Patels' OBC status demand: How the movement upsets Modi and BJP's Hindutva equation

The contradiction between Hindutva and ideas of social justice is embodied in Modi’s personality. He is the Hindu Hriday Samrat. He has also become an OBC leader, largely because he harped on it to harvest votes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is because of these two attributes of his that the BJP succeeded in mustering a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own.

Ajaz Ashraf August 28, 2015 16:41:17 IST
Patels' OBC status demand: How the movement upsets Modi and BJP's Hindutva equation

The massive protest of the Patels on the issue of reservation in Gujarat underscores the limits of Hindutva politics — it is simply not equipped to paper over caste contradictions in the society unless it baits and targets the religious minorities.

For nearly 30 years, particularly during the 12-year-rule of Narendra Modi as chief minister, Hindutva was the glue which kept together the social groups which were in the reservation pool and those outside it.

But a counter-mobilisation along caste lines seems to have been triggered because of the Patels demanding the scrapping of the OBC reservation unless it is extended to them. It points to the inherent limitation of the Sangh’s efforts to unite social groups located on different pegs of the Hindu social ladder through the Hindutva philosophy.

Two days before youth leader Hardik Patel delivered his fiery speech at a mega-rally, sending the state careening into chaos and curfew, Gujarat’s OBC leaders had come together to declare that "even one percent of reservation" should not be extended to Patels.

The ideological attack on Hindutva was manifest in the speech of Gujarat Kshatriya-Thakor Sena leader Alpesh Thakor, who is spearheading the movement to unite 146 OBC communities for ensuring the Patels are not granted reservation from their 27 percent share.

Patels OBC status demand How the movement upsets Modi and BJPs Hindutva equation

Protesters who joined the rally demanding OBC quota for Patels. PTI

After lambasting them for demanding reservation despite being prosperous and controlling the levers of power, Thakor said, “These general castes (that is, those who are not in the reservation pool) projected Muslims as our enemies and incited OBCs to fight against them. But now we have learnt that Muslims are also OBCs. They are among us. We have now realised that our actual enemies are those who want to snatch our right of reservation."

There are three aspects to Thakore’s statement. One, it shows that the anti-Muslim tirade of successive BJP regimes, reaching its most menacing pitch during the communal riots of 2002, did unite different Hindu social groups against the religious minority portrayed as ‘the other’ or ‘the enemy’.

Two, there is a sharp divergence of interests between the OBCs, SCs and STs and those not in the reservation pool.

Three, Thakore is saying that the OBCs and large sections of Muslims share the same common socio-economic status – and, therefore, should come together under a common political roof.

This theme echoed in the speech of the Gujarat Chaudhari community president, Bharat Chaudhari, at the OBC rally. Deriding the Patels for believing they could unseat the government as they were only 12 percent of the state’s population, Chaudhari said, “They forget that we are 78 percent (OBC Hindus and Muslims, SCs and STs). We can do the same. What will happen if all the OBCs come on road?”

In Gujarat, the pro and anti-reservation conflicts date back to the 1980s. It was Congress Chief Minister Madhavsinh Solanki who had granted reservation to the OBCs, on the basis of which he raised the formidable social alliance of KHAMS (Khatriya-Harijan-Adivasi-Muslim). This alliance came apart because of the anti-reservation stir of the Patels, in 1981 and 1985, which often also tended to become communal. The BJP's Hindutva politics subsequently rallied several OBC groups behind the party, now increasingly dominated by the Patels.

In many ways, what is being witnessed in Gujarat is the replay of the battle between pro- and anti-reservationists of 1990, when then Prime Minister VP Singh decided to implement the Mandal Commission report granting reservation to the OBCs in Central Government jobs.

Those who were excluded from the reservation pool – upper castes and upwardly mobile peasant castes such as Jats – took to the streets against the OBC reservations. The fury of their protests consolidated the OBCs. It was to paper over this political-social schism that BJP leader LK Advani undertook the Rath Yatra, billed as a journey from Somnath to Ayodhya.

Yet, for all his sharp Hindutva rhetoric, the wave the BJP had hoped to generate in the Hindi heartland couldn’t sweep past the Mandal citadel of east Uttar Pradesh and beyond. In fact, in undivided Bihar, the Janata Dal, led by Lalu Prasad Yadav, won 49 out of 54 constituencies in the 1991 Lok Sabha election.

