The crisis that had enveloped the so-called parties for social justice after the Modi wave blew them away like pieces of paper, continues nine months down the line. The identity-based politics of the OBCs and Dalits has yet to recover from that existential crisis. The results of Maharashtra and Jharkhand assembly polls proved that the OBCs and Dalits have taken to the saffron party in a big way and that their switching of loyalties was neither sudden nor impulsive.
A recap of the political scene in the country from the end of the 1980s to the early 1990s would be helpful to understand why this was inevitable. Immediately after the Mandal Commission report, which recommended reservations for the backward castes in government employment and educational institutions, was implemented, the leadership of the backward Hindu castes, especially Yadavs, began shouting from the rooftops about the “revolutionary political rise” of the Backwards, which, they claimed would usher in social justice, and also that the Backwards, who were “cheated” for centuries, would get “their rights”. Thus, Savarna Hindus were bound to lose their rights. This meant that the giving and taking of rights was an internal affair of the Hindu Varna system – it was Hindu social justice, a Hindu political reform.
One effect of this interpretation was that the Hindu reform movements being led by or enjoying the support of the backward castes lost steam. They were now politically and socially “backward” Hindus.
Muslims were cheated
This “glorious and miraculous” rise of identity politics was a myth due to two reasons. First, it was not a rise at all. In political terms, a “rise” is something that follows a long struggle – a struggle in which a large section of the people is involved, for which they battle against the coercive apparatus of the state, take to streets and go to jail. But let alone going to jail, Mulayam Singh, Lalu Prasad or Nitish Kumar didn’t even take part in a sit-in, even for a day, demanding the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. It was V.P. Singh who gifted “social justice” to them by dusting the 1980 report. They had never even imagined that V.P. Singh would do this. Obviously, this “rise” came out of the blue for them. But the politicians created the myth of a Mandal agitation. The fact is that if anyone was agitating, it was those who were opposed to the Mandal Commission.
The second reason is that the implementation of the Mandal Commission report neither brought about an overnight qualitative change among the OBCs nor helped them grab power. The “miracle” became possible because in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, the Muslims, who were livid over the Congress government’s decision to open the locks of the Babri Masjid and were looking for political alternatives, joined hands with the OBCs, especially the Yadavs. It was the forging of this common front of the Muslims, who formed 16 per cent of the population, and the Yadavs, who made up 8-9 per cent, that brought about the “miracle”. Thus the “rise” was courtesy of the en bloc votes of the Muslims, which led to the formation of new political equations and brought power within the reach of the Backwards. The leaders who claimed credit for the “rise of Backwards” deliberately obfuscated this fact. They relegated the Muslims, who were brimming with new hopes, to the background and kept them there. The Muslims were not allowed to become a positive, enthusiastic participant in this new politics that had great potential and possibilities. And make no mistake, this was not inadvertent – it was the outcome of a well-thought-out strategy in a political landscape that was getting increasingly saffronized. The leadership of the Backwards knew that if the Muslims joined the new equation with a positive agenda, its bargaining power would be formidable. To keep the Muslims on the back foot, it was necessary to confine their political discourse to the Babri Masjid demolition, communal riots and Urdu – the issues on which they felt cheated. In brief, the Mandal leaders played on their fear psychosis.
The Sangh brotherhood, which is known for making long-term plans, had no problem with this politics of “Hindu social justice” because it could plainly see that this politics was using Muslim votes to politically strengthen the weaker sections of the Hindus, which were becoming economically strong because of reservations. This politics was also teaching its practitioners the art of using the Muslims to serve their political ends. Just sample how the leadership of this brand of politics described the implementation of Mandal Commission report as “social justice” but frowned at the Sachar committee report as “appeasement of Muslims”.
The Sangh Parivar was confident that it had accurately judged the situation. There were two reasons for this. First, it had long been successfully using these castes for perpetrating violence against the Muslims. For instance, the Yadavs formed the biggest chunk of hoodlums in the infamous Bhagalpur riots. Secondly, the cultural appeal of the Muslim-Yadav alliance was in consonance with its ideology. The Yadavs had an upper hand in the alliance and the unity was based on the premise that the Muslims, like them, had been backward and oppressed Hindus, who embraced Islam one or more generations earlier. The Sangh has always insisted that Muslims and Christians are converted Hindus and its Ghar Wapsi campaign is based on this formulation. The Sangh knew pretty well that the basis of the Backwards-Muslim unity was the belief that Muslims were former Hindus and that this unity had been cemented by rejecting the independent religious identity of the Muslims.
