Indian parliamentary politics has moved away from the concerns of its minorities. This is the essence of the statement of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh intellectual Rakesh Sinha who, celebrating the massive mandate given to the Bharatiya Janata Party by the people in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, said: “A Muslim veto institutionalised as an extra-secular mechanism has been demolished. The Sangh’s meta-narrative on nationalism and Hindutva has emerged as a hegemonic ideology.”
BJP leaders use the phrase “end of caste politics” to explain the unprecedented vote percentage that the saffron party has gained in the state elections this time. Other observers see a new voter emerging in these elections, one who is weary of instability, is tired of coalition politics and wants to see decisive governance. This view looks at the mandate to the BJP as a continuation of the trend, over the last decade, in Uttar Pradesh that had put Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav in power with an unambiguous majority in the past.
What is evident from the recent poll results is that the BJP has established its pan-Indian dominance decisively. Many see the BJP’s determination to capture India with admiration. Some others see it with fear. Four years ago, when the BJP announced that its focus was on the North East and East, including Bihar, West Bengal and Odisha, it was not taken very seriously. But the consistent work by the RSS, its mother organisation, was to serve as the springboard for the BJP. The time was ripe. The power it got at the Centre gave it the leverage it needed in these areas. Its expansion in Odisha, as is evident in the results of the panchayat elections in February, is just an example of how the party can rebound in a place from where it was effectively pushed out only a few years ago.
The emergence of the BJP in Odisha, where the Biju Janata Dal had unceremoniously showed it the door a few years ago, needs to be understood in the light of what has happened in Uttar Pradesh. The saffron party has been out of power in Uttar Pradesh for the last 14 years.
There were theoretical explanations for this. It was believed that the politics of social justice had made it impossible for the political language of Hindutva to define politics. However, the politics of social justice was reduced to, or remained limited to, giving representation to some sections of the erstwhile marginalised social groups. This meant that all one had to do was to give these marginalised social groups a sense of participation in the affairs of politics. If one could bring them around by only doing this much, what prevented the BJP from attempting this formula too?
Thus, the last 10 years have shown the BJP turning the politics of social justice on its head. While political scientists kept calling it the party of upper caste Hindu males, it slowly co-opted the Other Backward Classes and Dalits into its Hindu fold.
Social justice fell short
This is also a moment for ideologues to ponder over the rhetoric of Ambedkarism, which failed to anticipate that it was not at all difficult for Dalits to accept a party that is run along Manuwadi (casteist) ideological lines. Is it difficult to see how the suicide of Dalit scholar Rohith Vemula in Hyderabad or the lynching of Dalits by the protectors of cows in Gujarat could not stir the Dalits of Uttar Pradesh to spurn the saffron party? What prevented democratic parties from talking about these issues and making them central in their campaign? The fear that they would be seen as practising a partisan political language?
There have been many reports of how the BJP worked on the non-Yadav castes to carry them along. It was done in many ways, by pulling caste groups like the Kurmis, Rajbhars, Nishads and Mauryas and non-Jatav Dalits into its fold. Cultural modes were used effectively. The BJP’s symbolic campaign in the name of Suheldev, a little-known 11th-century Pasi king, to dislodge the warrior saint Ghazi Miyan from the popular imagination as the hero of both Hindus and Muslims in eastern Uttar Pradesh, is only one example.
While the leaders of the social justice plank got complacent with the assurance of continued support from their sub-caste group, they failed to anticipate the aspirations that this would generate in other sub-caste groups within the wider category of Dalits or Backwards. That this would ultimately generate resentment among these groups against the dominant ruling caste group, which in the case of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh were Yadavs among the Backwards and Jatavs among Dalits. To think that with these dominant caste groups as the nuclei, other sub-caste groups would keep hovering around them was lazy politics. Also, as we can now see, the journey of the politics of social justice was devoid of democratic content. A politics that was only the language of negotiation with power could only lead to where it stands now. Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati has been reduced to the status of a leader of Jatavs, and Akhilesh Yadav does not have appeal beyond Yadavs. Their failure to fashion a universal language that could compete with the Hindutva universal is stark.
Reverse identity politics
No human being likes to remain confined within the identity assigned to them. We are programmed to be transcendental beings. What was the promise of the slogan of social justice in this regard? It asked Yadavs to remain Yadavs and Jatavs to remain Jatavs forever. Contrary to this brand of politics, the RSS at least promised them an opening in the wider Hindu fold, and more recently, pride in being part of a more universal national project. Thus, an ambitionless, narrow identity politics was defeated by a reverse identity politics, which just reprogrammed these groups, and assured them of being part of a larger Hindu nationalist solidarity project.
It is also interesting that the only party that spoke in a cultural language during the election campaign was the BJP. Neither the Congress-Samajwadi Party alliance nor the Bahujan Samaj Party moved an inch away from their economic rhetoric. Their attempt to appeal to the economic insecurities of people did not cut ice as people knew that both camps barely differ with regard to their economic policies. So, the only thing to make a difference was culture. However, the hesitation of the so-called secular parties in talking about their cultural platform meant that they had utter disdain for the people’s striving to find their definition of what a good life would be. A good life is one that goes beyond economic compulsions. To not talk about it is having a dim view of people.
Analysts have started talking about the 2017 election results the way they did with the 2014 results of the general election. They call it inclusive and a mandate beyond caste. They seem embarrassed by the BJP’s campaign, which was brazenly anti-Muslim, casteist and divisive. The references to the Ram Mandir, anti-Romeo squads, displacement of Hindus, appeasement of Muslims at the cost of Dalits and backward castes were raised at the beginning of the campaign and remained till the end. There was hardly a BJP leader who did not use this language. It was most certainly not inclusive.
The verdict in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand is definitely a decisive victory of the ideology of the BJP. The party’s opponents must first accept this fact if they are to think about ways to deal with it.