President K.R. Narayanan’s preference for reservations in the private sector recalls the regressive views of the first head of State. Rajendra Prasad, too, had chosen to be a stumbling block on the road to modernisation by opposing the Hindu Code Bill. Indeed, Prasad had canvassed in favour of a wider scope for his powers beyond the constitutional framework. For instance, he expressed the view that the president had the “right to examine it (the Hindu Code Bill) on its merits when it is passed by Parliament before giving assent to it...”
It was left to Nehru to dissuade him by saying that the president “has no power or authority... to go against the will of Parliament in regard to a bill that has been well considered by it and passed... Otherwise, the question would arise as to whether Parliament is the supreme legislative authority in this country or not”.
In opposing the Hindu Code Bill and, earlier, the Bihar Land Reforms Bill, Prasad (“When I am asked to sign a document, I must satisfy myself and not sign blindly”) was being true to his conservative self. One has to be thankful to providence that India had, in Nehru, a leader with a modern mind who could steer these forward-looking legislations at a formative stage in the country’s democracy. Had lesser beings been at the helm, India’s development as a modern society might have been stifled at birth.
Fifty years down the road, India is again standing at an important juncture of history. Any false step now can have highly damaging consequences on its society and economy if only because the world is moving at an even faster pace than in the Fifties. A recourse to the quota system in the private sector would be one such retrograde step.
The issue of reservations has to be seen in a much broader context than what has been done till now. Instead of blindly pursuing this course, a look at what has been — and has not been — achieved via affirmative action is necessary. For a start, it has to be remembered that reservations were prescribed in the Constitution only for the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, and only for 10 years — not in perpetuity.
Unfortunately, an issue of this nature — because of its emotive content — becomes a self-serving one in course of time. It has now become an act of faith for politicians to routinely extend the time-limit for the quota system without considering its pros and cons because of the belief that a contrary move would be politically damaging for them.
Not only that, several other groups, for which reservations were never considered by the founding fathers, are now being provided with this privilege. And the reason why V.P. Singh’s heart suddenly started bleeding for the backward castes is also known: he wanted to counter a political challenge from Devi Lal. Since factors as dishonest as these guide affirmative action in India, it is strange that Narayanan should have thought it fit to call for extending these facilities to the private sector.
He is, of course, not the first person to do so. Politicians have been quicker off the mark in the course of their relentless efforts to retain their bases of support. The reason for their compulsion is understandable. With the shrinking opportunities in the public sector, they now want to invade the private sector in their quest to make it dysfunctional as well.
What is evident in such a blinkered approach is a refusal to recognise the impulses which guide the economy at different periods of time. Just as in politics, the elitist concepts of monarchy and feudalism have given way to egalitarian democracy, in the economic sphere, too, ideas and practices have not remained static. Socialism, at one time, promised to lead everyone to a land of milk and honey while capitalism was thought to represent the den of iniquity.
So sure were the socialists of their reading of history that they were convinced that the collapse of capitalism was imminent. From Marx to Harkishen Singh Surjeet, this fateful event has been predicted with grim satisfaction. What happened instead was just the opposite. It was the workers’ paradise which went the way of all flesh. The statues of Lenin hit the dust while Deng Xiaoping proclaimed, “To be rich is glorious”, to trumpet his rejection of Marxism.
The essence of capitalism — the winner of today — is free enterprise. It does not represent a perfect world, but it has outrun socialism, which focuses on a regulated economy with its many fetters on the conduct of business. One of these is the quota system, with its stress on birth and not merit. Narayanan has referred to provisions in the US which allow the government to monitor the presence of the disadvantaged groups in various jobs.
But in the US, politicians do not make a livelihood out of pandering to such lobbies — at least not to the shameless extent that it is done in India. The recent efforts of Rajnath Singh to mark out various sub-groups from among the backward castes for special favours underline the ridiculous levels to which the quota system has been reduced in India. Here the objective is not their upliftment, but to get their votes. Had it been otherwise, much greater emphasis would have been placed on providing the Dalits with better educational facilities and not merely jobs.
Any intervention from a level as high as the president’s must have the stamp of originality and not be a reiteration of tired formulas. Nothing demonstrates the harmful effects of reservations than the sad fate of the Anglo-Indian community. Assured of a job in the police and the railways under the British, its members never cared for higher education, with the result that this energetic group never lived up to its potential in independent India. Its only hero, Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, belongs to the 19th century.
