Saharanpur violence: Bad blood between Dalits, upper castes puts BJP in a catch-22 situation

“Governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deducted from it,” said the famous German philosopher, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, more than 200 years ago.

Hegel’s observation looks all the more relevant even now if you care to look rather closely at the Saharanpur caste-conflict that’s beginning to upset the existing social equilibrium in Yogi Adityanath's Uttar Pradesh. You may also recall that it was this newly discovered balance of unity in the otherwise caste-ridden Hindu society that had catapulted the saffron brigade to power spectacularly in Lucknow hardly two-and-half-months ago.

Saharanpur continues to be on the boil with both muscle-flexing Rajputs and equally assertive Dalits locked in a no-holds-barred struggle for one-upmanship at the social level. It all began with Rajputs preventing Dalits from installing a statue of BR Ambedkar on the premises of the Ravidas temple at Shabbirpur village. A few days later, the Dalits raised objections to a procession of Rajputs who were bent upon commemorating the birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap.

File image of a damaged car after a clash in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. PTI

File image of a damaged car after a clash in Saharanpur, Uttar Pradesh. PTI

What followed was violence between the two caste-groups in which one person was killed and 15 others injured.

To understand the socio-political implications of the recent caste-war better, you do need to look back at history rather deeply: In the heydays of the Congress, during 1950s, 60s and early 70s, both the government and the society were almost always led by upper caste men. It was an entirely different thing that the Congress of yesteryears represented almost all sections of the society. In fact, upper castes, Dalits, EBCs (Extremely Backward Communities) and Muslims were the four pillars on which the entire edifice of the Congress stood.

With passage of time, the Congress became a somewhat weaker force, especially after the unprecedentedly successful Jayaprakash Narayan-led Bihar movement of mid-1970s. Two forces – BJP and Socialists – grew by leaps and bounds thereafter, except during 1980s, when Indira Gandhi rode back to power triumphantly. After Indira’s assassination, Rajiv Gandhi swept the national election, winning 411 of the total 542 Lok Sabha seats. The fortunes of the Congress went on a decline almost irreparably thereafter.

What’s more relevant here is that the BJP and the Socialists took full advantage of the fall of the Congress in the cow-belt. While the BJP grabbed the upper caste vote bank of the Congress, the socialists were happy to have got Backwards and Muslims in their political kitty.

At the peak of the Ram Mandir movement in 1991, an unusual socio-political development took place in battleground Uttar Pradesh: The caste-ridden Hindu society buried its hatchets like never before. And riding the wave of united Hindus, Kalyan Singh, an Otherwise Backward, swept the Assembly election.

Symbolism apart, upper caste Hindus invariably called the shots at the social level under both Congress and BJP administrations.
Little wonder then that hardly two years later, Mulayam Singh Yadav of Samajwadi Party and Kansi Ram of Bahujan Samaj Party joined hands. Fighting the Assembly elections together, they did beat the BJP. No surprises here. For, you just can’t beat a Backward-Dalit alliance in elections. And if Muslims also join this axis, the results of the next elections would be out even before it is held. That’s it.

And that’s what is staring at BJP’s face in Saharanpur ahead of 2019. That’s why all those who matter in the Sangh parivar are a worried lot. If they do justice to the cause of the Dalits, they will have to punish the errant Rajputs, a key constituent of their upper caste vote-bank. If they don’t, Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav might emerge stronger. Either way, they stand to lose politically.

No doubt, the saffron camp finds itself enmeshed in a catch-22 situation.

Already, both Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati have hinted more than once that they might join hands to beat the BJP. In an interview to CNN-News18, Akhilesh made it clear that he would, on his part, like to continue his alliance with the Congress too.

Be that as it may, the fact remains that peace stands shattered in the area. According to a report published on Firstpost, tension escalated further in the region. “ Fresh violence was witnessed in Saharanpur in which three persons were injured on Wednesday, prompting the government to suspend the district magistrate and the senior superintendent of police (SSP)... Mobile internet and messaging services were also suspended in the district to prevent rumour mongering.”

Later on Wednesday, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, who called on the state governor, said strong action was being taken against all those responsible for the violence. He appealed for calm.

But calm remains elusive. With politicians trying to fish in troubled waters with a purpose, this delicate balance of unity among Hindus looks gone for good. Peace stands shattered.

What is next from here on? Chances are that the law and order scene might improve on the surface with the administration getting more active in the region under “pressure from the top”, but the deep-rooted bad blood between upper castes and Dalits are unlikely to go away all that soon.

For, the upper castes want to keep basking under the Sun in the BJP rule even as the Dalits are struggling to catch hold of the political power that they have lost.


Updated Date: May 26, 2017 15:27 PM

Also See