Bahujan Voter’s Dilemma Veh nahi, hum

The Bahujan voter’s dilemma is understandable. Finally, there is this tantalizing prospect of India’s first MBC prime minister. Not only that, he seems capable of keeping his brahmanical detractors at bay. But will he merely be a token Bahujan PM? Even though his identity is Bahujan, is his ideology not brahmanical

I am hungry for education and liberation and the ruling rascals offer me tranquilizers. They offer themselves to think, see, talk and act on my behalf. … By changing the words, they turn vice into virtue and virtue into vice, and I am flummoxed and fooled again and again. There is no sincerity, God, in their speeches, soundbites and statements that surround me in their vice-like grip.

The scoundrels quote the Constitution, and deny the violence of the rich against me. They talk of development, and keep my children stunted and unlettered for their slavery. Punish them all, God!… And please enable me to distrust appearances so that I can separate right from wrong, and the rascal from the righteous. Let only those come to power who sincerely believe that ‘whoever degrades another degrades the country and humanity.’ And send the rest—the corporate crooks and rascals in power, whether in India or elsewhere—to jail, hell, or whatever you call it.

I am the accursed Indian voter, God! I have come to you in abjection and utter disillusion. Take pity on this wretch. – ‘Confession Of The Indian Voter’ by Braj Ranjan Mani. Countercurrents.org (19 January 2014, http://www.countercurrents.org/mani190114.htm)

NDTV FORECAST   
Seats : 543, Halfway Mark : 272
BJP - 195Cong – 106Left - 18TMC – 32
SS  - 13RJD - 8BJD - 17AIADMK – 27
TDP - 9NCP - 5SP - 13BSP - 16
SAD – 4RLD - 3JDU - 5YSR – 15
LJP - 3JKNC – 3JDS - 2TRS - 11
RLSP – 1AUDF -1DMK - 10
HJC - 1Others - 3AAP – 4
NPF - 1JMM - 2
Others - 2IND - 2
MIM – 1
MNS – 1
SDF - 1
Others - 8
NDA -    229UPA -    129Alt Front  - 55Others - 130

At the end of the debates, talent show, fancy dress contests (mainly ethnic headgear), “beauty contests” that major on vital statistics which conceal more than they reveal, “dance contests” around delicate issues, the focus shifts from the performers in the greatest democratic show (tamasha) on earth to one person. No, not NaMo, RahulG or Kejriwal or even Amma, Didi or Behenji. This one person signs up, then lines up, and patiently awaits their turn to go into a booth and, in privacy, make a decision that will add up to changing the course of history – for better or for worse – of 1.2 billion Indians for the next five years at least.

Yes, that is you – the voter in the 2014 Indian General Elections. If FORWARD Press had been part of the so-called “mainstream media” we would be talking of all of the 814 million – larger than the population of Europe – eligible to vote in April and May. But in FP we are talking of about 85 per cent of that total number, made up of Bahujans – OBCs, SCs, STs, and the majority of minorities such as Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists.

Yes, you the Bahujan voter ultimately hold the power to press an EVM button and put into power the government that rules over the destiny of India. No, not each one individually, but you collectively who make up the majority ‘moolniwasis’ that Buddha called ‘bahujan’ and Phule extrapolated into ‘Balijan’. Yet, except for some intervals of true swaraj by and for Bahujans, the Bahujans have been ruled by others – brahmanical, Muslim, British, and then brahmanical again – certainly at the central level.

No wonder, writer and thinker Braj Rajan Mani recently penned a ‘Confession of the Indian Voter’ in which the voter repents for having been made a fool of since 1952. The voter ends the long lament thanking God for finally opening his eyes to the truth and prays for discernment to make the right choices. No, I am not God, but in this piece I hope to humbly help answer that prayer.

Preview of 16 May results

In America they say, “It ain’t over till it’s over”, and that is as much true about sports as it is about an election, especially one as complex as India’s General Elections.  It is also necessary to remember the adage ‘A week in politics is a long time’.” As I write this there are just two weeks for the elections to kick off and two months for the results to be in.

The record of Indian polls that project the next government formation needs to be read cautiously, especially given the past experience of overoptimistic projections for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in 2004 and 2009. Can that be put down to some brahmanical bias in the media? Having said that, apart from some unprofessional pollsters, a few are getting better at the science and art. Otherwise we would not have carried our March Cover Story on the political preferences among OBC voters as surveyed by CSDS.

