Pagdi politics: NCP tries old formula to consolidate bahujan votebank, gets flak from opposition
Having suffered a drubbing in the Lok Sabha and the subsequent assembly polls in 2014, the NCP wants to target BJP, which has a ‘Brahmin face’ as chief minister of Maharashtra, to consolidate the ‘bahujan’ vote bank, in order to retain its stronghold in western Maharashtra.pune Updated: Jun 14, 2018 14:30 IST
PUNE Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is back to his old formula of whipping up anti-Brahmin sentiments in order to consolidate the Maratha and OBC vote bank. Various political parties including BJP and Shiv Sena have reacted sharply to Pawar’s ‘pagdi politics’ saying the NCP chief is setting a dangerous precedence.
Having suffered a drubbing in the Lok Sabha and the subsequent assembly polls in 2014, the NCP wants to target BJP, which has a ‘Brahmin face’ as chief minister of Maharashtra, to consolidate the ‘bahujan’ vote bank, in order to retain its stronghold in western Maharashtra.
Party’s strategy became even more visible after Pawar, at a public meeting on Sunday, asked party workers to shun the Puneri pagdi (turban) and instead use the Phule pagdi.
“The party’s city unit has greeted me and Chhagan Bhujbal with the Puneri pagdi. However, from now on, workers will offer only the Phule pagdi whenever they have to greet someone on the party platform,” said Pawar, speaking at the NCP’s 19th foundation day rally in Pune recently.
Pawar then asked NCP city unit chief Vandana Chavan to give the Phule pagdi to Bhujbal, the party’s OBC face who recently came out of jail on bail to make his first political appearance at the rally.
In Maharashtra, Puneri pagdi is historically associated with the Peshwas, the Brahmin prime ministers of the Maratha empire. On the other hand, the Phule pagadi is associated with social reformer Mahatma Phule and is seen as symbol of “bahujans” - a euphemism used for scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and OBCs.
Earlier too, Pawar had made remarks with caste overtones while commenting on the Rajya Sabha nomination given to Sambhaji Raje, a descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji, by BJP. Pawar said, “It’s a historical fact that Chhatapati (the royal title used by Maratha rulers) had appointed Peshwas. During the rule of Peshwas, a Fadnavis (the name attached to a post of minister in Peshwa period) could never appointed a ‘Chhatrapati’. In this case (nomination of Sambhaji Raje to Rajya Sabha), the Peshwas have appointed a ‘Chhatrapati’.”
Sena cites danderous politicking
The Shiv Sena, in its mouthpiece ‘Saamana’, has accused Pawar of playing politics which is dangerous for Maharashtra. “The people of Maharashtra should be alert about such politics,” read the Saamana edit. The Saamana edit further said that the entire “pagdi episode” was scripted and aimed at one particular community. “Even Lokmanya Tilak used the pagdi. Tilak was not just Brahmin, but the leader of various communities.”
The NCP retorted back saying Sena is indulging in doublespeak. “Sena, which has opposed Mandal commission, is asking for eradicating inequality. It’s doublespeak,” said NCP spokespersons Nawab Malik.
Expert view: Branding Brahmins
Political observers see Pawar’s remarks about pagdi as yet another attempt to retain the OBC and Maratha vote bank and retain its bastion of western Maharashtra. Whether it is in sending legislators to the state assembly or making parliamentarians, western Maharashtra, which has a large Maratha population, has always backed the NCP until the party lost the elections in 2014.
“Knowing that the BJP is devoid of a ‘bahujan leadership’, NCP is using every opportunity to portray BJP as ‘Brahminical’ party,” said Chitra Lele, professor of political science.