Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, general secretary of the Congress for eastern Uttar Pradesh, has joined the debate on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's caste without actually being a part of it.
"To this day, I do not know his caste. The Opposition and Congress leaders are raising issues of development. We never made any personal remarks against him," she told reporters on Sunday.
There's a background to Priyanka's remarks: A few days earlier, BSP leader Mayawati had said that Modi was not a "born" member of a backward caste, unlike Mulayam Singh or Akhilesh Yadav. She claimed Modi was an upper caste but included that caste in the list of backward castes during his reign as Chief Minister of Gujarat.
This prompted Modi to launch a broadside on the Opposition for making the election a caste cauldron. "This country didn't know my caste till my detractors abused me... I am thankful to Mayawatiji, Akhileshji, Congress people and the 'mahamilavatis' that they are discussing my caste...I believe that taking birth in a backward caste is an opportunity to serve the country."
Given this context, Priyanka's "I don’t know his caste" statement is a clever way of underscoring the doubts the Opposition wants to create over his caste antecedents. It gets her full marks for electoral rhetoric. But that is an insignificant gain for a scion of a dynastic party that once prided itself in being the umbrella party representing all castes and all religions of India.
Priyanka does not have to dig very deep into her party's history to understand this. She has her father's ready example. A week before his assassination, Rajiv Gandhi held a public meeting in eastern Uttar Pradesh. It was at the height of the Mandal-Masjid divisions that dominated the politics of the time. But Rajiv dismissed the phenomenon of castes and religion as "inconsequential" issues for a national party like the Congress.
He politely chided a group of reporters who persisted with queries on caste. "Arre bhai, samajhte kyon nahi? Humein sabka support hai (Why don't you understand? We have the support of everyone)," he said.
Rajiv was right, even if he was out of tune with the changing political themes of the time. Nobody could imagine till 1991 that the Congress could ever narrow its politics to smaller caste identities so quickly. This façade — of the Congress being the umbrella party — was assiduously maintained, albeit with difficulty, right until 2014 when Rajiv's widow Sonia was steering the party.
But their progeny don't seem to think much of giving up the party's all-embracing posturing. With Priyanka playing ball with Mayawati and Akhilesh to question the caste antecedents of Modi, the mask has fallen off. Like all other parties clinging to caste and religious identities, the Congress is as antediluvian as it gets.
It is quite understandable to see Mayawati or Akhilesh raising doubts about Modi's caste identity. It shows the measure of their desperation to stop OBCs and Dalits from gravitating towards Modi because the isolation of Yadav-Jatavs and Muslims is not a sustainable proposition. Akhilesh and Maywati, both practitioners of identity politics, know that the consolidation of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav scheduled caste in favour of the BJP would spell their doom. Hence, they will resort to rabble-rousing on caste and create doubts even on Modi's caste credentials.
There is another reason for Akhilesh and Mayawati to use this ploy. In Uttar Pradesh, the surname "Modi" is identified with Banias (trader castes) who, unlike in Bihar, figure as forward castes. But Modi belongs a caste known as "Ghandhi" in Gujarat. It is equivalent to the "Telis" of Uttar Pradesh who appear at the lowest rung of the OBC hierarchy. Akhilesh and Mayawati can pretend not to know this well-known fact at the peak of an election campaign.
But what is completely beyond the range of cognition is Priyanka playing a supporting role in this sad fake news story put up by the Samajwadi Party-BSP coalition, quite oblivious to the history of the Grand Old Party and its politics of co-opting all sections of society. It just underscores the cluelessness of the Congress' revival plans.
Updated Date: Apr 30, 2019 17:39:44 IST