Nearly half of the 312 law officers appointed by the Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh on July 7 belong to the Brahmin caste. This is being seen as a bid by the ruling dispensation to assuage the sentiments of Brahmins who are said to be enraged after five of their caste brethren were killed in Rae Bareli last month. The move is also seen as an attempt by Adityanath – who is a Thakur by caste – to correct a perceptible tilt towards Thakurs in government appointments ever since he became chief minister early this year.

Brahmins dominate all the five categories of newly appointed law officers – chief standing counsels, additional chief standing counsels, standing counsels, brief holders (civil) and brief holders (criminal). They account for three out of four newly-appointed chief standing counsels, 13 out of 25 additional chief standing counsels, 58 out of 103 standing counsels, 36 out of 66 brief holders (civil) and 42 out of 114 brief holders (criminal).

Members of the Other Backward Classes have been given short shrift. Though they account for more than 40% of the state population, only 16 lawyers from the Other Backward Classes, or nearly 5% of the appointees, figure in the list.

Besides 152 members from the Brahmin caste, the list also has an overwhelming presence of lawyers from other so-called upper castes. A total of 282 law officers, constituting over 90% of the new appointees, belong to castes like Brahmins, Thakurs, Bhumihars, Kayasthas and Vaishyas.

OBCs vs Brahmins

The appointments have been made at a time when the ruling dispensation in Uttar Pradesh is being pulled in two directions by an intense war of words between its Other Backward Classes and Brahmin leaders after five Brahmins were killed at Apta village under Unchahar police station in Rae Bareli on the night of June 26, allegedly by villagers belonging to an Other Backward Classes caste.

Soon after the incident, a number of Brahmin leaders of the BJP issued statements assuring swift action while Adityanath announced Rs 5 lakh compensation to the kin of each of the five victims. This was followed by the statement of Deputy Chief Minister Dinesh Sharma – a Brahmin by caste – on July 3 that all named accused had been arrested in “the brutal killing incident in Rae Bareli” and that the administration had been directed to provide arms licenses and security to the victims’ families.

But as the BJP’s upper caste leaders openly gave a casteist turn to what was clearly a criminal incident over a land dispute, unrest started building up among many of its Other Backward Classes leaders. The unease burst out on July 8 – a day after the government appointed its new set of law officers for Allahabad High Court – when Uttar Pradesh Labour Minister Swami Prasad Maurya dubbed the Rae Bareli victims as “goons, criminals and shooters who had come to kill the son of the pradhan of the village where they were killed”.

Law Minister Brajesh Pathak, a Brahmin, instantly countered Maurya by calling his cabinet colleague’s comments “condemnable”.

The sudden rush to placate Brahmins in the aftermath of the Rae Bareli deaths has made it difficult for the BJP to sustain its multi-caste alliance in India’s most populous state. The ruling party’s bid to control the possible political damage through pro-Brahmin gestures, including doling out government posts, has created fresh room for bickering between the state’s upper castes and the Other Backward Classes.