Three days after being expelled from the BJP over his remarks against the Brahmin community, Pritam Singh Lodhi, OBC leader from Madhya Pradesh’s Chambal region, held a “show of strength” rally in Picchore constituency of Shivpuri district, which was attended by over 7,000 people.
At this August 22 rally, Lodhi’s supporters raised slogans against state BJP president VD Sharma and home minister Narottam Sharma, both of whom are prominent Brahmin leaders from the Gwalior-Chambal belt.
The following day, Lodhi, a relative of ex-Union minister Uma Bharti, also joined the OBC Mahasabha, an umbrella organisation of state OBC bodies, in Gwalior.
To demand a census for OBCs and press for an increase in their reservation accordingly, Lodhi has given a call for another rally in Picchore on August 28. OBCs are estimated to make up over 50 per cent population of the state.
Hours before the Picchore rally, Lodhi met the Bhim Army’s chief Chandrashekhar Azad in Gwalior, who extended his support to him. Wrapping a blue scarf around his neck instead of a saffron one, Lodhi along with supporters reached Picchore for the rally, which was also attended by many Dalit activists, mostly those belonging to the Jatav community.
Lodhi said he discussed with Azad the need to bring OBC and Dalit leaders and activists on a common platform to bring change to the region. “If all communities from Yadav, Gurjar, Baghel, Valiki and Jatav come together, change will start from tomorrow,” he told reporters, indicating that he would focus on building such a social coalition ahead of the state Assembly polls slated for late 2023.
Meanwhile, on August 23, the villagers in Chittipur village in Shivouri’s Karera tehsil passed a resolution, deciding not to call any Brahmins for any functions to their homes and that anyone who violate the resolution will be slapped with a fine of Rs 2,100 while those disagreeing with it will be externed from the community.
Like other parts of Madhya Pradesh, Picchore too is predominantly inhabited by OBCs, where the Lodhi community account for about 45,000 voters. Tribal and Dalit communities account for 30,000 and 25,000 voters, respectively, with 30,000 voters belonging to upper castes including Vaishyas in the constituency. The bulk of the remaining 95,000 voters include various other OBC sub-castes such as Khushwaha, Baghel, Sahu, Rathode and Gadariya.
On August 19, the BJP expelled Lodhi from the party for six years after he made controversial remarks against the Brahmin community while speaking at a students’ function in Kharaih village in Shivpuri district.
As his remarks triggered a backlash from within the saffron party as well as Uma Bharti, Lodhi tendered his apology, saying he was even ready to apologise to the Brahmin community with “his head at their feet”. The BJP however did not relent and jettisoned him.
“My statements were cut and presented in a way which pitted two communities against each other. I was immediately summoned to Bhopal by V D Sharma while Uma Bharti ji also asked me to apologise for my statement. I gave a public apology as I thought I’ll be forgiven as Brahmins are large-hearted. But instead of forgiving me, I was removed from the party…This was my present for apologising,” Lodhi told a press conference in Gwalior after joining the OBC Mahasabha.
Lodhi, who lost the 2018 Assembly election from Picchore on the BJP ticket by about 2,500 votes, attacked the BJP-led state government for failing to take prompt action against an elderly upper caste man for allegedly raping a minor Lodhi girl in Banda tehsil of Sagar district. “The girl was first kidnapped, raped and then murdered. But when the protesters took out a rally demanding justice, they were greeted with lathis. Maar bhi rahe hain aur rone bhi nahi de rahe hain (Victims could not even protest atrocities they are being subjected to),” he told the Picchore rally.
Referring to his comments on Brahmins, Lodhi said, “Even though I apologised for my comment, instead of forgiving, BJP sacked me and a priest of Chhattarpur’s Bhageshwar Dham Pandit Dhirendra Shastri is issuing threats to kill me. There are double standards of the government,” seeking police protection over such threats.
The state BJP functionaries justified Lodhi’s expulsion as a necessary measure to assuage the perceived bruised sentiments of the upper caste people that account for 12 per cent of the state’s population.
The BJP leaders feared that Lodhi’s remarks would drive the upper caste voters away from the party as had happened in 2018 after Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, at an event held by an SC-ST government employees outfit in Bhopal in 2016, had said, “Koi mai ka lal aarakshan nahi khatam kar sakta (Nobody can dare to end reservation).”
The ruling BJP camp has sought to brush aside Lodhi’s pushback as a “desperate move” following his expulsion from the party. “Lodhi’s wife has just lost the panchayat election from their native village of Jalalpur in Gwalior, which is dominated by Lodhis. This goes on to show his hold over the Lodhi community,” a party leader said.
Soon after Lodhi’s Picchore rally, BJP MLA from Narsinghpur, Jalam Singh Patel, younger brother of senior Lodhi leader and Union minister Prahlad Singh Patel, urged leaders of the Lodhi community to refrain from making any controversial comments against any person or community.
In an open letter to the Lodhi community members, Jalam, who is also the president of the Akhil Bharatiya Lodhi-Lodhi Shatriya Samaj, Madhya Pradesh, urged them to instead work for the development of the community.
Political observers pointed out that Lodhi’s removal from the BJP has added fuel to the fire at a time when the party is trying to balance the OBCs’ aspirations with the sway that upper castes hold in the state.