Every election season, interest groups revive old political tropes that are long past their relevance. With five states holding assembly polls in February and March, this year is no exception. The electorate, however, seems to have moved on
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
ROTI KAPADA AUR MAKAAN, a cult film from the mid-1970s, coined a powerful socio-economic and political trope on the daily struggle of ordinary Indians for the necessities of life, such as food, clothing and shelter. Replete with metaphors, the film had a lead character played by Manoj Kumar who was called Bharat. The film itself was released in 1974 but the title was actually a throwback to the late 1960s when Indira Gandhi popularised the slogan as the key poll pledge of Congress, ahead of the 1967 General Election.
Developing economies and progressive democracies graduate, over the years, from conversations centred on the essentials of life to a wider and upgraded menu of citizens’ necessities. Ironically, though, decades after the film poignantly portrayed the battle of ordinary people for the basic necessities of roti, kapda aur makan, it remained a trope that continued to resonate with the lived experience of people, long after its sell-by date should have naturally expired.
Hindi cinema moved on from templating miseries of grinding poverty and frustration to showcasing youthful angst about an unresponsive, entrenched and apathetic system and later, to the more commercially viable Angry Young Man trope of the 1970s and 1980s. The hero raged, battled and won against the vicissitudes of the system, the intransigent hurdles of socio-economic and political realities. In time this formula, too, reached a saturation point at the box office. By the 1990s, with economic liberalisation and the opening up of the market—irrespective of whether ordinary citizens had overcome acute problems and got their roti, kapda aur makan or not—politicians tactically and calculatedly upgraded their poll pledges to more localised second-generation essentials in infrastructure: delivery of bijli, sadak, paani (power, roads, water). That is a trope (or versions of it) they have been stuck with for a while now, even resorting to luring voters with a cornucopia of white goods: washing machines, laptops, bicycles, etcetera.
Many of the prominent cultural and socio-political tropes in post-1947 India were conceived from the gargantuan Original Lie perpetrated through history: the myth of a historical Hindu-Muslim cultural synthesis that was vitiated only with the upsurge of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Known beguilingly as the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb, this cyclopean cultural hoax was reinforced in the mainstream narrative of the Nehru era, and for long after as the ‘syncretic culture’ that unitedly launched the struggle against colonialism. Beefed up by carefully contrived fables, this trope of traditional Hindu-Muslim cultural unity morphed in the 1970s into the idea of ‘secularism’ which was written into the Constitution by Indira Gandhi.
The mesmerizingly euphonious-sounding concept of Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb is attributed in history to Mughal Emperor Jalal-ud-din Akbar and woven into the hyperbolic fables of his so-called progressive worldview: his propounding of a ‘syncretic religion’ grandiosely called the Religion of God (Din-i-Ilahi/Tawhid-i-Ilahi, which translated to ‘Divine Monotheism’ or ‘Oneness of God’ or ‘Divine Faith’) in 1582, comprising elements of Islam, Hinduism, Zoroastrianism as well as Christianity, Jainism and Buddhism; his proactive alliances with Hindus; his Hindu wives who were allowed magnanimously to practise their religion and pray to their deities; his abolition of unjust taxes on Hindu subjects levied by his predecessor; employment of Hindus at high posts in government and in the army; and freedom of worship for all.
In UP, focus on tangibles like last-mile connectivity for electricity and delivery of water, sanitation and toilets to villages, quite apart from the roads and expressways, is making a mockery of the bijli, sadak, paani chorus that was used to lure voters for years
In truth, as the supreme leader of the Mughal Empire, Akbar’s decisions were far from altruistic and hardly driven by philosophical motives. At the very top of the ruling pyramid, he was keenly aware that disturbing the order in his empire, comprised of millions of Hindus, was not to his advantage or that of his successors, politically or ideologically. History is witness to the fact that there can be no real equality between the oppressor and the oppressed. Still, the illusion created by Akbar’s decisions was flaunted by sustained tropes through decades, reinforced by concocted legends and manipulative myths.