As I write this a couple of the leading TV news channels have unveiled the results of professionally polled opinion surveys translated into vote and seat shares. Increasingly, the following trends are emerging in survey after survey:

  • The Congress party is headed for its worst ever showing, some project it down to double digits. The UPA allies fare no better. It would seem that the Congress has already hit rock bottom and, if there is any movement, it would be in the upward direction, but to what extent is anybody’s guess.
  • The non-UPA and non-NDA parties are now split into two groups (“fronts” have not worked out): (1) an ABM (Anybody But Modi) rump left over from an attempt at an anti-communal “Third Front” led by the decimated Left, and including Naveen Patnaik’s BJD, Mulayam Yadav’s SP, Nitish Kumar’s JD(U) and Deve Gowda’s JD(S); (2) the parties led by regional satraps like “Amma” Jayalalitha (AIDMK), “Didi” Mamata Banerjee (TMC), “Behenji” Mayawati (BSP), “Beta” Jagan Reddy (YSRC), the new Telangana state’s TRS party, Kejriwal’s AAP, etc. If they had been united, there might have been a chance that with outside Congress support a Third Front government could have been propped up till a mid-term election at least. However, for now, there is no “if” because some of the bigger players, for reasons of ego, local turf or ideology, cannot and will not get together. So, even if the numbers were there, this possibility is stillborn.
  • The projections for the Modi-led BJP alone has ranged between just shy of the key 200 mark up to 220. With its current old (SS, SAD) and new (TDP, LJP) the latest and largest poll projects the NDA at 229, mainly from a strong “southwest monsoon” effect – sweeping from Gujarat all the way up to UP and Bihar. But this RSS-supported BJP juggernaut on a roll would still faces problems of the last mile.

To be precise, they would still be shy of 44 seats for a clear majority. This would require at least one of the regional players from the above ‘group 2’ to bring in upwards of 25 seats to the NDA table. That brings it down to one of two possibilities: the TMC or the AIDMK, each led by a capricious lady who is very capable of extracting her pound of flesh for her respective state and party. Though Mamata (TMC) is more desperate for a moratorium on West Bengal’s considerable debt, she is constrained by its 28 per cent Muslim population (85% of whom are notified as OBCs).

‘Modi wave’ or just ‘hawa’?

The BJP, after internal resistance from the brahmanical lobby, has announced that Modi will contest from Varanasi. In fact, there is more than the BJP’s optics of projecting Modi as a “national leader” capable of winning away from home turf, that too from the largest state and from a “holy city” at that. Modi’s road to Delhi needs to run through UP with its 80 Lok Sabha seats up for grabs, about half of which he needs to win. Consider that in 2004 and 2009 the BJP won just 10. This time, thanks to several factors – including organization by Amit Shah, Saheb’s Gujarati lieutenant; RSS-coordinated mobilization; polarization after the Muzaffarnagar riot – the BJP seems likely to do well in most of UP. Poorvanchal or eastern UP is, however, lagging behind. Amit Shah’s strategy to have Modi running from Varanasi is to give that extra bounce to that region and to have it spill over to the neighbouring western districts of Bihar. Obviously the “Modi wave” has not washed all the way down the Ganga.

This move immediately triggered off a challenge from – who else – AAP’s Kejriwal, who was campaigning in Bangalore. He raised the question as to why Modi needs to contest from a second and safe seat in Gujarat. Tying up with a lame Dalit party like Paswan’s LJP at the cost of alienating local BJP leaders, suggests the BJP felt the need to shore up Dalit support in Bihar. Even nonpartisan political analysts read this, among other recent moves, by the BJP as signs that suggest the Modi wave may have peaked. Or is it just ‘hawa’?

In an incisive analysis of the 2012 UP Assembly elections, the journalist Shivam Vij wrote that “the obsession with predicting results … serves a larger purpose, that of not just reading the hawa but also creating it [emphasis mine]”. Again, Kejriwal’s attacks on “bought media” (not just paid news) and the Congress’ challenging of the opinion polls (no doubt because they are rarely in their favour) may have some basis in truth especially this time.