In contrast, look at the Parsis. This minuscule group of immigrants from Persia has become one of the most admired in India because they have risen to prominent positions by sheer dint of merit. No one ever thought of reservations for them. But half a century of reservations for the Dalits may have produced a creamy layer, but a vast majority of them lives mired in poverty.
If affirmative action is to be taken, it must be only in the field of education and for historically disadvantaged groups like the Dalits. The others must fend for themselves and not be fodder for politicians, some of whom even promise reservations for the poor among Brahmins.
TIMES NEWS NETWORK [ MONDAY, FEBRUARY 18, 2002 12:12:47 AM ]
AE BARELI: Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) vice president and former chief minister Mayawati on Sunday reiterated her party's commitment to remove disparities and establish a society based on equality.
Addressing an election meeting here, she said it was heartening that the upper castes too had changed their mentality and joined the BSP movement for a social change.
Mayawati lambasted the parties who levelled charges of casteism against the BSP. She disclosed that her party had allocated 92 tickets to upper castes, 86 to Muslims, 128 to backwards and 97 to scheduled castes. This was sufficient proof that the party had no caste bias and had taken into its fold all sections of the society, she said.
The BSP leader said she even favoured reservation to upper castes on the ground of poverty. The benefits of reservation had not been adequately percolated to the targetted groups even after 50 years, she said claiming the goal could be achieved only after the BSP comes to power at the Centre and the states.
The former state chief minister said in the regimes of both the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, law and order deteriorated and criminals had a free time. The woes of farmers, traders, labourers, employees, the poor and the oppressed classes and minorities had increased manifold, Mayawati said, adding, instead of mitigating the suffering of the people, the chief minister went on making a number of announcements in the name of development.
The BJP, the SP and the Congress had lost their base among the people and it was out of sheer frustration that they were taking the help of film stars to attract crowds at their meetings, she said and opined,"these celebrities from the world of cinema, can attract crowds but cannot convert them into votes".
The BSP leader told the Muslim community that it must not have faith in the Congress as it was under the Congress regime that the foundation laying of the Ram temple in Ayodhya took place and again it was the same party in power at the Centre when the mosque was demolished.
Sunday, February 17, 2002
A Time to Rise: a film by Anand Patwardhan and Jim Monro
A Time to Rise, a 1981 documentary on Indian immigrant farmworkers in B.C., plays at Pacific Cinematheque Sunday night, opening a four-night, six-film retrospective on controversial Indian director Anan Patwardhan.The director shot A Time to Rise, which chronicles attempts by B.C. farmworkers to unionize, while he was a graduate student at Montreal's McGill University. The subject was near to Patwardhan's experience, having been a volunteer for Cesar Chavez's United Farmworkers Union a few years before. Also showing Sunday is In Memory of Friends, a 1990 documentary about hostilities in the Punjab.On Monday, Pacific Cinematheque screens In the Name of God and We Are Not Monkeys, the first a feature documentary critical of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad organization, and the bloody Hindu-Muslim clashes that occurred following destruction of a mosque; the second a music video which slams the caste system in India. Both these films were recently dropped from exhibition at New York's American History of Natural History amid protests from organizations and individuals.Violence in the name of religion is also the subject of the two-hour Father, Son and Holy War, which plays Wednesday night. The series concludes with Patwardhan's latest work, War and Peace (currently playing at the Berlin Film Festival), which takes a critical look at the nuclear buildup in India and Pakistan. Patwardhan will be in town for the series, although organizers at Pacific Cinematheque are not sure which screenings he will attend.The film series is part of the two-month Moving Ideas: A Contemporary Cultural Dialogue with India, with exhibitions and performances at the Roundhouse, Vancouver Art Gallery, the Contemporary Art Gallery, Presentation House and the Charles H. Scott Gallery. Visit the Pacific Cinematheque website for screening times and film info: www.cinematheque.bc.ca/now.htmlEmail Marke Andrews at: email@example.com
Times of India
[ SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 16, 2002 ]
UTTAR Pradesh: In 1995, Dr Sone Lal Patel broke rank with the BSP to float his own party, Apna Dal, "disgusted" with the Behenji's (Mayawati) alliance with the "Manuwadi" BJP to grab power.
But the Dal soon became synonymous with the aspirations of the Kurmis — an upwardly-mobile backward peasant caste. Marrying Ambedkar's rhetoric with Mulayam Singh Yadav's electoral strategy, Dr Patel began building up a cadre which would help the Kurmis emulate the example of the Yadavs.
