The Brahmin factor: From opinion-makers to floating voters

Updated on Aug 24, 2021 01:12 PM IST

While all the four major political parties in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, vie for their votes in every election, none have been able to develop Brahmin leadership in the changed political sociology of the state

Jitin Prasada, who floated the Brahmin Chetna Parishad to raise the issue of the neglect of Brahmins under the current BJP regime in UP, is expected to use the same forum to assuage the hurt sentiments of the Brahmins under the current dispensation. (File photo) PREMIUM
Jitin Prasada, who floated the Brahmin Chetna Parishad to raise the issue of the neglect of Brahmins under the current BJP regime in UP, is expected to use the same forum to assuage the hurt sentiments of the Brahmins under the current dispensation. (File photo)
BySunita Aron

Brahmins, who once dominated politics in the Hindi heartland, have not only lost their political clout, but also their leadership role — yet they remain a prized vote base. While all the four major political parties in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, vie for their votes in every election, none have been able to develop Brahmin leadership in the changed political sociology of the state.

Brahmins are also not strongly aligned with any political party. The one-time opinion-makers have become the new floating voters, compelled to remain content with sops, as top posts are reserved for those from other castes in every political party.

No Brahmin CM in three decades

Ironically, even in the changed caste equations, the Rajputs have survived the outcome of Mandal that changed the politics of the state.

In August 1990, then prime minister, (late) VP Singh, dug out the 10-year-old Mandal Commission report, granting 27% of government jobs to the socially and educationally backward classes, primarily to counter the high-pitched slogans of Jai Sri Ram.

While Singh failed to puncture the temple movement and the subsequent growth of the saffron brigade, he changed the politics of the Hindi heartland, including Uttar Pradesh.

Backward leaders, who were languishing in politics after a brief spotlight during the Janata Party rule, rode volatile sentiments and seized the political space with a vengeance.

As backward politics took centre-stage, Brahmins were impacted the most. The state has had 13 chief ministers (CMs) since then, 11 were backwards or Dalits, two were Rajputs, and one from the Vaishya/Bania community.

It has been almost 32 years since the state had a Brahmin CM. Narain Dutt Tiwari was the last Congress CM from June 25, 1988, to December 5, 1989. Ironically, the Brahmin hegemony in the state ended with the Congress era. Now, even the Congress — which traditionally won elections with the support of a coalition of castes (Dalits-Brahmins-Muslims) — has also joined the race for backward leaders.

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Rajput leaders occupied the CM’s post twice in these 32 years — Rajnath Singh from October 28, 2000, to March 7, 2002, and Yogi Adityanath, from 2017 to the present. Ram Prakash Gupta, a Vaishya, briefly enjoyed power from November 12, 1999 to October 28, 2000.

Brahmins have lost their clout

The upper castes constitute 21% of the state’s population and thus, their votes are valuable in every election.

Satish Mishra, head of the Varanasi-based Kendriya Brahmin Mahasabha, is clear that the Brahmins have lost their clout because they are not a united force, like the Rajputs.

“Why should any party project a Brahmin face? It does not help in consolidating votes in their favour. Brahmins are a divided lot, unlike the Rajputs who are politically united. In Varanasi alone, there are 10 registered Brahmin organisations in the city and an unregistered one in every mohalla.”

Political expert Satish Rai, also from Varanasi — the hotbed of Brahmin politics — agrees that the community has lost their veto power in the backwards-dominated politics of the state.

Rai, who worked closely with the tallest Brahmin leader of the Congress, the late Kamlapati Tripathi, says, “Three socially antithetical forces — Brahmins, Dalits and Muslims — became political allies and voted the Congress to power till the late 1980s. This alliance broke in the early 1990s, bringing an end to the Congress rule in the state, and, to some extent, in the country. Mayawati reconstructed the same alliance and became CM in 2007. Still, the Congress leadership is not willing to understand the strength of the time-tested traditional social engineering. Even today, Kamlapati Tripathi has one follower in every village of east UP and Pramod Tiwari, now the senior-most Brahmin leader in the state, has never lost an election.”

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Interestingly, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) has once again deployed its Brahmin face, Satish Chandra Mishra, to win back the community’s support in the 2022 assembly polls. Mishra travelled 21,000 kilometres in 2007, organising the Dalit-Brahmin bhoj. But much water has flowed down the Ganga since then, and his meetings have seemingly lost the traction of 2007.

Brahminism and Hindutva

Despite their “mistrust” in Adityanath, the sense among community leaders is that about 50-60% Brahmin vote will still go with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for two reasons: Narendra Modi’s appeal and Adityanath’s Hindutva.

Political expert Badri Narayan also says that Brahminism has merged with Hindutva, since the community is religiously inclined.

A veteran socialist political leader from Bihar, who has tracked UP politics closely, Shivanand Tewari, explains, “Brahminism is now an ingredient of Hindutva. Till Indira Gandhi’s time, Brahmin leadership dominated the political space but the community moved to the BJP, swept by the temple movement. Now they are unhappy with the BJP, too, but they go with Hindutva.”

Rajeshpati Tripathi, the grandson of Kamlapati Tripathi, agrees that religiously-inclined Brahmins moved to the BJP, riding the temple wave in the 1990s. “Basically, an intellectual class, they were less aggressive as compared to other castes. In the changed political sociology of the state, the Brahmin leadership was marginalised. The second is their preference for a national party.”

The paucity of Brahmin leaders

The fact remains that the Brahmins hold a secondary position even in the BJP, after the death of their tallest leader, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The party has also dropped its earlier policy of striking a fine balance between the backwards and the Brahmins in the government and the party organisation — as was done in the 1990s simultaneously projecting Kalyan Singh and Kalraj Mishra.

Recently, the BJP — which once had a galaxy of Brahmin leaders including Murli Manohar Joshi, Kesari Nath Tripathi and Kalraj Mishra — poached a Brahmin face, Jitin Prasada, from the Congress.

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Prasada, who floated the Brahmin Chetna Parishad to raise the issue of the neglect of Brahmins under the current BJP regime in the state, is expected to use the same forum to assuage the hurt sentiments of the Brahmins under the current dispensation.

Incidentally, Adityanath comes from east Uttar Pradesh, which is infamous for Brahmins versus Thakur politics, dating back to the days of Kamlapati Tripathi.

Earlier too, the BJP had got Brajesh Pathak from the BSP, and former Uttar Pradesh Congress Committee (UPCC) chief, Rita Bahuguna, from the Congress. Both Pathak and Joshi joined in 2016.

The fact is that there is a paucity of Brahmin leaders in all the political parties of the stature of Kamlapati Tripathi in the Congress, Janeshwar Mishra of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Murli Manohar Joshi of the BJP.

Satish Chandra Mishra did emerge as a strong Brahmin face, but his hold on the community started dwindling after the party came to power and his inaccessibility grew.

Young SP leader Abhishek Mishra says, “This is a transition phase in which the new crop has to take over from the old leadership which is fading out or ageing. The fresh leadership will take time to reach their heights; they have yet to acquire that status. In the next five years, the fresh (lot) would fill that gap in every party. SC Mishra got an opportunity, but he frittered it away.”

Rajeshpati Tripathi says that young Brahmins are interested in politics, but lack resources. Earlier, political standing and stature were important, but now resources matter.

Professor Satish Prakash, a political expert from west Uttar Pradesh, sums it up, “The two vocal and influential castes that always played a dominant role in every election despite their low share in states population were the Jats of the west and Brahmins of the east. The farmers’ agitation has pepped up the Jats. Let’s see how angry the Brahmins are with Yogi to turn the tables on the BJP.”

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