Be that as it may – wave or no wave, hawa or no hawa – if election results are directly proportionate to sheer effort plus expenditure, then the Modi-led BJP would be the winner hands down. If he does win, no one can say Modi did not campaign long (about 9 months in total) and hard. Indeed, it would be truly “hard work” not “Harvard” that would earn him the position.

Puppeteers’ khaki shorts showing

However, the bigger the BJP victory the greater the claim the RSS will make that they are responsible. And the old men in khaki shorts from Nagpur know – even better than the two ladies from Chennai and Kolkota – how to extract their pound of flesh. Just remember when Anna Hazare’s 2012 Ramlila Maidan rallies drew large crowds. Despite Anna’s denials, twice the sarsangchalak Mohan Bhagwat himself publicly claimed the credit for the RSS being behind it – in the national interest, of course.

Perhaps for the first time since the ban on it was lifted in 1949, the RSS which committed, with a written constitution, to stay a “cultural organization”, is taking an active even public role in the running of the BJP campaign nationwide but most especially in UP. Even in Delhi, the RSS had the final say in the selection of BJP candidates and all eight of them, including Dalit leader Udit Raj, were marched to the RSS headquarters at Jhandewalan to be “introduced” to the RSS leadership. Then two Sangh pracharaks were assigned to each candidate as co-ordinators to oversee their campaigning.

“With the RSS keeping a close watch and getting involved to a level where it could also decide the campaign issues, the candidates could face tough days ahead,” a senior BJP leader told The Indian Express.

Even the thrice-victorious Gujarat CM Modi, a lifelong RSS swayamsevak, had to humble himself and visit the Brahmin gentlemen in Nagpur before he received their backing and anointing as the BJP’s candidate for prime minister. Only once that had happened did the RSS clear all the internal (mainly brahmanical) opposition to Modi’s ambitions. So the RSS already holds several IOUs from Modi. The reason the RSS has finally given up its preference for a Brahmin PM, stooping to a Shudra OBC this time, is a mark of their desperation to get back to power. They were persuaded by Modi’s winnability. However, the RSS realizes from past experience in Gujarat that Modi’s winnability is a two-edged sword: It could help get the RSS agenda back on national track but, on the other hand, Modi might kick the RSS ladder once he has climbed on to the PM’s chair, as he did in Gujarat.

A strange irony is that the RSS thinks it can use Modi’s “governance” mask (mukhauta) to hide their purely “cultural” Hindutva agenda, which they hope is Modi’s real agenda too. According to knowledgeable sources, if the BJP on its own falls shy of the minimum 200 mark, then there might be an RSS-supported palace coup to replace Modi with a more tractable, dependent BJP leader with a more acceptable face for expanding the NDA. There is more than one contender for the Delhi throne (gaddi), all caste Hindus.

There is even talk that the RSS could still deflate Modi’s “56-inch chest” by humbling him in Varanasi. Is it just a coincidence that suddenly the TMC fields former Congress giant Kamalapati Tripathi’s granddaughter, Indira Tiwari? A native of Varanasi, she has been associated with the Ram Janmabhoomi case in the Supreme Court in her capacity as general secretary of the Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha. Could this become a Varanasi “Ram” versus “Krishna” from Dwarka, Gujarat?

The RSS is also concerned that if the BJP, with its current NDA allies, reaches only the 220-230 mark, then “coalition dharma” will almost automatically dilute any Hindutva agenda, as was the case in Vajpayee’s NDA government.

No wonder, after getting more press than they are used to, the RSS sarsangchalak Bhagwat publicly declared that the RSS had limits to its political engagement. “Hum rajneeti mein nahin hain. Humara kaam ‘Namo Namo’ karna nahin hai. Humme apne lakshya ke liye kaam karna hai (We are not in politics. Our work is not to chant ‘Namo, Namo’. We must work towards our own target),” he said to the RSS’s Pratinidhi Sabha in Bangalore on 9 March. Present there were BJP president Rajnath Singh and Ramlal, RSS pracharak deputed to the BJP as general secretary (organisation).

In the latest drama (19-20 March) between Advani and Modi, over the former being “forced” to run from the Gandhinagar seat again, the RSS once again had to step in – this time with a difference. Aware that the more the RSS masters openly take control, the more the BJP leadership’s credibility goes for a six, they chose to dictate the script (for Advani to save face), pull the strings and leave – for Nagpur. This is a major shift from Bhagwat’s intervention last June when Advani had resigned from all party positions in protest against Modi being declared the BJP’s chief campaigner for 2014.