In the UP polls, Apna Dal has fielded 351 candidates. Like others, it has chosen its nominees with great care — mixing and matching castes to create the illusion of a rainbow. But the highest share of seats has gone to Patels (59). The USP of the list, though, is its blanket omission of Thakurs and Brahmins.
The message, says the district party president in Chitrakoot, is: Unlike the BSP, Apna Dal will not compromise on its principles for the sake of power.
Apna Dal is no oddity in today's UP. From a different political route — and bearing slightly different colours from an earlier avatar — Kalyan Singh, of the Babri Masjid notoriety, has reached the same destination.
Denied a larger role in Hindutva politics, he has set himself a more modest ambition; to carve out a stable, long-term fief of his own. His grand revolutionary plank — the Rashtriya Kranti Dal — is built on the slogan of restoring the self-respect or samman of the Lodh Rajput community to which he belongs.
In Manikpur, the politically aware among the adivasi Kohls, hitherto unrepresented in the assembly, dream of "having one of our own" — perhaps even a full-fledged party — to "speak for us".
Since the Indian state does not record caste as a marker of identity in the census, precise numbers are difficult to come by. Ballpark estimates of Kurmis, however, put their number at 12-13 per cent of the state's population. For Lodh Rajputs, this figure is perhaps two to three per cent.
Clearly, neither party has a fighting chance to take a crack at power on its own. They are merely hoping to reap the harvest of a rapidly fragmenting polity. The more difficult it becomes to cobble together a stable social coalition, the easier it becomes for them to demand a share in the spoils for their own constituents.
Commentators have uniformly seen this jat-pat ki rajniti as a perversion of democracy, albeit for different reasons. On the left, the deepening of caste-consciousness is seen as a huge stumbling- block to the emergence of class-based politics based on material interests.
On the right, it is seen as a threat to social harmony — or samajik samrasta, in the terminology favoured by the Jhandewalan parivar.
In actual fact, the rise of one-caste parties is a more ambiguous phenomenon. It no doubt militates against the spirit of classical democratic theory — where political representation is typically based not on immutable identities but on transient secular interests — but then India is not, has never been, classical democratic territory.
Indian civil society has never been, politically speaking, civil enough. The point is not the inevitable hiatus between utopian theory and vulgar practice. Nor is it only a cultural one, namely, that no political system exists in a vacuum — the cultural ambience plays a large part in its shaping.
The point is also historical. Popular nostalgia apart, the salience of caste in Indian politics is hardly a novel phenomenon, the alleged outgrowth of V P Singh's Mandalisation.
It is the logical extension and deepening of a process which began with the social reform movements of the 19th century and continued through the abridged democracy of the colonial era, starting with the separate electorates of the Morley-Minto reforms.
VP's guilt, if you will, lay in bringing to the boil a pot which was already bubbling. In the specific context of UP, long before Mulayam Singh and Mayawati, it was symbolised in the paternalistic figure of Charan Singh.
The irony is that even as new groups challenged the political monopoly of the old, the pie of state patronage over which they are fighting shrank dramatically.
Equally, political casteism was not so much a function of caste corrupting politics, as it was politics redefining caste — what analysts in the 1970s called the politicisation of caste.
Before modern politics entered the scene, the functional basis of Indian society was jati and not caste. In sociological terms, the former, unlike caste, was a localised, endogamous entity.
Even today, many of the jatis that comprise Mulayam Singh's Ahirs or the Apna Dal's Kurmis have little social intercourse among them and they certainly do not easily intermarry.
On the positive side, the imperatives of coalition-making has, especially in the hinterland, reshaped social relations. For instance, the old taboos surrounding commensality or rules of inter- dining.
Today, in the villages of Allahabad or Benaras, it is not uncommon for upper caste Hindus to invite those lower down in the hierarchy for marriage feasts and vice versa, although whether you are required to pick up your own plate at the end of the meal is still a source of conflict (and a measure of your ritual worth).
This conflict is particularly strong among "castes" that occupy roughly the same rung of the ladder. In Barwara village of Chitrakoot, Jageshwar Yadav will not attend a Kurmi wedding because he feels insulted at having to clear the table after a marriage dinner.
Old prejudices are harder to break in other ways too. The spectacle of the Kurmi candidate from BSP touching Behenji's feet at a Karvi rally has so enraged sections of the community that they are threatening to avenge the humiliation by shifting their loyalties to the Kurmi nominee from Apna Dal.
"Would they have reacted similarly if the Patel candidate had touched the feet of a Sonia Gandhi?" The answer is: No. The flip side to this politics of ritual symbolism is the collapse of the economy, led by the diminishing power of the state to promise, let alone deliver, substantive goods.
