Assembly elections

UP upper castes have only one reason not to support Akhilesh Yadav – their hypocrisy

This group has frequently accused others of prioritising caste and religion while voting.

The upcoming Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh are not only a test for Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav but also for the upper castes in the state, which together comprise nearly 22% of the population but wield influence far beyond their numbers. The polls will judge whether the upper castes overcome the prejudices that they, before every election without fail, accuse other social groups of harbouring.

Over the last 27 years, when the politics of Mandir-Mandal drove a wedge in Indian polity, the relationship between social groups and political parties was realigned. The upper castes across North and central India shifted from the Congress to the Bharatiya Janata Party as did the Dalits to the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh.

At the same time, the Other Backward Castes, defined as Other Backward Classes for the purpose of granting them reservations, consolidated behind a clutch of parties whose leaders belonged to the same social category as them. These parties also have a considerable phalanx of Muslims, who were alienated from the Congress, not least because they were principal victims of the grisly riots over the 1980s, often referred to as The Bloody Decade.

The realignment of social groups had the upper castes spawn a discourse that is extremely popular now, including among journalists. This discourse claims that social groups lower in the social hierarchy are primarily driven by their caste identity while voting.

In other words, Dalits votes for the Bahujan Samaj Party because its leader, Mayawati, is from the Scheduled Caste. And Yadavs vote for the parties of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad Yadav because of caste affinity, as do Kurmis and Koeris for Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar. As for Muslims, their obsession, the upper-caste discourse claims, is to vanquish the BJP as they cannot countenance any party that refuses to pamper them or, alternatively, espouses the cause of Hindus.

Looking inward

This discourse glosses over the marked preference the upper castes have for the BJP, evident from anecdotal accounts as well as the election studies of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, which look at voting behaviour and patterns. Over the last 27 years, the percentage of upper castes voting for the BJP has almost always been around 50%, even crossing the whopping 70% mark during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh.

Yet, the upper castes do not think their caste or religious considerations drive their preference for the BJP. Instead, the discourse they have created is that they vote for the party because its rule would be beneficial to the nation or the states. The saffron party’s rule is deemed beneficial because its policies will not have the imprint of caste and religion (unlike that of the others) From this perspective, the upper castes feel they largely make a rational choice, while others simply ride their primordial passion to voting booths.

At times, however, this discourse seems to be at complete variance with the ground reality. An OBC is consciously pitchforked into the political proscenium – so Raghubar Das is made chief minister of BJP-ruled Jharkhand. Or a Punjabi, Manohar Lal Khattar, drops his surname as soon as he becomes chief minister of Haryana. The ensuing fuss over such decisions, ironically, turns the spotlight on the community to which the BJP chief minister belongs.

Or take Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an OBC. He fashioned for himself an alluring image of Mr Development. But here and there, he also articulated his opposition to the “pink revolution”, shorthand for consumption of beef, and reminded his audience, rather subtly, of his OBC roots.

According to the upper caste-driven discourse, strategies such as those of Modi or Khattar are inevitable in a democracy like India and an experiment in social engineering – a term that entails stitching together different communities into a seamless political tapestry. No quarrels with that.

Yet, the same generosity is rarely displayed while interpreting the electoral manoeuvres of Mayawati, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam Yadav or Kumar. When they give tickets to, say, a Brahmin or Rajput, theirs is not deemed to be a case of social engineering, or attempts at re-calibrating the social cohesion upset over the last 27 years. They are said to have only caste calculations in mind. Thus, a BSP ticket to a Brahmin is seen as cynically an attempt to add a chunk of that community’s votes to the Dalits base for the opportunistic reasons.

Why is the BJP giving a ticket to a Yadav, a Kurmi, or any other OBC or lower castes not seen as being driven by caste calculations?

The big test

This is precisely why the upper castes face their sternest test in Uttar Pradesh when the state goes to polls on February 11: Will they now rally behind Samajwadi Party’s Akhilesh Yadav, who ticks all the boxes of the typical upper caste BJP supporter? Unlike his father Mulayam Yadav, the Uttar Pradesh chief minister has not projected his rule as the Yadav raj and has belatedly rebelled against his family elders who, it was claimed, were partial to musclemen, particularly those from their own caste. Akhilesh Yadav, in fact, is said to be opposed to fielding such elements in the elections.

Akhilesh Yadav too has carved for himself an image of Mr Development, stomping around the state to build highways, flyovers and metros. His rhetoric is peppered with modernistic tropes of laptops and smartphones as well as traditional symbols the poor can identify with. His political conduct has not provoked accusations that he mollycoddles Muslims. If anything, a large section of Muslims, particularly the intelligentsia, thinks he has been playing the soft Hindutva card.

No doubt, the votes of every social group get fragmented, as a percentage of each tends to vote for candidates belonging to their caste. But the largest chunk goes to the party a social group favours most.

On this count, the upper castes are no different – a percentage of them did vote the Bahujan Samaj Party in 2007 and the Samajwadi Party in 2012 Assembly elections.

But Akhilesh will need to get upper caste votes in far greater numbers than before. This is because the Yadav votes would fracture, to a degree, if the party splits – something it has been headed towards for months now, with rival factions in support of the father and son staking claim over the Samajwadi Party’s election symbol of the cycle.

