The controversy over reservation in promotion for the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes marks deeper fissures between dominant sections of the Other Backward Classes and SCs coming to the fore. The only open opponent of these quotas, Samajwadi Party, happens to be the dominant OBC party in north India.
The writing on the wall seems clear. Dominant OBC castes like Yadavs are becoming the prime adversaries of Dalit assertion not just on the ground but also in terms of political discourse.
Emerging from Parliament after the SP's walkout, party leader Ram Gopal Yadav reiterated that the bill was "unconstitutional". When the Cabinet had cleared the bill in September, Yadav had said it was against "natural justice". SP supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav had said: "We will go to the people against this. This is a promotion to make a junior senior and vice versa."
This dominant OBC dissent comes at a time when the Congress and BJP — traditionally dubbed upper caste parties by Dalit scholars — have voiced verbal support for the quotas.
Clearly, the Bahujan discourse — once a favourite idea with Kanshi Ram — seems to have unraveled completely. Bahujan meant the majority, comprising SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities.
“The OBCs are the new landlords in the countryside and look down upon Dalits. The SP's victory in the recent polls was a non-Dalit caste alliance victory,” says Badri Narayan, a scholar of the Dalit movement in UP. The suggestion: the SP may be fast becoming the fulcrum of anti-Dalit politics in UP.
The falling out could be discerned when there were attacks on Dalits immediately after the SP government came to power in UP. This was a repeat of the attack on Mayawati at a Lucknow guest house in 1995 allegedly by SP men, after their alliance snapped. This practically buried the Bahujan project of Kanshi Ram.
Never again did Mayawati and Mulayam Singh Yadav come together. The BSP consolidated Dalits and went into alliances with the Congress and BJP in the 1990s, and then reached out to the upper castes and lower OBCs directly through the Sarvajan (all-people) rhetoric of the 2000s.