Since then, the political and electoral battles have been largely confined between what is called the Social Justice force and the Hindutva brigade. Yet, both these combines discovered their limits to growth. In addition, the ranks of Social Justice combine were depleted because of political competition and ambition – for instance, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan parted ways with Lalu.

This led to the second phase of electoral alliances – elements of the Social Justice force combined with either the BJP or the Congress. It produced coalitions at the Centre and, to a degree, blunted the edge of the Social Justice and Hindutva ideologies.

This fine balance has been upset because of the rise of Narendra Modi, who combined the planks of development, Hindutva and his own OBC status to help the BJP sweep much of North India. It might seem bewildering, at first glance, that within a year of Modi harping on his OBC origin for the first time in the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the reservation issue has roiled the political waters of Gujarat.

Yet, the resurfacing of the reservation issue is logical. This is because the Hindutva philosophy of cultural nationalism doesn’t challenge the ideological underpinning of the caste system, which accounts, to a considerable extent, for the sharp inequalities in the society. The hierarchy of occupations created on the principle of purity and pollution spawned what is called structural discrimination, which lasted for centuries. The policy of reservation is aimed at, among other things, reversing this historical discrimination.

It is one thing for the Hindutva ideologues to say they don’t believe in purity and pollution, but quite another to systematically dismantle and recalibrate the material or occupational basis of the caste system. The Sangh didn’t come out openly opposing reservation because of its fear of incurring the wrath of the majority. However, LK Advani’s Rath Yatra and the demolition of the Babri Masjid were aimed at nipping the rise of the Social Justice force.

The contradiction between Hindutva and ideas of social justice is embodied in Modi’s personality. He is the Hindu Hriday Samrat. He has also become an OBC leader, largely because he harped on it to harvest votes in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. It is because of these two attributes of his that the BJP succeeded in mustering a majority in the Lok Sabha on its own.

From this perspective, it is now payback time for both the BJP and Modi. The Patels and Jats are relatively prosperous, but are ritualistically not upper caste. Their exclusion from the reservation pool riled them no end. They now want to be rewarded for the electoral edge they have given to the Hindutva brigade.

But this can’t be achieved through an executive fiat. Only the National Backward Class Commission or such commissions in states can recommend inclusion of groups in the reservation pool, that too after conducting an elaborate socio-economic survey.

Then again, to accommodate them in the 27 percent OBC reservations would mean alienating the groups already in the pool. To give them a quota outside of the OBC share would entail lifting the cap of 50 per cent reservation imposed by the Supreme Court judgement, besides angering the upper castes.

For all these reasons, the Patels want caste-based reservation to be scrapped. It is improbable that the BJP or Modi would take a position on it. In abolishing reservation, or basing it exclusively on economic indices, or declaring the Patels as OBC, would mean the BJP risking its electoral majority.

In this sense, Gujarat demonstrates to us the inherent limitations of Hindutva philosophy minus communal mobilisation.

Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist from Delhi. His novel, The Hour Before Dawn, published by HarperCollins, is available in bookstores.

Updated Date:

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.

also read

Why are farmers protesting against laws which will supposedly 'help them'? And why is no one talking about the details of implementation?
India

Why are farmers protesting against laws which will supposedly 'help them'? And why is no one talking about the details of implementation?

The fear among farmers is that the next step in the agriculture reform process will be the doing away of government procurement process as well as the MSP

Emily Ratajkowski's allegations against Jonathan Leder exposes how artist-muse relation, consent are viewed
Lifestyle

Emily Ratajkowski's allegations against Jonathan Leder exposes how artist-muse relation, consent are viewed

'As I read Emily Ratajkowski’s tale, I thought of many of the stories I had heard amongst the models I had interviewed that struck a similar chord,' writes Manjima Bhattacharjya in her monthly column, 'Curious Fashion'

Between live streaming's limitations and live gigs' hazards, indie music scene could find promising middle ground
Entertainment

Between live streaming's limitations and live gigs' hazards, indie music scene could find promising middle ground

While there’s no doubt that online shows entertained and even comforted us during these trying past few months, there’s also no doubt that they’ll never match up to the experience of watching a concert in person. And sadly, they don’t seem to be matching up in terms of income for artists either.