Launch of OBC politics

The message of the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha poll results is clear. The issues of social justice will be at the top of the political agenda now

The next general election is inching closer and the corridors of power are agog with poll talk. Over the last one year, the central government has been in the dock almost without a break from one scam to another and its image has been severely dented among the middle classes. The 2G scam was followed by “coalgate” and then came “railgate”. All these were economic offences but it is surprising how the credibility of the CBI took a serious beating on the ground that it lacked morality and transparency in its functioning. If such a train of events had taken place in a European or a North American country, the government would have been forced to resign. But we make do with just the resignations of ministers.

 

Will the issue of corruption dominate the coming general election? Or, will some other issues emerge?

Recently, Karnataka went to the polls and the Congress achieved a major success there. It is being said that the BJP had to bite the dust in Karnataka because the former chief minister Yediyurappa’s blatant corruption had irreparably tarnished its image. But isn’t this a hackneyed and rather simplistic explanation? There were many reasons for the downfall of the BJP in Karnataka and multiple factors were responsible for the rise in the fortunes of the Congress in that state. But the Indian upper-caste media wants to put the entire blame for BJP’s humiliation at the door of Yediyurappa. And not without reason.

We hold no brief for people like Yediyurappa. In fact, we condemn their corruption in the harshest possible terms. But when we analyse an issue we would like to go deep into it. We would not like to make misleading statements.

Nitish Kumar, Narendra Modi and Siddharamaiah

In Karnataka, the BJP did not contest the polls under the leadership of Yediyurappa. He had already quit the BJP and floated his own political outfit. Though his party (KGP) could annex only six seats, by garnering around 10 per cent of the votes cast, it dealt a body blow to the BJP, slashing its seats to one-third of the Congress’. The BJP suffered a humiliating defeat. It was Yediyurappa who had brought about the BJP’s first state government in South India. And as soon as he withdrew, the BJP fell flat on its face.

What was the key factor that contributed to Yediyurappa bringing to and banishing from power the BJP in Karnataka? Yediyurappa helped the BJP get a foothold in the Lingayat community of Karnataka. This OBC community was not a traditional vote bank of the BJP. In other words, Yediyurappa brought about a union of the forces of social justice with the BJP and it was this union that brought the party to power in that state. Once he came to power, Yediyurappa began looting public money. He got involved in all sorts of corrupt practices. BJP finally sacked him and tried to thrust Brahmin leadership and brahmanical mindset on its Karnataka unit. In other words, the Delhi-based Brahmin leadership of the BJP wanted to hand over the reins of government in the state to Brahmin leader Ananth Kumar. That attempt did not fructify owing to the caste composition of the BJP legislature party. The BJP lost its social base and character in Karnataka. Like Brahmins, it became sacred but like Brahmins, it was reduced to a minority too. Its humiliation at the hustings was the natural consequence.

Yediyurappa and Siddharamaiah

There was nothing wrong in the BJP sacking Yediyurappa but simultaneously, it also gave up its social justice plank. And while the Karnataka BJP was put under the charge of the shrewd Brahmin leader Anantha Kumar, the Congress handed over the leadership of its Karnataka unit to Dalit-Bahujan leaders and the result is there for all to see. Siddaramaiah –an OBC Kuruba leader – is the new chief minister of Karnataka. In Karnataka, the ruling party has changed, the faces have changed but the political direction remains the same. The people of Karnataka deserve to be congratulated for keeping the political stream of social justice intact.

Those who claim that corruption was the key issue in Karnataka polls should not forget that when Karnataka was voting, one expose after another was ruining the reputation of the Congress government at Delhi. The scams that were coming to the fore were much, much bigger than the corruption of Yediyurappa. Why did the people of Karnataka not pay any heed to them? In Karnataka, the BJP gave up its recent politics of social justice and placed an alternative model of ‘sacred politics’ before the people. The people rejected the new model. Congress picked up the issue of social justice and the people backed it to the hilt. Had the BJP done the same, it would not have fallen on such days. Victories and defeats are part of the electoral process but in Karnataka, the BJP has been crushed, it has been routed.

The message of the Karnataka Vidhan Sabha poll results is clear. The issues of social justice will be at the top of the political agenda now. And we would also like to concentrate on these issues.

The Indian political arena is presently dominated by two groups, the Congress-led UPA and the BJP-led NDA. It will be interesting to find what the status of the issue of social justice is in the innards of these two parties. And then, we can study the same vis-à-vis UPA and NDA. Why the Congress does not want to replicate its Karnataka experiment in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh? Did the party ever endeavour to find out why it had become weak in these states? In North India, the Congress used to thrive on the Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim vote bank. In the 1990s, Kanshi Ram robbed the Congress of its Dalit vote bank. In the same decade, Muslims began associating themselves with regional parties which had raised the banner of social justice. BJP’s communal politics was just an excuse. The villainous role played by the BJP during the Mandal movement is not something the OBCs will forget easily. The forces of social justice had a dominating presence in UPA-I, that came into existence before the 2004 Lok Sabha polls. It was courtesy these forces that the BJP’s Brahmin leadership (Atal Behari Vajpayee) could be shown the door. The Dalits and OBCs felt safe and secure under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi – who does not belong to any caste. But by the time UPA-II came into being, these classes had begun feeling disappointed by Sonia Gandhi and her Congress. The crooked brahmanical forces overtook the Congress once again. At the same time, the Brahmin leadership of the BJP got weakened. Under his leadership, Vajpayee had put together an astute Brahmin leadership in the party including Pramod Mahajan, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj and Murli Manohar Joshi. Kalyan Singh, who had painstakingly built a base for the party in Uttar Pradesh, was kicked out and was replaced by leaders like Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon. The result: The BJP became weaker and weaker in Uttar Pradesh till it became irrelevant.

Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh

After the exit of Vajpayee in 2004, Narendra Modi adopted the agenda of Kalyan Singh. If today, Modi is at the centre of national politics, it is not because of Hindutva. It is because he is emerging as a Kalyan Singh and a Yediyurappa at the national level. Modi has huge political potential – provided he does not turn arrogant like Kalyan Singh or corrupt like Yediyurappa. An internal lobby in the central BJP is trying to throw a spanner in his works. JDU leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar seems to have unintentionally become the cat’s paw of this crooked BJP Brahmin lobby. The Congress is also trying to woo Nitish. Meanwhile, in Bihar the BJP is projecting Narendra Modi as an OBC and even as an MBC leader. On the other hand, Laloo, Mulayam and Mayawati seem to be keen to play their politics only in the courtyard of the Congress.

Be that as it may, we firmly believe that social justice will be the key factor in the Lok Sabha election. Whether it will be the Congress or the BJP or the Ambedkarites or the Lohiaites that will bring the issue to the forefront, we don’t yet know; but what we do know is that the next general elections will revolve around the issue of social justice.

Shrewd politician that he is, Narendra Modi sees this as the way forward. The way he delineated the challenges of social change at the ashram of Sri Narayan Guru, the great hero of the social revolution in South India, is indication enough. If he continues to make honest efforts in this direction, he will be doing his party some good. Identifying the common interests of the depressed social groups, associating them with democratic activities and the process of development and the building of a society based on liberty, equality and fraternity should be the central agenda of the politics of the future. Whichever political outfit – UPA, NDA or Third Front – understands this and is able to translate this into a practical political election campaign can expect to win the majority Bahujan vote and form the next government.

Published in the June 2013 issue of the Forward Press magazine

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