The myth of a secular and socialist India conceived during the anti-colonial struggle in the subcontinent was just that, a fable extrapolated from the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb of yore. In November 1948, during discussions in the Constituent Assembly on the nature of the Constitution, it was KT Shah who proposed that the words “secular” and “socialist” be included in the Preamble. BR Ambedkar was among those who rejected the proposal, preferring to leave the choice to future generations of Indians. It was only three decades later that Indira Gandhi’s Government inserted the words through the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution. That move, considered politically motivated by many, has been criticised for the problematic manner in which it has dominated governance and policy in India. Ronald Inden wrote in his book, Imagining India (1990): “The independent government implemented secularism mostly by refusing to recognize the religious pasts of Indian nationalism, whether Hindu or Muslim, and at the same time (inconsistently) retaining Muslim personal law.” In his controversial but widely read book, Inden argued that the West’s depictions of India as a civilisation of caste, villages, spiritualism and divine kings, a land dominated by imagination rather than reason, have done gross injustice to Indians even while the West itself appropriated the right to dominate it.
Honest readings of historical facts—stripped of the contrived myths and fables fashioned by the mainstream to bolster political and ideological motives—establish that the fundamental premise of a secular and socialist India on which the new republic was founded was made of straw. This false reading of history was used to deny that a long drawn out Hindu resurgence was already in the making on the road to the struggle against colonialism. The struggle for independence was, in fact, predominantly the struggle of Hindu nationalism against Mughal oppression and Western imperialism. Hindutva was the political response of a largely Hindu civilisation (comprising Hindus of various hues and convictions united under a single umbrella) under the subjugation of political Islam and colonisation by the West. Congress circumvented the discomfiture around the Muslim question by chorusing the “secular and socialist” credentials of Indian society through history, but scholarly readings view the struggle against the colonial oppressors as a Hindu reformist movement.
It was especially in the region now making up Uttar Pradesh (UP) that the rule of the Mughals manifested itself bluntly. It was here, too, that the contrived narrative of the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb was exposed as a falsehood the most. The Muslims of UP were highly entitled and the Taluqdars at the heart of the Mughal Empire were from the community. They benefited the most from the rule of the Mughal dynasty flowing from Babar and Akbar and were considered very powerful. The brunt of their rule, simultaneously, was borne the most by the ordinary people of this region. The sharp divergence of interests and concerns between the Muslim ruling class and the vast numbers of Hindu subjects in the cultural, social and economic spheres that began here resonated down the centuries.
With the gradual decline of the Mughal Empire and the arrival of the East India Company, it was the ruling class of Muslims here who stood to lose the most. The powerful Ashrafi Muslims of UP grew apprehensive of losing power and that they would be subjugated by Hindus by the sheer force of numbers. The atrophying of the Mughal Empire after Bahadur Shah Zafar—he was installed by the Muslim commander on the Mughal throne with a sense of urgency—came alongside the ascending power of the British. Scholars maintain that the ruling Muslim classes of the United Provinces led the community into insulation, revivalism and non-cooperation with the British. Hindus, who suffered from no sense of heresy at working with the British, consequently became the beneficiaries of jobs in the armed forces, the bureaucracy and other services that were, until then, relatively inaccessible to them. The situation continued until the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857-59, also known as the First War of Independence, where Indian soldiers in the service of the East India Company rebelled against their British masters. It spread all over UP from Meerut, from Kanpur to Agra, and then to Delhi.
It was the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 when the strategic alliance between Jats and Muslims was stripped of all pretensions of unity, with Jats rejecting the RLD and opting for BJP. Jats had chosen to come under the overarching Hindu umbrella rather than a political allegiance based on caste
This was perceived as an opportunity by the likes of Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, who set up the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College in Aligarh in 1875 after hard-selling to his community the idea of learning English in order to work its way back into positions of power in the subcontinent. He also sold the idea to the British, suggesting that Muslims play a key role in the effort to ensure firm control on an empire populated by millions of Hindus. In 1920, this centre of learning became the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU). It was perhaps no coincidence that as a precursor to establishing the university in Aligarh, Syed Ahmed Khan published a periodical called the Tehzeeb-ul-Ikhlaq, ostensibly with the noble intent of “ameliorating the socio-economic conditions of Muslims.”
Later, Pakistan saw Syed Ahmed Khan as the progenitor of the Two-Nation Theory. Columnist Najmul Hoda writes: “The Pakistani narrative is about how his legacy actually unfolded, and the Indian one is about what could have been…his combative persona would fulminate, ‘Is it possible that under these circumstances two nations—the Mohammedans and the Hindus—could sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not. It is necessary that one of them should conquer the other.’” Sir Syed, Hoda maintains, had an “obsessive passion for the preservation of the interests of the former ruling class to which he belonged”.
