Free Press Journal

Sustaining caste balance vital for BJP


IT is quite on the cards that the BJP would not disregard the well-being of Muslims much as it may show an intent to polarise Hindu votes in its favour.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have a way with voters. His oratorical skills and charisma have no parallels in any other party. Amit Shah, the party president, fits in like a glove with Modi’s brand of politics. That the BJP feat of winning 71 of the 80 seats in the Lok Sabha elections in 2014 has been bettered in the Assembly polls in 2017 is testimony to the clever caste engineering and religious polarisation worked out by the duo. When the BJP did not project a State leader in Uttar Pradesh and concentrated all its focus on Modi, many believed that the party would have to pay a heavy price for it. But even as the electoral campaign peaked, it was clear from myriad media interviews with voters that Modi was a household name and that people were set on voting for BJP because of their trust in Modi. Apprehensive that the response of voters was not overwhelming in the initial phases of the elections, Modi and Amit Shah converted the election into a Modi-centric one.

Brimming with confidence after the landslide win in UP, Modi has taken another audacious step, of choosing Yogi Adityanath as chief minister. With his radical brand of Hindutva and his fiery anti-Muslim rhetoric, the yogi has been a polarising force, but ironically, Modi wants to use him as a Hindu mascot with a difference. He wants the yogi to further Modi’s proclaimed agenda of ‘sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ which is a slogan of tolerance and religious harmony. Doubtlessly, Modi is an enigma of sorts. At the same time, he is playing unabashed caste and religious politics in his own inimitable style. That the BJP did not put up a single Muslim candidate in the 403-seat battle even though Muslims account for nearly 20 per cent of the State’s population bore testimony to the religious polarisation card played by the party.

Now, in Yogi Adityanath’s new council of ministers there is one Muslim representative and one Yadav while there is a surfeit of nominees from Thakurs, Brahmins, OBCs, SCs and other caste groups. Once dismissed as a “shehri” or urban party traditionally backed by Brahmins and Banias (traders), the BJP has, under Modi and Amit Shah, expanded its support base well beyond the upper castes. It is said that Shah mapped each constituency and identified and trained potential leaders at the village-level from among backward castes like Kushwahas, Binds, Khatiks, Patels and Rajbhars, who have been battling the dominant Yadav community as it cornered the bulk of the perks of reservation because of its affiliation with the ruling Samajwadi Party. The social engineering has evidently worked, going by the results of the Assembly elections, and the BJP leadership is now working to retain these castes with lure of ministerial berths in Yogi Adityanath’s council of ministers. In the yogi’s new dispensation, there are seven Thakurs including the new chief minister, eight Brahmins, 17 OBCs and MBCs, seven Dalits and eight Vaishya ministers. Whether such social engineering would actually work on the ground will be determined by the results of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but there is a fair chance that it would.

Religious polarisation is, however, another kettle of fish. Completely alienating the Muslims may well rebound on the BJP because a sizeable number of Hindu moderates and apolitical elements may recoil at such blatant display of banishment of secularism. It is quite on the cards that the BJP would not disregard the well-being of Muslims much as it may show an intent to polarise Hindu votes in its favour. A complete antithesis of Modi’s slogan ‘Sab ka saath, sab ka vikas’ would lower his own credibility which Modi would not like. Instead, Yogi Adityanath would be reined in and would shun the kind of rhetoric that made him out to be a villain for the Muslims. An occasional shooting off from his mouth cannot be ruled out, inexperienced as he is, but a concerted campaign against the minorities would not be prudent.

All said and done, Modi and the BJP would be under intense public scrutiny nationally and even internationally. Had Yogi Adityanath not been foisted in the chief ministerial chair it would perhaps have not been so but now, all eyes would be on the governance model in UP. To rein in the yogi, there are two Modi loyalists as deputy chief ministers who will watch over him. The final verdict in the Babri Masjid demolition case may not come for quite a while but how the new BJP government handles the sensitive issue of a Ram temple in Ayodhya would be an acid test. Added to that is the fact that an accused in the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots case, Suresh Rana, has been made a cabinet minister. There indeed are challenges galore for communal harmony and good governance.