BJP's victory doesn’t guarantee end of casteism, writes Arun Sinha

Arun SinhaUpdated: Tuesday, March 22, 2022, 08:29 AM IST
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Uttar Pradesh CM Yogi Adityanath | PTI

The BJP’s claim that its victory in Uttar Pradesh was a victory against casteism does not have any legs to stand upon. It was definitely a tempestuous victory against the Samajwadi Party which, while relying predominantly upon the Yadav vote, tried to mobilize other backward castes, but that victory was not a victory of a ‘casteless’ party over a ‘casteist’ party but a victory of a party with a better-nurtured and better oiled caste coalition over a party with a weaker one.

Of course, hyper-nationalism and Hindutva played a role.

But the BJP used them as a rope to string together the caste boats rowing with their separate flags in the social Ganga. The boats have not gone away. The BJP primarily succeeded by offering itself as a political instrument to the backward castes and Dalits that were hostile to Yadav's ascendancy and dominance.

The five years of Akhilesh rule (2012- 2017), which was perceived both by the Yadavs and the non-Yadavs as ‘Yadav Raj’ for contrarian reasons, broadcast seeds of anti-Yadav sentiment that yielded a plentiful harvest to the BJP. The BJP did not go to the voters with a casteless stance that would have been befitting a nationalist party.

It did not say, “Whether one is a Yadav, a Teli, a Maurya, a Jatav, or a Pasi, all are members of the same family. Let all of us get together to build the nation.” It did not work to foster a brotherhood of the Yadavs and the Telis, Mauryas, Jatavs, and Parsis. On the contrary, it worked to foment hostility and widen the gulf between the Yadavs and other backward castes and the Jatavs and other scheduled castes for its political benefit. Of course, it only did what Nitish Kumar had done in Bihar.

Much like the Samajwadi Party in UP, the Rashtriya Janata Dal in Bihar had come to be dominated by the Yadavs. Nitish Kumar wove a coalition of non-Yadav backward castes. He added to it a new category of ‘Mahadalits’ to isolate the Dusadhs that were the leading caste among Dalits in order to build a formidable electoral base, which is still paying him. But the BJP went beyond Nitish Kumar.

It organized meetings of representatives of every caste to which its leaders belonging to the particular caste were invited to speak. It identified ‘community leaders’ in every caste with whom the local BJP workers were directed to keep in touch.

Through these 'community leaders,' the party workers were to spread awareness among the voters of the caste of the ‘benefits’theModi government at the Centre and the Yogi government in the State had brought to the community. For instance, the BJP workers told the Kumhars; the potters, of the Yogi government’s schemes to promote their craft and well-being by buying 12 lakh diyas from them to light across the city of Ayodhya on Diwali 2021.

While the party used the community leaders as influencers of the members of the caste, it deepened its connection with castes by appointing politicians representing them to important positions in the party organization. The party deepened the connection further by selecting candidates from the castes.

It was because of the depth of connection with the non-Yadav backward castes and non Jatav scheduled castes that the BJP outwitted the Samajwadi Party that tried to cobble together a coalition of backward castes and non-Jatav communities just before the elections. The BJP’s victory was therefore a victory of deep casteism over shallow casteism. The party cannot take a high moral stand that its politics is casteless and nationalist.

The party is not breaking up caste but reinforcing it, much like other political parties have done and do. Caste exists in three different forms.One is political form.

The BJP, like other parties, is using the political expression of the castes to gain support in elections. The expression keeps changing. The castes keep shifting their patronage from one party to another. The political party in the government changes. But the political organizations of the castes do not. The BJP cannot make us believe that it has melted castes with its rainbow coalition.

The rainbow will vanish today or tomorrow. The second form of caste is a social organization. If the BJP wants to break up caste, it has to break up the social hierarchy of caste. How many of the Thakurs in UP are willing to accept a Maurya son-in-law or a Pasi daughter-in-law? Can a Jatav buy land and build a house in Brahman street in a village?

Just before elections, Yogi Adityanath got himself photographed dining at a neat-looking house of a Dalit. But how many men and women of upper castes interdine with those of Dalit communities? How many people from the lower castes get invited to weddings in upper-caste homes? The social hierarchy persists because there are deep-rooted, misconceived notions about the purity of blood and rebirth in accordance with karma.

These notions are the legs on which the edifice of social hierarchy stands. The BJP has never attacked those legs. It has not done so, because that would imply an attack on the beliefs and traditions of Hinduism,which is something that exists to champion and sustain without any room for questioning.

The third form of caste is economic organization. For centuries, each caste was destined to follow a certain occupation. The occupations had a ranking from low to high, which formed the basis for untouchability, segregation, and hierarchy. With industrialization and urbanization,the links between caste and occupation are weakening. However, the members of lower castes are still seen and treated as lower castes, even though they might be in other occupations —occupations away from the village, in industry, or trade.

The social form of caste seems to have a longer life than its economic form. The persistence of the social form of caste does not mean that it will never go away.

While there are many examples of its persistence, there are also several examples of its blurring. The way to break down caste is to put the lower castes in occupations hitherto held by higher castes. In short, a political party that wants to root out casteism has to make job creation in industry and trade its main instrument. Is the BJP doing that in UP?

According to the Centre for Monitoring of Indian Economy, of the total population of 70.99 million youth in the 15-29 age group in the state, only 12.17 million (or about 17 percent) were employed in September December 2021. How can the linkage between caste and occupation be broken?

(The writer is an independent journalist and an author. Views are personal)

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