The power sub-station in Sakaranuah blew up fully 18 months ago. But the state has neither the money nor the will to set it right. Not surprisingly, in Sakaranuah symbolism takes precedence over substance, and cynicism over hope.
Nobody expects caste-based parties to deliver where others have failed but they hold out the promise of (vicarious) self-respect and pride. Unfortunately in UP, that is, in some ways, all there is left to vie for.
(Meerut, February 15)
In the wake of the attack on Dalits of village Soop of Chaprauli constituency, the home turf of Union Minister Ajit Singh, during the elections on Thursday, the police have now registered a case against RLD supporters.
However, no one has been arrested so far in this connection. Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Baghpat, U.N.Singh, said that no one involved in the case would be spared. He described the incident as 'disgraceful' and said that instructions have been given to arrest the accused. Though the SSP claimed that the election process was not disrupted in the village, he admitted that dalits were prevented from casting votes.
In the confrontation seven dalits including two women were seriously injured, confirmed the SSP. Though the traumatised dalits failed to gather courage to lodge an FIR against the perpetrators of violence, the police registered a case on the available evidence, the SSP said. However, the dalit leaders in the area said that they did not have faith in the police investigation. "We don`t have faith in the police", said Dharamveer Ashok, MLC of the BSP and election incharge of the area. Instead of showing their confidence in the authorities they are now planning to take up the case before party leader Mayawati.
"As soon as she gets time from her hectic campaign, the matter will be brought to her knowledge", reiterated Dharamveer. He claimed that dalits were badly beaten by the supporters of the RLD and at least 14 persons including women have sustained serious injuries.
Rajeev Deshpande/Bhamrauli (Haidergarh)
The debate in this village of Pasis, revealed by a sharp turn in a narrow track leading away from a recently tarred broad road, is incisive. The question is whether all the goodies, some delivered and more promised, to the constituency was making a difference to way in which its denizens were going to cast their vote on February 21.
The signs of change are undeniable and many of the group of scheduled castes voters attracted by an outside presence agreed that some things were different. Being Chief Minister Rajnath Singh's constituents meant that they no longer had to wade through knee-deep water to get to the link road.
A disabled person smelting iron implement said that special assistance had been provided to many like him.
He had not got any, but felt that this may happen as well. Others around nodded and agreed that all the work done in and around their village may not be sufficient, but surely the benefits would not dry up all of a sudden.
The careful and neutral nature of the conversation is interrupted by Ram Sajeevan who has been watching proceedings in a slightly cynical manner. Why didn't you get the certificate of being disabled? he asked the smelter. Is it not because this has to be done through the sarpanch and Tiwariji has not done so? The object of his query turns an evasive ear, but others agree vehemently.
The question whether development equals votes is answered easily. Before touching on their own voting preferences, Ram Lakhan and Ram Milan point to what was happening at Behrampur, a Yadav-dominated village, just prior to theirs.
Those who put up Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) flags will themselves tell you that they are all voting for the Samajwadi Party. BJP walo ne mufat mein kharch kiya hai (The BJP has spent its money in vain), they said.
The Pasis have absolutely no doubt that Chief Minister Rajnath Singh is going to coast to a win on the basis of the high number of Thakur and Brahmin votes in the constituency.
The caste line is holding in Haidergarh. The political chemistry is no different from any other constituency. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) is all set to come second in Haidergarh. Having fielded a Yadav, the party will push the SP to third place.
The BJP managers are sparing no efforts to campaign hard and relentlessly. At Assandra, a local meeting is being held and Surendra Puttu Awasthi is awaited.
Awasthi has helped cement the Thakur-Brahmin vote here. Also lined up are Shia Muslims from nearby areas. A BJP organiser Mohammed Kafil Zaidi argues that the Muslims are also going to support the Chief Minister.
"Rajnathji has not differentiated between communities and even a madarsa has been given a grant," he says.
The recent statements of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) has certainly made the BJP's Muslim supporters uneasy. But, they draw solace from Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's statement that the issue could only be resolved through a judicial pronouncement.
For now, they are awaiting for the last bit of rough, patchy road to Assandra to be tarred as well. "We are at the end of a canal being constructed, the water will reach us to," says Zaidi.
