100 days of Yogi: The return of upper castes in UP govt is the challenge for BJP
In May, Chandra Pal, a Dalit in Aligarh’s Keshopur Jaufari village, objected to Suresh Singh, a Thakur, constructing a drain near his house on a community land.
The Thakurs attacked the house of Dalits with stones. Soon, both sides came to blows and the Thakurs also resorted to firing from the roofs of their houses. Ten people were injured, out of which seven were Dalits. Vastly outnumbered by Thakurs, many of them left the village in fear.
The violence underlined a visible trend of caste equations in churn across the state, a phenomena that has resulted in heightened tensions and even violence – as witnessed in clashes in Saharanpur where two people died and scores injured last month.
In a state as large and complex as Uttar Pradesh, arriving at any conclusion on what the arrival of new regime has meant for the power of the different castes is not easy.
But 100 days after Yogi Adityanath took over, three trends are apparent.
One, the Aligarh violence was not an aberration. There is an increase in the frequency of caste clashes - which involve Thakurs as one party, who seem emboldened. Two, there is also a return of upper castes - both Brahmans and Thakurs - to plum positions in government. And finally, BJP is finding it difficult to sustain its multi-caste alliance and is under pressure from all sides.
Return of Thakurs
“Yogis don’t have a caste”, Adityanath had declared in Gorakhpur. But like Yadavs felt empowered under Akhilesh Yadav or Mulayam Singh Yadav, Jatavs under Mayawati, Thakurs under Rajnath Singh or even Lodhs under Kalyan Singh, the caste background of the CM’s appointment sent a signal to Thakurs.
This was then accompanied with the appointment of Sulkhan Singh, another Thakur, as director general of police, though party leaders insist this was on sheer seniority- he is a 1980-batch officer.
But perception matters. A district magistrate of a west UP district told HT, “These things are not said, but understood. It seems to us that Thakurs have to be treated well.” Samajwadi Party leader Shravendra Singh, a Thakur himself, told HT, “There is no doubt that under this government, there is a perceptible tilt towards Thakurs in government appointments. They are also emboldened on the ground.”
This sense of empowerment has led to clashes. Saharanpur is the most obvious example where in several incidents, over weeks, Thakurs and Dalits clashed with each other. In the Dalit basti of Shabbirpur, where the violence was intense, the perception is the government backed Thakurs.
The appointment tilt
The perception is so strong that when reports emerged that Rajiv Kumar, a 1981-batch IAS officer of the state cadre and Union secretary, shipping, may become the next chief secretary of Uttar Pradesh, the first question many asked if he was a Thakur. He is not.
When asked about Thakur dominance in the force, a top police official immediately took out, on his mobile phone, data of police appointments. He told HT, “Out of 75 district superintendents of police, there are 13 Thakurs, 20 Brahmans, one Kayastha, one Bhumihar, one Vaishya, and six other upper castes. This makes it 42 general caste SPs. There are 21 OBCs, including two Yadavs and two backward Muslims. There are nine scheduled castes and three scheduled tribes.”
At the range level, at the inspector general/deputy inspector general level, he claims there are 11 general caste officers including three Brahmans, four Thakurs, two Kayasthas, one Vaishya and one Jain; six other backward classes including one Yadav and one Maurya; and one SC. And at the zonal level, at the additional director general/director general level, there are five general caste officers including two Brahmans, one Thakur, one Kayastha and one Vaishya; one OBC, one SC and one ST.
He asked, “Do you see only Thakurs?”
The data indicates a more even spread than critics suggested. But what is more than clear was the obvious upper caste domination - 42 out of 75 district chiefs, 11 out of 18 range chiefs, five out of eight zonal heads are upper castes.
What is also clear was that OBCs in general but Yadavs in particular, Muslims, Dalits were under-represented. A Yadav police official told HT, “The Thakur domination is very strong at the thana level. That is the frontline of the force.”
Responding to this, the official said, “Merit has to be considered too. Many of the OBC and SC officers lose out because the age concession means they join late; and thus lose out in the seniority race. I can however tell you that the chief minister has categorically said to us don’t transfer or appoint anyone on caste.”
Another official is more candid and says that the churn in caste equations is to be expected. “A new party is in power. Those castes which supported it will benefit. Those which did not will lose out. What is the big surprise?”
Keeping everyone happy
But it is clear that the BJP will have a challenge is both keeping its upper caste supporters happy, and maintaining its wider social coalition.
In Saharanpur’s Chandpura Majbata, close to Shabbirpur village where the caste clashes had taken place, a group of Thakur men are sitting along with a local BJP leader. Tempers are short, voices are loud, and the anger is palpable. Many young Thakur boys from the village have been arrested for their involvement in the recent troubles. Their family elders insist the boys were innocent.
Umesh Rana is probably the angriest of them. He says, “What Thakur Raj? Thakurs got killed here. Our Thakur family members are being arrested. Yogi wants justice for us but Modi is an anti-savarna leader. See he only talks about Dalits and backwards. Dalits are 22%, we are 7.5%. That is why he does not care.” Yet, this was a lost enterprise for the party as the Dalits would continue voting for the Bahujan Samaj Party, argued Rana.
The object of their fury was Ombir Singh, the BJP general secretary of the Badgaon mandal. He tried to calm tempers and assured the Thakurs that the local Deoband MLA, Brajesh Singh, another Thakur, was doing his best to get their children released. He told HT, “They are angry. But they are with us.” Another Thakur villager however screamed, “No, unless we get our people back, we are not with BJP. Modi should not take us for granted.”
So if on one hand, the challenge for BJP will be retaining its base which has various expectations, on the other, the challenge would be to keep the wider coalition intact.
A BJP leader admits, “It was easier when we were a 20% party. We could do everything for Brahmans and Thakurs. But that way, we would not come to power. We are now a 60% party. Non-Yadav backwards are also ours; non-Jatav Dalits are also ours. We have to take care of them. And because we are in government, we cannot be seen as unfair to the other 40% of Muslims, Yadavs, Jatavs.”
It is, he said, with a laugh, tougher being in government than in opposition. Navigating the caste complex in governance would be a key challenge.
This article is the final piece of a three-part series by HT that tracks the progress of the Uttar Pradesh government as it completes 100 days in office.