UP polls: Why Brahmins give BJP a reason to smile in Uttar Pradesh’s caste maze
At tier two, Brahmins are at the forefront of the hugely OBC-ised Bharatiya Janata Party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh. They’re without a leader or a party they can truly call their own. What keeps them going is their resolve, their fears and the flair for social stewardship.
I spent considerable time decoding the trend during my 10-day tour of the state. The answers that seem valid aren’t based on empirical data. They’re a distillation of stray and considered comments on the ground.
The most telling insight was of Gulab Pandey, who once distributed the HT group’s Hindustan newspaper in Varanasi.
The Brahmins voted for the SP in 2012 but were given a short shrift. The party’s treatment of the community was no better than the BSP’s that got a majority of its own in the 2007 polls. “Pichli baar Mayawati to patkhani di thei, iss baar Akhilesh ko dengey,” declared Pandey.
That leaves the Brahmins with just the BJP’s Hindutva with a pro-Backward tilt. Its leaders, especially Narendra Modi, invoke socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia, a Bania who first tried organising the middle classes to beat the Nehruvian Congress’s since decimated Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim compact.
Modi’s BJP has been downplaying its Brahminical past to woo backward communities; terming the SP’s alliance with the Congress an ideological betrayal. In Allahabad, the road-show led by Akhilesh and Rahul Gandhi made the counterpoint. Their supporters and party cadres passed by Anand Bhawan and Swaraj Bhawan to show the alliance as recognition rather than demonisation of the Congress’s historicity.
It’s hard to tell whether the spectacle brought alive to the Brahmins their primacy in the Congress of yore. The point wasn’t entirely lost on the Allahabad electorate.
Why does the BJP’s attempted personality transplant not upset the Brahmins? They want the SP punished and are unsure of the Congress as a socio-political sinecure. To them, Muslim consolidation was the sole motivation for the Rahul-Akhilesh entente.
Sample this: In the Rajput-Brahmin dominated Pratapgarh district, I ran into Hanuman Prasad Ojha. He gave the alliance a clear edge but said as a Brahmin he won’t be on the same side as Muslims.
For such category of voter across castes, the BJP becomes attractive for not putting up any Muslim candidate. The new acronyms, binaries and analogies the party has injected in the poll discourse are meant to bring out the latent religious divide.
On display has been a smart circumvention of the Supreme Court order that barred use of religion in politics. The BJP leaders talked about cremation grounds and burial spaces instead of temples and mosques. Imageries changed, not the divisive agenda. The message was out by the time the EC woke up to it.
However, there are exceptions to the faintly felt majoritarian sentiment at places the alliance or the BSP have candidatures suited to proximate demography. Example: Varanasi South where the Congress’s Rajesh Mishra, a former MP, is in a good fight with the BJP.
That brings one to a concomitant imponderable: competing social groups’ urge for local empowerment and historical settling of scores. The second phenomenon is explained by Kurmis using the BJP in their tussle for political space with Yadavs; the first by party candidates from same caste slugging it out on micro issues.
Such intricacies give UP’s poll terrain the look a mosaic: a study of voluble supports and eloquent silences; of helpful tail-winds, not forceful waves.
Vinod Sharma is the political editor of Hindustan Times