There is a saying here: "The difference between the Jats and Jatavs is just an extra A and V." However, for centuries, a wide chasm has separated the two most populous communities of Brijbhoomi in south- western Uttar Pradesh. It is surprising that the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) stalwart Mayawati, herself a Jatav and the undisputed leader of her community, has not chosen Agra as her karambhumi. The Dalit dominance in the area is evident from the fact that one of the most important roundabouts in the city is named after Babu Jagjivan Ram.
Though Mr Ram belonged to Bihar, he certainly was the uncrowned king of the Jatav (or the Chamar) community in the period preceding the rise of Ms Mayawati. "Statues of Ambedkar are a common sight in Uttar Pradesh or other parts of the country today. When Ms Mayawati became the Chief Minister, she had Baba Saheb's statue installed everywhere," says M K Kainth, a Marxist writer on Dalit issues here. Till the time Mr Jagjivan Ram lived, Jatavs remained staunch supporters of the Congress. And in remaining with the Congress, they came in direct confrontation with the landholding intermediate castes, whose cause was exposed by Chowdhary Charan Singh.
If, in the Agra-Mathura region, it was the Jats who came in confrontation with the Dalits, in the neighbouring Etawah-Mainpuri, it was primarily the Yadavs. "Till the 1985 polls, the substantial Muslim population went largely with the Congress, though Chowdhary Charan Singh had their support in his home turf of Western UP,"
Chowdhary Vijay Singh Faujdar, a retired Government official and major land-holder of the region.Of the 145 seats which go to polls on Monday, 22 fall in the Agra division consisting of Agra, Mathura, Aligarh and Hathras. The remaining 23 fall in Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's stronghold of Etawah-Mainpuri. Coming to Agra region, there are nine seats in Agra but six in Jat-dominated Mathura. The eight others fall in the Aligarh-Hathras belt.
"Agra is set to see an aggressive electoral battle following an attempt at political reassertion by the two dominant communities. While the Jats here have always been aggressive in their ways, the Dalits too are quite conscious about their rights. They are no more ready to cede an inch without a fight," a senior police official here said. The Jats, in British times, owed allegiance to the neighbouring Bharatpur Estate in Rajasthan. Bharatpur, for long, proved to be the most difficult principality for the British. The Jats, a martial clan, fought the British tooth and nail for years. Sometime in the later part of the Mughal era, they raided Delhi several times. "The Jats here take pride in the fact that despite being next door to Delhi, they never lost their autonomy. Their political assertion is inspired by this tradition," adds Chowdhary Faujdar, whose ancestors were part of the Bharatpur Army. One of recent instances, of the Jat leadership zealously guarding its autonomy, was when former Maharaja Mann Singh rammed his Jonga into the helicopter of then Rajasthan Chief Minister Shiv Charan Mathur at Deeg. The Maharaja was protesting against the orders of the Rajasthan Government to pull down the flag of Bharatpur Estate from the Deeg fort. The Maharaja, who was also an Independent MLA, was killed in the ensuing encounter with the police.
"The Jats, being the landholders, became the natural exploiters in the region and Jatavs, being the dominant Dalit community here, the exploited. The confrontation between the two was natural. The only time they were known to have voted together was in 1977, when Babu Jagjivan Ram and Chowdhary Charan Singh came under the umbrella of the Janata Party," said Chowdhary Faujdar.
According to observers here, the contest in the Agra region would be between the Bharatiya Janata Party and Chowdhary Ajit Singh's Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance on one side and the BSP on the other. "Except Agra West (reserve) seat, the alliance doesn't have a clear chance in any of the eight constituencies in Agra.
In Mathura, they are way ahead of others. The Muslim population in Agra, given the better chances of the BSP, is likely to vote Ms Mayawati's party. The problem with Mr Yadav is that he is fighting the election in complete isolation. In the absence of a substantial Yadav population, the DM (Dalit-Muslim) combine is all set to score over MY (Muslim-Yadav) conglomerate," says Mr Kainth.
The ruling BJP alliance in Brijbhoomi, on the other hand, is banking on the coming together of a very potent Jat-Thakur-Brahmin combination. In the urban areas, they count the Punjabis and the Sindhis as their natural voters, though there are certain hiccups - like the Punjabis getting annoyed with the local BJP leadership. They are protesting against the assault on their community members by the son of prominent Brahmin leader Hardwar Dubey, a former Minsiter in the BJP Government. However, a rally addressed by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, followed by a whirlwind tour by Chief Minsiter Rajnath Singh and Union Minister Sushma Swaraj is likely to iron out these differences.