MYTH 1: UP LACKS BIJLI-SADAK-PAANI
Nowhere does the bijli-sadak-paani trope come through as sharply as a battered political device as in the highly aspirational, poll-bound state of UP, where netas flog the cliché to death even today. This, despite statistics that conclusively prove radical transformation of physical infrastructure on the ground and rapid strides made in the social sector over the last few years.
In UP, hard-nosed focus on tangibles like last-mile connectivity for electricity and delivery of water, sanitation and toilets to a large percentage of villages, quite apart from the roads, is today making a mockery of the relevance of the bijli, sadak, paani chorus that was used to lure voters for years. Little wonder that Indira Gandhi’s legatees are forced to run outdated niche variations of her own Garibi Hatao from decades ago and the main political challenger to the government in power is forced to bolster his campaign with promises of freebies. In neighbouring Bihar, years ago, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) chief and former Chief Minister Lalu Prasad was able to win on a campaign based solely on intangibles (“Swarg nahin diya, Swar diya”). As far back as 2003, BJP built a potent campaign against Digvijaya Singh by coining the moniker “Mr Bantadhar” (spoil sport) and pointing at the gross lack of tangibles in Madhya Pradesh under his rule. In 2013, they revived the moniker to win the state back and keep Congress out. The aware UP voter, too, now prefers to trust the tangibles in physical, social (health, education) and civic infrastructure delivered to him rather than blind faith in banal slogans. Tired tropes have no space in the voter’s consciousness.
However, regional and national party leaders desperate for a shot at a return to power along with pliable political scientists harnessed for the ‘cause’—from the National Capital Region to the distant US—have left no stone unturned to ensure that from the mainstream to the social media, there is little or no space safe from the 24/7 barrage of polemical cacophony and rhetorical grievance-mongering. These smear merchants and their enablers rarely allow empirical data to come in the way of their arguments or hamper their stuck narratives. Professional pot-stirrers insist on purveying their outdated narratives.
Long drives today in what was once the heart of the derisively labelled BIMARU states of the Hindi belt are proof of the transformation. UP is today proud home to the longest expressway in the country, the fastest ever constructed Metro (in Kanpur) and India’s widest expressway (Meerut). Till 2017, UP had three expressways (the Yamuna Expressway, the Greater Noida Expressway and the Agra-Lucknow Expressway). Today, it has seven expressways/link expressways in the making—including the four-lane, 600-km Ganga Expressway; the six-lane, 343-km Purvanchal Expressway; and the four-lane, 289-km Bundelkhand Expressway.
The state’s health infrastructure is the best it has been in over seven decades. It sports two new All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and 30 new medical colleges (of which 16 have already been inaugurated and 14 are under construction). The state has three big cancer treatment centres and eight super speciality hospitals. Moreover, 551 oxygen plants are operational, that is 98 per cent of the targeted 561. Then, 5,000 new primary health sub-centres have been set up along with 12 AYUSH hospitals. Eight lakh toilets have been constructed statewide. Through almost two years of the Covid-19 pandemic, free food rations have been distributed across the state to all eligible beneficiaries.
By 2023, the ₹ 10,000 crore Kandla-Gorakhpur gas pipeline is also slated to be commissioned. Five big irrigation projects expected to benefit 40 lakh farmers have been completed. The Saryu Canal National Project, pending since 1978, has been completed; 17 new airports have been commissioned and construction for a greenfield international airport has already begun at Jewar. The defence ministry recently cleared the ₹ 5,000 crore AK-203 assault rifle deal with Russia as part of the Make in India programme, under which the rifles will be made in Amethi. Under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) alone, 43 lakh houses have been built and allotted in both urban and rural areas to those eligible. Another one lakh-plus houses have been allotted under the Mukhyamantri Awas Yojana. Under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) scheme, over 2.5 crore farmers have benefited to the tune of ₹ 42,565 crore as part of the Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi. UP was felicitated as the state that implemented this programme the best in the country. Under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, some 2.21 crore farmers have been insured and 27.56 lakh farmers have benefitted from insurance payouts of ₹ 2,376 crore.
