For voters in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab that go to polls starting February 4, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has a message. The BJP mentor wants electors to pick their representatives based on their merit and “not caste”.
The statement assumes significance as the BJP has been making concerted efforts to woo the so-called lower castes, especially in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, the two states that have a high percentage of voters from these social groups.
On Sunday, RSS joint general secretary Krishna Gopal lashed out at caste-based political parties for perpetrating casteism in the country and using caste as a means to consolidate personal gains.
Without naming parties such as the BSP and the RJD that represent a political system based on caste cleavages, the RSS senior functionary said, voting on the basis of one’s social group is “not good for a healthy democracy”.
“People don’t have to do anything to attain a certain caste…they are born into it and can’t change it. But to differentiate on caste is wrong and does not work now. We don’t know what led to it (caste hierarchy)…but for personal vested political interest some people exaggerate the issue of caste,” he said speaking on the issue of Samajik Samarasta (social harmony) and Hindutva at the World Book Fair.
The Sangh functionary underlined educational qualifications, capability and other virtues as necessities to pick a representative, and even cited the example of its ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhaya, who lost an election after refusing to seek votes on the basis of his caste.
The Sangh’s pitch for a caste-less society notwithstanding, the BJP’s overtures to expand its vote bank among communities that traditionally vote for the BSP or the RJD has been conspicuous in the appointment of functionaries from backward castes.
In Uttar Pradesh for instance, where the party is dogged about winning a majority, appointment of Keshav Maurya, an RSS man from the Keori caste was a clear hint of its effort to shun the tag of ‘Brahmin-Baniya’ (upper castes) party.
Efforts to win over the dominant castes like Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris that could stack the numbers in its favour at the hustings were reinforced with the inclusion of former BSP General Secretary Swami Prasad Maurya in the party.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in 2014, in Uttar Pradesh the party reached out to the Apna Dal, founder by Sone Lal Patel, from the backward Kurmi caste and a one-time associate of Dalit leader Kanshi Ram.
While the Sangh has called for a review of caste-based reservation, to ascertain whether the benefits of quotas in jobs and education have reached the intended classes, the BJP giving in to political pressure agreed to include Jats and Jat Sikhs as Backward Classes (BC) in Punjab; which was seen as another instance of caste-based politics.