A bigger headache for the BJP is the presence of former Chief Minister Kalyan Singh's Rashtriya Kranti Party. Mr Singh has been going around demanding votes purely on caste lines. His community, Lodh, has a substantial presence, especially in the Aligarh area. Mr Singh is himself contesting from Atrauli for the nth time
"He does have the capacity to hurt the alliance," says Mr Kainth, to which Mr Faujdar agrees.
Mayawati's strategy appears to have paid rich dividends, at least in western Uttar Pradesh where 92 Assembly segments went to polls last Thursday. If exit polls are any indication, she is poised to emerge the biggest gainer both in terms of vote share and number of seats in UP's 14th Vidhan Sabha. The Dalit-Muslim yaraana (friendship) seems to be working. Bad news for the Congress which was targetting its old loyalists to stage a comeback.The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) leader fielded 86 Muslim candidates for the Assembly elections. Her target: The bottom rung of the Muslim caste hierarchy. She chose to field members of the Julaha, Kasai and Ansari sub groups to counter Mulayam Singh's Samajwadi Party candidates in over 50 constituencies. Till the mid-eighties, the Muslims preferred to support the Congress, which always guaranteed special rights to the minorities (read Muslims). But after the death of Pandit Nehru and the emergence of Bharatiya Jansangh as a potent political force in northern India, the Muslims became defensive. The Jansangh was perceived not only as pro- Hindu but also anti-Muslim.
This was also the time when the old generation of Congressmen became less active and the resentment against Congress appeasement of Muslims gained political support. This resentment slowly assumed the form of a backlash that ultimately went in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress sensed the majority mood and indulged in misadventures like opening the lock of the Ram Janmabhoomi and supporting Shilanyas at the disputed structure. The Muslims became desperate for a political platform to air their grievances. Mulayam Singh filled the vacuum deftly. Post-Mandal mobilisation of the backwards and post-Ram Janmabhoomi consolidation of Muslims helped the SP occupy the anti-BJP space in UP politics.
Over 10 crore Muslims form almost 18 per cent of the state's population and can directly affect the poll outcome in as many as 148 Assembly constituencies. Of this, the Muslim electorate plays a decisive role in over 85 Assembly segments.
After the community's disillusionment with the Congress and post- Babri consolidation, the Muslims have always voted for an individual who appeared to be defeating a BJP candidate. The voting psyche of a Muslim electorate is guided more by an "anti-BJP" feeling rather than his commitment to "samajvaad" (read Samajwadi Party).
The BJP understands this dynamics. Realising that Muslims will never vote for the "lotus," the party has changed its strategy this time round. It is using liberal Ulemas and Muslim intellectuals to interact with the Muslim electorate in constituencies where they matter most. They are not seeking the community's favour for a BJP candidate. Instead, they are exposing the SP's "pseudo-love." This is a simple strategy. Put a Muslim mind in the thinking mode and divert as many Muslim voters to the BSP as possible. The message: "If you do not favour me, favour someone who delivers." In the process, the educated Muslims have started analysing the SP's conduct. That the Babri rhetoric will not enthuse a Muslim voter will be clear after this election.
This does not suggest that the SP will lose the Muslim electorate. Having secured the support of more than 70 per cent Yadavs, Mulayam is still the best bet for a community, badly rattled after September 11 and December 13. Yadavs of SP will act as the biggest pull factor for an average Muslim to whom poverty and illiteracy are not as big an issue as construction of Ram mandir at Ayodhya.
The verbose, astute and wily Yadavs are the only community that has remained with Mulayam Singh in the post-Mandal era. After the death of Chaudhary Charan Singh, this emerging rural elite has been in search of a leader who guarantees its share in UP's polity. For a brief period, Ram Naresh Yadav did emerge as the community's leader but with Congress disintegration in the state, Mulayam Singh seems to be the only hope. The SP leader emerged as the community's natural leader as his mentor Dr Lohia was the first person to identify this votebank.
In the post-Nehru period, the Yadavs emerged as the only leaders of the backward communities. Not only did they capture the All India Backward Classes Federation, established in 1950, the English educated among them started looking for job opportunities outside their traditional caste occupation. Responding to the call given by the All India Yadav Mahasabha, the sub-caste groups like Gwala, Ahir, Gadariya and Dhudia started suffixing "Yadav" to their names. This was the period when the Yadavs prepared themselves to be identified as a vote bank that opposed the Brahminical order of the Congress leadership. With the abolition of zamindari laws, a large section of Yadavs, Jats, Gujars and Ahirs purchased ownership rights from the state to emerge as the dominant agricultural community in rural Uttar Pradesh.
