CP Joshi's casteist comment is his 'Mani Shankar Aiyar moment'; may cost Congress MP, Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha polls

CP Joshi's straight-out casteist remark against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union minister Uma Bharti — implying that because of their low caste origins, they didn't qualify to be from the Hindu community, never mind speak about Hinduism — has given ammunition to the BJP that might prove fatal for the Congress in the Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha elections.

The former Union minister and one of the Congress' contenders for the chief ministerial berth in Rajasthan may end up earning the distinction of creating a "Joshi moment" for these elections just as there was or a Sonia Gandhi "Maut ka Saudagar" moment the in 2007 Gujarat election or a Mani Shankar Aiyar "Neech" Modi moment in the 2017 Gujarat election or a Mohan Bhagwat moment in the 2015 Bihar election that tilted the outcome of the election.

 CP Joshis casteist comment is his Mani Shankar Aiyar moment; may cost Congress MP, Rajasthan Vidhan Sabha polls

File image of former Union minister CP Joshi. PIB India

Although Joshi has some competition from within the Congress — Kamal Nath allegedly telling Muslim community leaders in a closed-door meeting that if 90 percent of Muslims didn't vote for the Congress, the party would suffer immense damage and Raj Babbar dragging Modi's mother into the election campaign, the Rajasthan leader's remark towers over everything else.

Let's revisit what Joshi said at an election rally in Rajasthan: "What is Uma Bharti's caste, does anybody know that? What is Ritambhara's caste? If anyone knows about dharma in this country then it is a Pandit. A Pandit is Brahmin. It has turned bizarre in this country. Bharti is from the Lodhi caste (an OBC), but she will speak about Hindu dharma; Sadhvi (Rithambhara) may be from any religion but she will speak about the Hindu religion. Modiji’s religion may be anything but he will speak about the Hindu religion. Does the Brahmin have no work?"

Joshi, a Brahmin is questioning Modi and Bharti's right to speak about Hinduism because the two belonged to the category of Other Backward Castes.

He clearly forgot the famous couplet by the 15th Century poet and saint Kabir, "Jati na puchhoo Sadhu ki, pooch lijiye gyan… (Don't ask the caste of seers, ask for their knowledge)". Bharti and Rithambhara are sadhvis and have been reciting religious discourse since childhood. Modi, born in a humble OBC family, has risen through the ranks due to sheer personal grit and hard work, and many take him as the biggest Hindutava leader of modern times, as also as a 'Hindu Hriday Samrat'.

The BJP could not have let this issue go. It quickly turned it into a major electoral issue, holding a series of press conferences, referring to it at a public rally and commenting on it on social media in a big way.

Amit Malviya tweeted: "Shameful statement by Congress Leader CP Joshi. Implies what does a lower caste person like Modi know about Hinduism as only Brahmins are true custodians of Hinduism". He also attached a 25-second video of Joshi's remarks.

The Congress now realises the damage potential of Joshi's statement and Rahul Gandhi swung into action to issue a clarification of the party's position:

Joshi expressed regret and for the Congress, the issue ended there. Joshi didn't say sorry. He only expressed regret if his statement had hurt sentiments of any section of society:

The Congress has for some time been trying to reclaim the Brahmanical position for the Congress by painting Rahul as a "Janeudhari Brahmin". The Congress thus far was trying to push soft Hindutva. But what Joshi has said looks like a strong advocation of Hindutva: First, claiming that the Ram Mandir in Ayodhya could only be built by the Congress and its prime minister. He based his claim on a contentious fact that Rajiv Gandhi had the locks of Babri Masjid broken in 1986 (in the portion where the statue of Ramlala was installed in December 1949) and now claims that only a Brahmin like him could talk and define Hinduism.

The problem for Congress is four-fold:

First, since Joshi has named Modi to claim that his caste disqualifies him from talking about Hinduism, he has handed the BJP an emotive issue on a platter.

Second, Brahmins are important social constituents, but unlike as in Uttar Pradesh, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, they are not going to be the key decisive factor in the electoral outcome.

Third, most Brahmins have long shifted their preference from the Congress to the BJP. Despite the Congress trying hard to establish Brahmin credentials for Rahul, given his lineage as the grandson of Indira and Feroze Gandhi and son of Sonia and Rajiv Gandhi, his caste credentials are a matter of public debate.

Four, when one party aggressively tries to woo one dominant caste and community, there is the possibility of other castes and communities becoming polarised in favour of the other party.

Updated Date: Nov 23, 2018 16:16:03 IST