MYTH 2: AN ABIDING JAT-MUSLIM ALLIANCE
A strong influence on legendary kisan leader Chaudhary Charan Singh during his childhood was that of the Arya Samaj. He threw himself into Arya Samaj activities. His wife Gayatri Devi told an interviewer that “Chaudhary sahib was the president of the Arya Samaj and I was president of its women’s wing. His brother was the president of the young men’s Arya Samaj. So, our entire family was involved with the Arya Samaj.” Chaudhary Charan Singh continued, till his death, to adhere to a strict code of life prescribed by the Arya Samaj. He did not drink alcohol, was a vegetarian and non-smoker, and led a life of ascetic simplicity, placing a premium on hard work. It was the same Arya Samaj which had started the Shuddhi Movement in the early part of the 20th century. The movement aimed at bringing back to the Hindu fold those who had converted to Islam and Christianity and succeeded in Ghar Wapsi or reconversion of those Hindus who were forcibly proselytised into Islam during the Moplah rebellion in Malabar in 1920. Swami Dayanand Saraswati played a prominent role in the Shuddhi Movement which also challenged Christian missionaries trying to convert the poor and depressed classes among Hindus. His charisma and oratory prowess ensured that some 18,000 Muslims returned to the Hindu fold in some parts of UP alone.
As UP readies for a defining election, the Samajwadi Party (SP) has wrapped up an alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD)—a political party founded by Charan Singh’s son, the late Chaudhary Ajit Singh, to carry on the political legacy of the original Lok Dal and of his father, a former prime minister. Charan Singh’s grandson, Jayant Chaudhary, is currently the president of RLD. Immediately, old narratives were unleashed of a strong and abiding Jat-Muslim alliance that would forcefully propel the SP-RLD combine to power and put BJP decisively on the backfoot during the Assembly election. A similar narrative was uncorked in haste during both the 2017 state polls and later during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, only to unravel completely both times when the results came in.
The combine, partisan experts inform, will extract a handsome electoral dividend in western UP when the votes are counted on March 10th. They are unanimous in detecting a revival of the grand MAJGAR social alliance which includes the original social cocktail of the so-called martial classes of Ahir, Jat, Gujjar and Rajput (AJGAR) first proposed by Sir Chhotu Ram and later used by Charan Singh in the 1970s to break the dominance of Congress.
Muslims were a later addition by Charan Singh to the AJGAR social grouping to enrich its political and electoral power. Broad-basing the alliance into MAJGAR, he co-opted the Muslims of western UP as strategic partners to ensure a winning electoral combination in the region.
Contradictions persist among farmers in the same district. They may come together occasionally on a single issue. But their coming together as a single political entity with a common agenda is in the realm of myth
The enduring myth of the Jat-Muslim bhaichara owed its origins to a very brief period when, after 1977, Jats and Muslims found themselves on the same platform under the leadership of Charan Singh. In 1977, Muslims had revolted against Congress. The Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid had shared a platform with Atal Bihari Vajpayee and other Janata Party members at the Ram Lila grounds. All of north India had revolted against Congress. In 1980, Muslims returned to Congress in large numbers but the Muslims of western UP stayed with Charan Singh. Yet the alliance collapsed in 1984 and Congress received overwhelming support in the 1984 elections after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. Then came 1991 and Jat voters preferred to vote for BJP as part of a larger Hindu identity rather than on the basis of their caste. The pull of the Jat voters of western UP towards BJP impacted Ajit Singh’s own failure to win the traditional Baghpat seat in 1998.
It was the Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013, however, when the strategic alliance between Jats and Muslims was stripped of all pretensions of unity, with the former rejecting the hand pump (RLD’s election symbol) and opting for BJP. Jats had chosen to come under the overarching Hindu umbrella rather than opt for a political allegiance based on caste alone. This was a well-thought-out strategy rather than something that happened overnight: in 2012, only 7 per cent of Jat voters had preferred BJP. But in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2017 Assembly elections in UP, that number went up to 77 per cent and 91 per cent respectively. Eleven Jat MLAs were elected under the lotus symbol in 2017, four of whom became ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government. The later Lok Sabha polls saw three Jat MPs being elected. This sustained departure of Jats for BJP, driving a wedge between them and the Muslims of the region, could not have happened if, indeed, the bhaichara was holding.