Till the 1950s, the dominance was enjoyed in the rural areas by the AJGAR group (Ahirs, Jats, Gujars and Rajputs). The wealth and power of these castes increased considerably as a result of green revolution and most of them moved into the modern sector with Jats and Yadavs taking the lead. At the same time, the intermediate castes namely, Kurmi, Keori and Lodh, also had their share of the upward movement. There is considerable economic and social heterogeneity in each of these caste groups. Hence this entire block began to be dubbed backward, mainly for electoral reasons.
The block gained political recognition as only 40 backward legislators in 1962 became 67 in 1967. Their number swelled to 96 in 1974. The figure increased further from 108 in 1991 to 118 in 1993. In the last Assembly, the total number of MLAs belonging to backward classes crossed 140.
The Yadavs registered their significant presence in the Assembly in 1969 electing 32 legislators. Interestingly, this number was only around 10 in the previous Assembly with no representation in the Cabinet. This was also the turning point for the Congress which was facing a strong challenge from Charan Singh. Rup Lal Yadav of Allahabad and Shyamlal Yadav of Varanasi were given Cabinet births in the Charan Singh ministry. Chaudhary Ram Gopal Yadav of Kanpur, Ram Bachan Yadav of Azamgarh and Ram Sevak Yadav of Barabanki became the new leaders of the community. The aspirations got so consolidated that Ram Naresh Yadav, then a MP, had to be made the Chief Minister in 1977. But expectations from him dwindled after 1980, ever since Charan Singh projected Mulayam Singh as his political heir.
Mulayam Singh became the undisputed leader of Yadavs only after 1984. The Janata Party was thrown out of power in 1980. After losing the election from Jaswantnagar, Mulayam Singh became the member of the Upper House. In 1984, he was removed from the presidentship of Lok Dal. This was the turning point in Yadav politics. Facing an identity crisis, the Yadavs rooted solidly behind Mulayam Singh. If Charan Singh was the focal point of backward politics, Mulayam Singh emerged the centre of "Yadav swabhimaan (Yadav's self-respect)."
While the Jats remained with Lok Dal (A), the Yadavs shifted to Lok Dal (B). The Yadav-Jat's long-standing friendship of 20 years came to an end. While the Jats confined themselves to some districts in Western UP, the Yadavs became the leaders of the backward classes across the state in the late eighties and nineties. Ever since this division, Mulayam Singh derives his strength from this politically highly ambitious community. Coupled with Muslim support, he can be sure of a major chunk of seats in the 14th Vidhan Sabha.
Yadavs constitute almost 10 per cent of the total population. The chances of Yadavs favouring the Congress are remote as the community has always identified itself with the anti-Congress politics in the state. In some pockets, the community may appear to be favouring the BJP in consideration of local factors, but more or less the community's unflinching support rests with Mulayam Singh Yadav. The SP, therefore, will fare well in Azamgarh, Mau, Ghosi belt. The Muslims of this belt will ally themselves with the Yadavs ensuring Mulayam Singh's victory. Mayawati's BSP which has targetted Dalit, lower strata of Muslims and the oppressed backwards is the biggest hurdle in Mulayam's ascendancy to power.
It is early to predict, but an analysis of the Muslim-Yadav vote bank suggests that the outcome of election 2002 in UP will dilute the stubborn limits of aggressive caste rhetoric. The compulsions of brokering alliances in a hung Assembly and with the inclusion of 'they' into 'we' group, the die will be cast for more inclusive social coalitions than before.
A political system that is composed of multiple social groups and political identities, none of whom are strong enough on their own to come to power, would exert a strong centripetal influence on caste based party behaviour. The outcome will hence be easier to predict and the psephologists will have a bigger job at hand.
Not long ago, the Congress had a catch-all slogan, "Na jaat pe, na paat pe, mohar lagegi haath pe (vote not for caste but for the hand)." The Congress' deceptively egalitarian promise has since been seen through by assertive middle castes and Dalits. So much so that the Congress today barely finds mention in Uttar Pradesh.
But in post-Mandal, post-Mandir and now post-Uttaranchal UP, caste loyalties are at play in a completely primordial fashion. The Congress' "umbrella" coalition, which largely meant upper caste rule with the "cooption" of Dalits and Muslims, has vanished like libations poured into the sandy banks of the Ganga at Kasla Ghat, which is spanned by a unique road-cum-rail bridge.
While the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP) wrestle for power, every voter in the state is aware that he commands value - his vote and that of his community. And every party is drawing up a strategy of how best to encash this. At stake is presence in the power pyramid and perhaps more importantly, a caste bonding.
