Ram Manohar Lohia worked all his life against the caste system but his most powerful follower, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, likes to brandish his leader’s caste. Mulayam has repeatedly sought the support of the Vaishya community, listing Lohia as a “stalwart of the Vaishya samaj”.
Most Leftists have helped propagate caste-based politics in Uttar Pradesh, where campaigns based on rich-poor divisions, propounded by their ideologues, never took root. Manu has left Marx far behind here.
In Rausa village in Lakhimpur Kheri district — which goes to polls on April 23 — Kranti Kumar Singh sat with a dozen followers and Magsaysay Award winner Sandeep Pandey at a poll meeting of the Communist Party of India Marxist-Leninnist. The CPIML is the leading communist voice in the state though yet on the margins of electoral politics. “We have never been part of caste politics. But because of caste politics, even those who admire our work go and vote for the Samajwadi Party and BSP,” said Singh. “Leftist forces have no role in UP,” said Dr A.K. Singh, director of the Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow.
So everything, even communism, comes wrapped in caste in Uttar Pradesh.
“Caste is a reality that cannot be ignored… Whoever fights elections here has to keep caste in mind,” said Pandey, who is supporting small Leftist groups but is not a member. “These small parties work for the poor, and in India that means the Dalits. Other than that, they do not do any poll-time mathematics.”
From bicycles, the party’s campaigners recently graduated to a jeep. The jeep was sent to make announcements about the meeting but it did not work; villagers went to see a rival candidate’s helicopter. The issues raised by the CPIML are different from those of mainline parties. It is garnering public attention towards an alleged scandal in the public distribution system and campaigning against the alleged illegal land-grabbing of thousands of acres of land by rich farm owners.