Even if the party manages to stay intact, the faction opposed to Akhilesh Yadav will try to engineer the defeat of his candidates, a list he released separately from that of his father’s. In addition, given Mayawati’s aggressive courting of Muslims, Akhilesh Yadav may not poll their votes to the extent he did in 2012.

And so, because Akhilesh Yadav meets so many of their criteria and enjoys appeal across sections, upper castes of Uttar Pradesh have to prove their voting choice is rational, not driven by caste considerations. By contrast, their most favoured party – the BJP – does not even have a chief ministerial face. Modi, certainly, isn’t going to rule Uttar Pradesh.

Indeed, Akhilesh Yadav is in every way the leader that the upper castes are partial to, but for the fact that he is an OBC who does not belong to the BJP. By voting for him, the upper castes have nothing to lose but their hypocrisy.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, has as its backdrop the demolition of the Babri Masjid.

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Some of the worst decisions made in history

From the boardroom to the battlefield, bad decisions have been a recipe for disaster

On New Year’s Day, 1962, Dick Rowe, the official talent scout for Decca Records, went to office, little realising that this was to become one of the most notorious days in music history. He and producer Mike Smith had to audition bands and decide if any were good enough to be signed on to the record label. At 11:00 am, either Rowe or Smith, history is not sure who, listened a group of 4 boys who had driven for over 10 hours through a snowstorm from Liverpool, play 15 songs. After a long day spent listening to other bands, the Rowe-Smith duo signed on a local group that would be more cost effective. The band they rejected went on to become one of the greatest acts in musical history – The Beatles. However, in 1962, they were allegedly dismissed with the statement “Guitar groups are on the way out”.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Decca’s decision is a classic example of deciding based on biases and poor information. History is full of examples of poor decisions that have had far reaching and often disastrous consequences.

In the world of business, where decisions are usually made after much analysis, bad decisions have wiped out successful giants. Take the example of Kodak – a company that made a devastating wrong decision despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Everyone knows that Kodak couldn’t survive as digital photography replaced film. What is so ironic that Alanis Morissette could have sung about it, is that the digital camera was first invented by an engineer at Kodak as early as 1975. In 1981, an extensive study commissioned by Kodak showed that digital was likely to replace Kodak’s film camera business in about 10 years. Astonishingly, Kodak did not use this time to capitalise on their invention of digital cameras – rather they focused on making their film cameras even better. In 1996, they released a combined camera – the Advantix, which let users preview their shots digitally to decide which ones to print. Quite understandably, no one wanted to spend on printing when they could view, store and share photos digitally. The Advantix failed, but the company’s unwillingness to shift focus to digital technology continued. Kodak went from a 90% market share in US camera sales in 1976 to less than 10% in 2012, when it filed for bankruptcy. It sold off many of its biggest businesses and patents and is now a shell of its former self.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Few military blunders are as monumental as Napoleon’s decision to invade Russia. The military genius had conquered most of modern day Europe. However, Britain remained out of his grasp and so, he imposed a trade blockade against the island nation. But the Russia’s Czar Alexander I refused to comply due to its effect on Russian trade. To teach the Russians a lesson, Napolean assembled his Grand Armée – one of the largest forces to ever march on war. Estimates put it between 450,000 to 680,000 soldiers. Napoleon had been so successful because his army could live off the land i.e. forage and scavenge extensively to survive. This was successful in agriculture-rich and densely populated central Europe. The vast, barren lands of Russia were a different story altogether. The Russian army kept retreating further and further inland burning crops, cities and other resources in their wake to keep these from falling into French hands. A game of cat and mouse ensued with the French losing soldiers to disease, starvation and exhaustion. The first standoff between armies was the bloody Battle of Borodino which resulted in almost 70,000 casualties. Seven days later Napoleon marched into a Moscow that was a mere shell, burned and stripped of any supplies. No Russian delegation came to formally surrender. Faced with no provisions, diminished troops and a Russian force that refused to play by the rules, Napolean began the long retreat, back to France. His miseries hadn’t ended - his troops were attacked by fresh Russian forces and had to deal with the onset of an early winter. According to some, only 22,000 French troops made it back to France after the disastrous campaign.

Source: Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to sports, few long time Indian cricket fans can remember the AustralAsia Cup final of 1986 without wincing. The stakes were extremely high – Pakistan had never won a major cricket tournament, the atmosphere at the Sharjah stadium was electric, the India-Pakistan rivalry at its height. Pakistan had one wicket in hand, with four runs required off one ball. And then the unthinkable happened – Chetan Sharma decided to bowl a Yorker. This is an extremely difficult ball to bowl, many of the best bowlers shy away from it especially in high pressure situations. A badly timed Yorker can morph into a full toss ball that can be easily played by the batsman. For Sharma who was then just 18 years old, this was an ambitious plan that went wrong. The ball emerged as a low full toss which Miandad smashed for a six, taking Pakistan to victory. Almost 30 years later, this ball is still the first thing Chetan Sharma is asked about when anyone meets him.

So, what leads to bad decisions? While these examples show the role of personal biases, inertia, imperfect information and overconfidence, bad advice can also lead to bad decisions. One of the worst things you can do when making an important decision is to make it on instinct or merely on someone’s suggestion, without arming yourself with the right information. That’s why Aegon Life puts the power in your hands, so you have all you need when choosing something as important as life insurance. The Aegon Life portal has enough information to help someone unfamiliar with insurance become an expert. So empower yourself with information today and avoid decisions based on bad advice. For more information on the iDecide campaign, see here.

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