The Muzaffarnagar riots of 2013 rank as one of the worst communal disturbances in recent years. Worse still was the role of the ruling SP in tweaking the facts to project Muslims as the real victims of the riots. The report on the riots that the governor of UP sent to the Centre on September 8th categorically held the state government responsible for the riots. It also pointed to major administrative lapses. The narrative was set in stone when an NGO, ANHAD—Shabnam Hashmi, Harsh Mander (member of the National Advisory Council), KN Panikkar (historian), Shubha Mudgal (Hindustani classical singer), Kamla Bhasin and Saeed Akhtar Mirza (Bollywood screenwriter)—released a report titled ‘Evil Stalks the Land’, blaming the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and a few local BJP leaders, and made insinuations against Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. The riots, it said, were the culmination of the systematic efforts of RSS, BJP and several Hindu organisations which “spit venom on Muslims” and were the result of a “pre-planned conspiracy” to malign Muslims. It underplayed the lapses of the state administration. On March 26th, 2014, the Supreme Court had severely castigated the UP government for its handling of the riots and the post-riot situation.
A subsequent report on the riots clearly mentioned that in the past year there were repeated incidents of Muslim youths indulging in eve-teasing, molestation and rape. On December 21st, 2012, for instance, a Muslim youth called Tasavvur raped his 15-year-old Hindu neighbour. On February 18th, 2013, three Muslim youths—Javed, Parvez and Manan—gangraped a 14-year-old girl in Shamli. A man was shot dead in July 2013 for demanding the arrest of rapists by Bhura, Afzal, Mehtab, Yusuf, Farid, Hashim and Islam. In Miranpur and Muzaffarnagar and other places, there were repeat instances of this kind but no action was taken against the perpetrators in any of these cases, triggering anger among Hindus.
On September 7th, 2013, on their way back from Nagla, Madaud, unarmed farmers were brutally assaulted by Muslims at Purbaliyan, Jolly Nahar, Madeda and nearby places. In this attack, Hindus from the villages of Rahmatpur, Tejlaheda, Kakda, Soram, Baseda, Kakrala, Bhokarhedi, Chachrahuli-Baseda, Gadla, Nirgajni, Tevda and Behda were seriously injured. Tractors, trolleys and motorbikes were burnt. The Army was called in and curfew was imposed in Muzaffarnagar. In August 2013, Rakesh Tikait’s Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) announced its decision to attend the condolence meeting for Sachin and Gaurav, both beaten to death by Muslim youth after they protested against the eve-teasing of their sisters. There were innumerable such instances. And the list of names of the dead in these incidents is telling. This was a clear case of coining a proposition and selectively arranging facts to buttress that proposition.
But the myth of an abiding brotherhood in western UP between Jats and Muslims of the region was grafted on to the 1977 developments without an in-depth reading of subsequent developments, both on the ground and at the hustings, on whether the alliance withstood pressures. That myth suited a particular narrative wherein Hindu assertion was an aberration and traditional Jat-Muslim brotherhood in western UP was intrinsically a part of the larger Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb that stemmed from UP. A narrative was contrived and for years afterwards, all facts militating against it were rejected in order to reinforce it.
MYTH 3: A UNION OF FARMERS
In end-2021, farmers protesting for more than a year against the three farm laws wound up their agitation against the Modi Government after it withdrew the laws. They were aimed at significantly opening up a farm sector moribund and un-remunerative for decades, forcing lakhs out of their traditional livelihood. Leftist farm union leaders and the liberal intelligentsia were quick to declare the agitation historic, one that, for the first time, united farmers of all classes. Like the trope of Jat-Muslim unity, the myth of a single, united platform for farmers across the country was a contrived one, a political chimera based on captivating fables and wishful thinking. Ironically, the same Left leaders and liberal intellectuals who hailed the farmers’ agitation as “historic” have been asserting for decades that the concerns of the land-owning class of farmers, the small and middle peasantry, and the landless farm labourers were different.