Modi’s mindset

While most of the media and commentators have focused on the tip of the tip of the iceberg, we have chosen to look deeper at the largely hidden and much larger iceberg beneath the election and Modi waves. Modi is only the tip of the RSS iceberg. Still it is now important to turn the spotlight on him and even put him under the scanner. No, we are not going back to 2002. We are going further back, at least a decade earlier, to the time when he was still, according to political psychologist Ashis Nandy, “a nobody, a small-time RSS pracharak trying to make it as a small-time BJP functionary”. Nandy, who had done his PhD (Psychology) from Ahmedabad University, had the “privilege” of a long interview with Modi. After the 2002 riots, he wrote chillingly about this interview: “it left me in no doubt that here was a classic, clinical case of a fascist. … Modi … met virtually all the criteria that psychiatrists, psycho-analysts and psychologists had set up after years of empirical work on the authoritarian personality. … I had met a textbook case of a fascist and a prospective killer, perhaps even a future mass murderer.” (Seminar 2002)

In the February 2014 Caravan cover story, based on extensive interviews with Swami Aseemananda, the chief accused in the 2007 Samjhauta Express and other blasts, it emerges that Modi in his early years as Gujarat chief minister was a big patron of the RSS swami’s activities among the tribals of the Dangs district. Already by 1998, in the early days of the first NDA government at the centre, Aseemananda’s accomplishment was the coordination of the Sangh parivar organizations in attacks – around Christmas day! – on Christians and their schools and churches there.

Dangs district is a good measure of Modi’s sympathies for the development of tribals and backward regions. Over 90 percent of the population of this teak-rich area is adivasi, 75 percent of whom (roughly 2 lakh) live below the poverty line. For more than a century Christians have started and run schools and other projects to help the locals. Inspired by Aseemananda, Modi’s Gujarat government decided to fund a Ram Trail project, to commemorate the journey undertaken by the Ramayana’s mythological characters, to the tune of Rs 13 crore. This trail has yet to attract any “religious tourism”-related revenues. Meanwhile, his government has yet to submit plans to claim and use a central government Backward Regions Grant Fund grant of Rs. 11.6 crore for the development of the Dangs. At the same time, local Christian institutions have been shut out from the Dangs. So much for good governance with a heart for the most needy.

Modi likes to claim among Dalit audiences that he too has been “untouchable” without clarifying that he means politically untouchable post 2002. Besides, he has publicly been embracing his OBC even MBC roots since January. In early March in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, with freshly recruited Dalit ally Ramvilas Paswan by his side, he said, “I am confident that the coming decade is of Dalits, backward classes, Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other weaker sections of society.”

However, though he now regularly uses his caste calling card – much to the chagrin of the supposedly anti-caste but almost pure Brahmin RSS leadership – what are Modi’s true views on caste or varnashramadharma? As a peek under the lid of Modi’s mind on the lowest of the low on the caste hierarchy, we just need to read Karmyog, a 2007 collection of his speeches to IAS officials, published by the Gujarat government. Because of the state assembly elections at the time the 5,000 copies of the book were not released. However, veteran journalist Rajiv Shah got hold of a copy and leaked the most controversial passages from pages 48-49 of the said book. Talking about Valmikis, Modi had said:

“I do not believe that they have been doing this job just to sustain their livelihood. Had this been so, they would not have continued with this type of job generation after generation. … At some point of time, somebody must have got the enlightenment that it is their (the Valmikis’) duty to work for the happiness of the entire society and the Gods; that they have to do this job bestowed upon them by Gods; and that this job of cleaning up should continue as an internal spiritual activity for centuries. This should have continued generation after generation. It is impossible to believe that their ancestors did not have the choice of adopting any other work or business.”

There you have it – a clear public declaration of Modi’s brahmanical worldview even on varnashramadharma. This is in keeping with his self-declared avatar as the BJP’s Krishna, who in the Bhagvadgita declared he was the creator of the varnas. What do you expect if the chief minister of a “model state” like Gujarat holds and propagates such views and values to his administrators? NGOs like Manav Garima have reported as recently as 2013 that, even in a major city like Ahmedabad, there are Valmikis paid by the municipal corporation to do manual scavenging of night soil from dry latrines, some of which are constructed by the corporation. Both dry latrines and manual scavenging are outlawed but they continue in Gujarat. The Gujarat government, in a response to the Indian Human Rights Commission’s query, denied there is any manual scavenging in the state.