Everything and everybody has a caste identity. So much so that even "Mohemmadans" are perceived as a caste. Only to be further broken down into Ansaris, Kureshis and so on.
There is a reason why caste identities are so strong at election time: victory for any of the three major formations excludes the castes supporting the losers.
For a state with shocking infrastructure, poor roads and insufficient electricity, it is amazing that development is simply not a factor in the elections. A group of Muslims discussing the political situation at Najibabad in Bijnore on polling day tried to figure out whether their community's vote was being divided and to what extent.
When asked about their assessment of the BJP Government's performance, they quickly remembered that the roads were bad, businesses such as cane crushing had slowed and that they could do with another inter-college. But this was hardly what they were voting for, which was how to prevent the BJP candidate getting through.
A lone voice, which shouted, "Mehengai ke baare mein likhna na bhooliye (Don't forget to write about the rise in prices)," seemed almost like an afterthought and was lost in the maze of caste and communal politics that hangs like a thick haze over UP. There is no getting away from the weave and warp anywhere. The BJP's decision to woo the Jats afresh by joining hands with Ajit Singh has revived saffron fortunes in western UP. Any Jat will confirm why he supported the BJP.
In the process, UP has, for all practical purposes, ceased to exist as a state. Every state has regional variations and caste has hardly vanished from the scene in say, Andhra Pradesh or Maharashtra. But in UP caste sits side by side, even though it may sometimes also jostle, with state identity. A drive through western UP, Rohilkhand and central UP reveals that the regions could well be disparate states. The BJP, as befits a national party, is there in all three areas and even in the rest of the state. But, is it really? In Rohilkhand, it has been offered a presence due to some division in Muslim votes in Bijnore and Amroha. But otherwise, it looks like a BSP versus SP situation even though there are other players on the scene. In central UP, there are several constituencies where the BJP has a committed votebase but the BSP and SP numbers effectively make the former a non-starter. So, is this a triangular contest or is it essentially a two-horse race? So strong are caste appeals and the perceived sense of hurt or humiliation associated with the fortunes of leaders that the Lodhs of Kasganj are waving a thumbs up at their man, fielded by Kalyan Singh, though they know he is not winning. In Teeler Mau, along a monstrous road that links Etah to Farrukhabad, a group of Shahkyas has ditched the BJP. Their reason? A firm belief that their leader, a former BJP MP, has been done in by a party conspiracy.
The crucial polls in east UP are yet to take place and will be decisive as far as the BJP is concerned. In the meanwhile, even though central UP is not BJP territory, the party must pick up enough seats to remain in contention for the final round.
The BJP leadership did have some time to realise that it just would not do to take voters for granted. The Ram Prakash Gupta interlude infuriated even the BJP's diehard supporters. Rajnath Singh did not get enough time to work in a caste-riddled scene. And the bitterness of the BJP's parting of ways with its one-time Ram mascot Kalyan Singh has only worsened its prospects.
The BJP's half-hearted efforts to drum up popularity on certain issues, the on-off handling of the Ram temple, have not delivered results. What it has done instead is ensure a large turnout of Muslim voters, who have resorted to tactical voting to the extent possible.
The Muslim vote may displease the SP and Mulayam Singh Yadav because the gainer has been the BSP. Mayawati's party has benefitted with the preparedness of the Muslim voter to tag on his support to the party's Dalit vote.
All the admonitions by SP leaders that Mayawati had chosen to partner the BJP in the past and so was not to be trusted have fallen on deaf ears. If the BSP's promise in western UP is replicated even to a lesser extent in central and eastern parts of the state, Mulayam Singh may well have reason to rue. For, a sizeable BSP block of MLAs is not going to be as easy to split as may appear from a distance. The question at hand is going to be all the more relevant if neither the BJP nor the SP cross the 140 mark.
What else explains the BSP's success? There is a clear bonding of the Dalit vote and the BJP's so-called "most backward" business has not worked at all. Mayawati's voters have tasted power. In her six-month Chief Ministerial tenure, the BSP leader aggressively built her constituency. She later convinced her voters that power is the best equaliser and that 22-odd per cent in UP must be made to count.
Lessons for the BJP? These are not easy to gather. There is clearly a need to nurture an upper caste constituency and do so assiduously. The BJP is hunting for the "swarna plus" factor. That chip into the Other Backward Caste (OBC) or Dalit bank or a division in the Muslim vote. And this is not an easy task, at least not just yet.