Chaudhary Charan Singh—described by Rakesh Tikait as his mentor, just like his father before him and other self-anointed farm leaders—was, not too long ago, branded by liberals as the leader of kulaks. In Russia, before the 1917 revolution, kulaks were considered reactionary rural land-owning classes and traders who were deceitful and contributed no labour of their own to earn their riches but used someone else’s labour. By the 1930s, according to Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the necessity was found for a new word to describe a new category of people who helped or aided the kulaks and the word “podkulcknik” was coined to mean “accomplice of the enemy”. Left-liberals and intellectuals used the word “podkulcknik” (or friend of rich kulaks) pejoratively for Charan Singh to denigrate him and his convictions on farm-sector related issues.
Sharp contradictions have persisted in perspectives on what is best for the farm sector economy in India, not just among agriculturists, agricultural economists, those involved in the primary sector for their livelihood and those suggesting prescriptions for ameliorating the sector from the outside but also within the fraternity of farmers, farm labourers and others directly connected with the primary sector. The contradictions persist among farmers, between farmers in the same district, between farmers in one region/state and another—and based on land-owning class, caste, community, crops farmed, soil health and water issues, and so on in varied regions. This has meant, through history, that uniting farmers on a single platform with a common political and economic worldview was practically impossible. They may succeed in coming together occasionally on a single issue, to achieve a specific objective in a specific situation. But their coming together as a single political entity with a common agenda overcoming all contradictions is, and has remained, more in the realm of myth.
MYTH 4: A GRAND OBC ALLIANCE
Just as in the case of a united kisan political and economic identity, a common Other Backward Classes (OBC) identity has proved a mirage in recent history. Cutting across castes and sub-castes, OBCs across India may be united in their resistance to and rejection of upper-caste condescension, feudalism and superciliousness, but when it comes to collective political action, they have realised that their interests are at odds and in sharp conflict with others in the same OBC grouping.
The battle for Most Backward Classes (MBC) support was at its peak in the most politically and strategically crucial 2015 state elections—the first after the General Election in which the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) led by BJP garnered a significant chunk of MBC support—and it brought out the sharp contradictions in caste and sub-caste interests among different OBC groups. (BJP had managed to win the support of a powerful caste combination of OBCs/MBCs and Dalits in the 2014 polls, giving it a strong base in Bihar). Charged by their rising political weight in the General Election, MBC caste groups, including Telis, Chowrasias, Noniyas, Kanus, Dhanuks, Chandravanshis, Hajjams and Nishads were clamouring for a bigger slice of the political pie and linked affirmative policy benefits.
The use of social justice slogans for political gains goes back to Lalu Prasad’s era even as the national mainstream was hailing him as a ‘social justice hero’ who had effected a transfer of power to OBCs from upper castes in Bihar after several decades. Not only were there tensions between Yadavs and Dalits in constituencies where the latter were numerically dominant, with many Dalits not even allowed to vote, but Lalu’s political exploitation of Muslims also came into question. Significantly, a large number of MBCs also tagged along under the banner of social justice when Lalu forged ahead with his “Bhu-Ra-Ba-La saaf karo” slogan (exhorting followers to finish off the upper castes comprising Bhumihars, Rajpts, Brahmins and Kayasthas politically). Their support, as that of Muslims, helped him in the 1990-2005 period, with the latter comprising 16 per cent of the state’s vote.
Socialist guru Ram Manohar Lohia had warned that a neo-elite among backwards could turn out to be more feudal than the upper castes they supplanted in the power matrix. He had said that the cartelisation of the upper OBC leadership would get deeply entrenched, making it that much more difficult for the lower OBC classes to oust them in the power struggle. “Even today, whatever is demanded in the name of 60% reservation has actually remained a preserve of a handful backward caste elite,” Lohia had maintained. But leaders belonging to the OBC elite have been flaunting Lohia’s slogan of “Samajwadiyon ne baandhi gaanth, pichhde pawein sau mein saath” (Socialists have resolved to get 60 per cent reservation for OBCs) for their benefit alone.
In the political churn of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the elite among the OBC—Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris—were the key gainers, leading to the assertion of neo-Brahmanism as predicted by Lohia, especially in the forced suppression of real social justice for lesser groupings such as the MBCs
With the decline in the dominance of upper castes in heartland politics in the initial decades after India’s independence, the elite among the OBC—the Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris—emerged winners, replacing Brahmins, Bhumihars and Rajputs. In the political churn that swept the late 1980s and early 1990s, they were the key gainers, leading to the assertion of neo-Brahmanism as predicted by Lohia, especially in the forced suppression of real social justice for lesser social groupings such as MBCs. Despite their numerical strength, however, MBCs were unable to effect any change in political power equations to gain allowances from the upper OBC triumvirate, as they did from the upper castes.
