From a subtle use of Narendra Modi’s backward caste and humble class origins, BJP has decided to aggressively sell these elements of its PM-candidate’s identity in key electoral states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
A top BJP leader from the state explained to HT, on the condition of anonymity, the calculation behind the move. “The quest for social justice is essentially the quest for political empowerment. OBC’s constitute anywhere between 40 to 52 percent of the country, depending on the matrix you use.” He argued that their assertion had ‘flipped politics’ in the past two decades.
“Look around north India, and backwards dominate. In UP, it is Mulayam Singh and Kalyan Singh. In Bihar, it is Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad. In MP, it is Shivraj Singh and Uma Bharti. In Rajasthan, it is Ashok Gehlot and Vasundhara Raje — the latter is married to a Jat family. In Haryana and west UP, it is Jats again.”
The leader said that OBCs felt deeply resentful that they had not “tasted power” at the centre in any meaningful way. “There have been five Brahman PMs — three Nehru-Gandhis, Vajpayee and Rao; one Kayastha in Lal Bahadur Shastri; two Thakurs in VP Singh and Chandrashekhar. Charan Singh was a Jat but he barely lasted four months.”
By selling Modi as an OBC mascot, the BJP hopes to tapped into this ‘sense of deprivation’.
“The party has been most successful when it has tapped into provincial, backward leaders and appropriated them with Hindu iconography and images.”
The idea, he said, was to focus on the overarching religious identity as well as the caste identity. He dismissed speculation that over-selling the caste card will alienate the upper-castes.
“Modi is already established as the Hindutva and development man. The OBC card is a bonus.” But precisely because of Modi’s belated embrace of his OBC identity, others are skeptical.
While suggesting that certain social constituencies had shuffled between BJP and forces for ‘social justice’, Shaibal Gupta, a leading Patna social-scientist, pointed out, “Some people are historically identified with certain social groups. Modi has never identified himself as an OBC unlike Kalyan Singh or Uma Bharti and it may be difficult to reinvent himself.”
He added it was also difficult for castes in the heartland to identify and relate to those from parallel castes from outside. It was somewhat easier to build bridges on class lines, he added.
This may be why the ‘chai-wallah’ identity has found greater resonance for Modi than his ‘pichda’ identity so far.