Mao Zedong has been proven wrong for once: Political power doesn’t grow out of the barrel of a gun; instead, it’s carved painstakingly through the network of social coalitions. The bigger the size of your social union, the greater are the chances of your electoral success. We have been a nation of castes and communities since time immemorial. And, like it or not, we continue to be so — even more so in Uttar Pradesh.
You can understand why the Congress, which doesn’t enjoy the unflinching support of any caste or community any longer, is planning to hold an exclusive meeting of Brahmin leaders at Allahabad on 2 September. Election strategist Prashant Kishore, who is guiding the 125-year-old party this time, thinks that unless Brahmins get back to the party-fold, other castes wouldn’t come anywhere near it. He is right. For, nobody in this age of competitive politics wants to waste his or her vote.
There is another compelling reason why he is focussing on the Brahmins first: It was the upper-caste vote-bank that had deserted the Congress first in wake of the Ram Janambhoomi movement in late 1980s. And once they moved away, others including backward classes and Dalits too followed suit. The desertion by Muslims, which took place in the aftermath of demolition of the ‘Babri Mosque’ at Ayodhya in 1992, proved to be the proverbial last nail in its coffin. All the four major pillars of its otherwise unbeatable social coalition – women, Brahmins (upper castes), Muslims and Dalits – lay crumbled. The party could never breathe life fully thereafter.
It wasn’t surprising that the rise of the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the BJP coincided with the fall of the Congress. While upper castes moved towards the BJP, the Dalits and a significant section of ‘have-nots’ among the Dalits sided with the BSP. The SP, on its part, got Yadavas, Kurmis and most importantly, Muslims. In later years, the BJP also became weak following weakening of its upper caste and floating vote-banks. Forget for a moment the 2014 Lok Sabha election result, which was in any case more of an exception rather than norm, and you would see that the two national parties, which had failed to retain their social coalitions over the years, gradually ceded space to the SP and the BSP.
Let’s shift our focus back on the current activities of the Congress. Don’t be surprised if you get to know that already a closed-door meeting of over 200 prominent Brahmin leaders cutting across party lines from all over the state was held in Lucknow last week to mobilise support of more and more Brahmins. According to The Indian Express, the Congress plans to galvanise at least 20000 more Brahmins leaders from district to village level in the run-up to the elections.
Their strategy may or may not succeed. But one thing is clear: The Congress genuinely believes that once the Brahmins get back to the party, Muslims would revisit them as always in the last century. “It’s a fact that from Jawahar Lal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant, HN Bahuguna and ND Tiwari were all darlings of the Muslim masses in the bygone era”, a top Congress leader, who had taken part in the Lucknow meeting, said adding that “let’s try to replicate it under Sheila Dixit this time. And why not”? On its part, the BJP isn’t worried. The party may, according to The Times of India report, avoid the ‘Brahmin trap’ set by the Congress. “There is a strong view in the BJP that the party should not deviate from its essential strategy to woo non-Yadava backward castes”, the newspaper report said adding that the politically savvy community of Brahmins would eventually realise that a vote for the Congress, in effect, meant a vote for either the SP or the BSP.
However, those who know UP rather well, think otherwise. Caste politics has always been a tricky affair and chances are that BJP’s strategy might backfire once again. Don’t forget what recently happened in Bihar. Despite all attempts to woo non-Yadava voters through Jitan Ram Majhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha (HAM) and Upendra Kushwaha’s Rashtirya Lok Samata Praty (RLSP), the BJP had to bite dust. Remember, the backward classes in the Ganga belt have almost always been running independent of both the Congress and the BJP since the days of Ram Manohar Lohia.
Bihar and UP, the latter’s eastern part in particular, present more or less a similar picture politically. And don’t be surprised if you witness a nasty, intense fight between ‘Mandal and Kamandal’ once again.