The contradiction of interests, pulls and pressures even among the upper OBC castes was evident as far back as in 1921 when the Triveni Sangh was launched. It was an umbrella organisation of three dominant castes, the Yadavs, Kurmis and Kushwahas. But they were unable to ride together for obvious reasons: their interests were in direct conflict, triggering intense competition for power and influence.
In UP, Kalyan Singh, from the Lodh community, managed to forge an alliance with the non-Yadav OBCs but faced stiff competition from others within a short span of time. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) chief and former Chief Minister Mayawati also managed the support of a large section on non-Yadav OBCs alongside that of MBCs and Dalits and could produce a spectacular result in 2007, so much so that others were forced to do politics in the state on the terms she set in that year.
MYTH 5: A COMPOSITE DALIT VOTEBANK
The first significant challenge to Congress’ monopolistic, almost feudal, hold over the Dalit votebank came from BR Ambedkar with the launch of the Republican Party of India (RPI). But it failed to gain widespread traction within the Dalit community in western India, let alone Maharashtra. But a beginning had been made. There was a time when Congress had Dalits voting for it in large numbers since it was seen as the harbinger of freedom and the political platform that gave them franchise, promise of liberty and emancipation, and an end to the social discrimination and allied indignities they had to suffer for long.
Congress had become synonymous with the promise of a better future. It was when it became apparent that Congress was failing to deliver on its promises that RPI was born. Other efforts to challenge Congress’ hold on Dalits were made subsequently. In many parts of the country, Dalits shifted their allegiance to communist parties even as Congress found it difficult to reconcile the aspirations of the community with upper-caste stubbornness about retaining their supremacy in power.
Eventually, sections of Dalits started drifting towards the various versions of socialist parties. In Punjab, according to the 2011 Census, there are 31.9 per cent Dalits. Of these, 9.4 per cent Dalits are Sikhs and 12.4 per cent are Hindu Dalits. Of the Sikh Dalit population, 20.7 per cent are Ravidasi and Ramdasi, 10 per cent Adharmi, and 8.6 per cent come from the Valmiki community. The state has virtually institutionalised the distinction between Valmikis and Ramdasiyas, with the former garnering 12 per cent of the education and government job quotas in the state.
However, while the strain between upper castes and Dalits has been studied, not enough research has been done on the internecine friction within Dalit communities that exists according to anecdotal evidence. As with Punjab, so is the case in Andhra Pradesh with the Malas and Madigas. In Bihar, the rivalry between the Chamars and the Dushads is well known. In UP, the tallest Dalit leaders emerged from among the Chamars who led the socio-political movement against caste-based domination and oppression, based on the sheer strength of their numbers. Ambedkar came from the community, as did Congress’ tallest Dalit leader, Babu Jagjivan Ram. As the most educated and strongest in terms of numbers, the Chamars among Dalits, as with the Yadavs among OBCs, became the biggest beneficiaries of all associated affirmative action-based policies and gained power within the system.
While the strain between upper castes and Dalits has been studied, not enough research has been done on the internecine friction within Dalit communities. In Bihar, the rivalry between the chamars and the dushads is well known. In UP, the tallest Dalit leaders emerged from among the chamars
In UP, these benefits went mostly to the Jatavs, the community from which Mayawati hails, when she rode to power in Lucknow. Neither Lalu nor Akhilesh Yadav, and not even Mayawati, can fail to accept that when they accord primacy solely to their core support (caste) base, they leave the others in the larger community vulnerable to poaching by competitors.
An overuse of common tropes can be read as a sign of laziness and deceit, leaving them with no takers. As with literature and cinema, there’s a fine line here, too, between skilfully relying on a trope and overdoing it to the point of cliché. It is this modern-day repetitive use—long past their sell-by date—that has made socio-cultural and political tropes hyperbolic clichés and imbued them with a pejorative connotation. Tropes are like one (or two)-trick ponies. Flogging the same acts to exhaustion over and over ends up rendering them unappealing. The audience moves on to a more eye-grabbing act from the competition. “Overuse at your own risk” is something those purveying the tropes would do well to remember.