Modi has never addressed any specifics of Bahujan aspirations in terms of opportunities for education, employment, entrepreneurship. He is not on the record on his thinking on reservations. After all, the BJP initially opposed Mandal (kamandal politics having been launched as a major distraction) but later embraced it only as the protector of the 27 per cent quota for Hindus.

The dilemma

The best way I can summarize the feelings of many Dalitbahujans is with a true-life anecdote. A respected politically engaged Bahujan intellectual confessed in confidence the following: until a few months ago, he had been like a faithful husband, but then, for the first time, he had seen someone who tempted him. In his heart he almost committed adultery. Then he woke up to the true character of this other person and turned away in disgust. He was describing his brief political flirtation with Modi as prime minister.

The Bahujan voter’s dilemma is understandable. Finally, there is this tantalizing prospect of India’s first MBC prime minister. Not only that, he seems capable of keeping his brahmanical detractors at bay. But will he merely be a token Bahujan PM? Even though his identity is Bahujan, is his ideology not brahmanical?

Then there are Modi’s Krishna calls to Yadavs in particular but are they just one of many “gopis” he is flirting with? In the South he paid homage to Narayan Guru but does he share the vision of Phule and Ambedkar? In Bihar he said this will be the era of the backwards, but as we have seen, in his own state of Gujarat there is little he has done for the STs and SCs.

The majority of the minorities are Bahujans and would have their own specific concerns with a Modi-led government. Would Hindu Bahujans be in a position to protect these brothers and sisters from brahmanical designs to divide and conquer or unite (in a Hindu rashtra) and make differences extinct? These minorities only need to remember that even before Gujarat 2002, persecution of tribal Christians had already begun around 1998 in the Dangs districts of south Gujarat. Many of the Sangh Parivar’s more radical organizations only need a sympathetic BJP government to turn a blind eye as they go ahead with their Hindutva agendas.

Let us be honest, this time there are no easy choices for anyone but especially for the Bahujan voter. The Dalitbahujan parties have lost their original vision and values of social justice and have become as venal as any other party. A few have deserted to where money or power or both beckon.

The Congress needs time on the benches to repent, to reorganize, and to realize that tokenism does not pay. They need to embrace Dalitbahujans at the highest levels of leadership and into their core agenda. Last-minute sops, like inclusion of Jats in the central OBC reservation list, do not fool anyone and in fact alienate more.

Yes, this time there is a new kid on the block, Arvind Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party (AAP), and that makes for some headlines, plenty of excitement but not too many real choices.

So, what is a Bahujan voter to do? The last thing you want to do is not come out and vote. Casting your vote is your sacred duty and privilege as a citizen of India, if for no other reason than in that one act you are equally a citizen. Next, do not waste your vote. Avoid the new NOTA (None Of The Above) option. Every vote counts and, together, Bahujans will decide who forms the next government.

Do not become cynical. Despite some truth in Kejriwal’s assertions, sab neta chor nahi hai, not all media has been bought (by Modi and other parties), not all polls are rigged, etc. Instead, be informed about the local candidates and vote strategically.

Remember the sage advice of constitutional lawyer Palkhivala: always vote for the right person even if in the wrong party, but never the wrong person even if in the right party.

As you look at these and upcoming survey results, remember that ultimately there is nothing that is “written” either in the stars or by the poll pundits. Veteran Indian pollsters can tell you that people in some states are more honest than others in expressing their voter preferences. It is universally acknowledged that polls only influence the voters marginally – the “bandwagon” and the “underdog” factors cancelling each other out. Polls and pundits – in the end they can all be wrong, completely wrong. There is only one person that knows for sure and that is you, the voter. And that too, probably not before you are alone in the voting booth. So, even if you are reading this the day before you vote, read it carefully and consider the choices and the consequences of your choice. Then vote!

 

Published in the April 2014 issue of the Forward Press magazine


Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of the Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) community’s literature, culture, society and culture. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +919968527911, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in

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