable Hindutva vote bank that trumped the logic of Mandal politics, which had pitchforked the OBCs, particularly Yadavs, and Dalits, to power.
For the BSP, the Brahmin outreach is a throwback to a tactic it had tried successfully in the 2007 assembly election. After the failure of political coalitions with the SP and BJP, the BSP had sought to broaden its own support base by forging wider social alliances. This strategy was explained as a shift from bahujan samaj to sarvajan samaj, which included upper caste groups that were excluded from Kanshi Ram’s formulation and plan. “Bhaichara (brotherhood)” meetings were held to firm up the Dalit-Brahmin alliance, which was founded on the tactical logic that two communities that were not in direct competition for resources or power, especially in rural areas, could join hands for office, with a Dalit CM holding the reins of power and the upper caste group regaining influence in power structures that it lost after the Mandal moment. The alliance petered away in the wake of the BJP’s embrace of a hardline Hindutva agenda that resonated with upper castes and, most importantly, because of the lack of intent on both sides to transform an election tactic into a social strategy that could eventually rise above caste.
While it’s too early to predict where the BSP’s new turn will take it, there are indications of resentments among the Brahmin community, estimated to constitute about 11 per cent of the population in UP, due to the Adityanath government’s perceived tilt towards another upper caste group, Thakurs. In recent months, the BJP has also been actively consolidating the support of various OBC groups by offering patronage, including ministerships in the state and in the Centre. Issues of caste pride and resentment come to the fore in UP when elections are held in a relatively less communally polarised environment. The BJP may have to deal with the several contradictions within the Hindutva bloc as it prepares for polls.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on September 9, 2021 under the title ‘Caste of characters’.
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