In short, the Yadav-Muslim unity served to boost Hindutva. And for the first time, it had enabled the Sangh to make inroads into the Backwards through the political and constructive route, rather than by using them as tools to engineer and execute anti-Muslim violence. The politics of Mandal or Hindu Social Justice was sowing the cultural seeds of Hindutva among the Backwards, who would then facilitate the export of communal violence from the cities to the rural areas and take the lead role in organising communal riots. This was evident from the anti-Muslim violence in Faizabad and other places, and from the anointment of the most prominent face of anti-Muslim pogrom.
Thus, contrary to general perception, the politics of Mandal did not stop Kamandal. In fact, it took the politics of Kamandal to the Backwards and to the rural areas where the Sangh had not been able to take it. On the political front, the Sangh could see that this “B team” of Hindutva could accomplish tasks that it could not on its own – such as the annihilation of the Left – due to its Savarna-dominated structure. This politics, riding on caste identity, weaned away Backwards (and Dalits) from the Left parties by charging these parties with having a Savarna leadership. This charge not only weakened the popular base of these parties but also led to some OBC leaders of Left parties joining the politics of Hindu social justice. Here, it may be mentioned that the Backward politics did not question the Savarna leadership of the BJP even when the OBCs started aligning themselves with the saffron party in a big way. That lent strength to the BJP’s anti-Muslim fascist agenda and weakened the organized and ideological resistance to it. Now, those in the secular camp were not secular. They were “Hindus” of backward castes who only had minor differences with regard to partnership with or assimilation into Sangh’s Manuvad. This was the lobby that considered the move to accord Gita the status of national book its victory.
Kamandal overwhelmed Mandal
The fact is that the politics of Mandal embraced the Hindutva agenda long ago. Two interesting examples would suffice to underline this fact. First, the slogan “Mile Mulayam Kanshi Ram, Hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shriram” (the Mulayam-Kanshi Ram alliance has blown away Jai Shriram) was used by the SP-BSP in the 1993 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections but was never heard again. That is because these parties knew that this slogan would not fetch them Hindu votes. And this was not an act of betrayal either. It was natural, because after extracting the compensation for the “injustice of thousands of years”, these parties had to move towards a merger with the wider Hindu identity. Secondly, at the inauguration of the JD-U, a photograph of Vallabbhai Patel was prominently placed on the dais. Needless to say, Patel was one of the protagonists of rabid Hindutva politics, and JD-U had sent a clear message to its Hindu backward constituency as to what its attitude towards the Muslims would be and also that it had no problem in being associated with the BJP.
Hence, when the SP or the BSP comes to power with the support of Brahmin or Thakur votes, it is not as if it has mortgaged the OBC or Dalit votes with the Savarnas. It is a natural alliance of Hindu castes that is controlled by the Savarnas. And to ensure that this does not rattle their support base, these parties dish out identity-based Hindutvavadi arguments. For instance, during the last assembly elections, this writer asked a BSP worker why the party had once formed its government in alliance with the BJP – a party of the Brahmins. The answer was quick and witty. He argued that no one, so far, had been able to outmanoeuvre the Brahmins in politics and the BSP had created history by doing that. Its chief minister ruled for six months and when it was the BJP’s turn to nominate the chief minister, it ditched the BJP!
That is why, when the Sangh presented Modi before the OBC-Dalits with his backward-class tag, the flag-bearers of identity politics gave him a standing ovation. After all, for the first time, one among them was going to be the prime minister. Of course, they did not even give a casual consideration to his communal image. They did not consider it necessary to do so because they did not have ideological differences with Modi. That is why parties like SP and BSP never made Modi’s image as a sponsor of communal riots an issue. That Modi had blood on his hands was never stated openly by them among their supporters. The OBCs kept their latest choice a top secret from their former associates – the Muslims – and kept the latter under the illusion that they were with the secular BSP and SP. It was as if they were implementing a well-crafted strategy for winning a war.
The Mandal politics was based not on any ideology or thought but only on caste and hence the intellectuals of the “identity camp” could easily justify their support for Modi. And this was exactly what Prem Kumar Mani did in his article “How should Bahujans see the election results?” in the July 2014 issue of FORWARD Press. I remember that when, in 2003, Uma Bharti, an OBC, had become the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Gail Omvedt and many other proponents of the politics of identity had started seeing possibilities of “democratization of BJP”. It was not easy to see such a possibility in 2014, when the secular sections of society were in a state of shock following the victory of Narendra Modi and in 2002, in the wake of Gujarat riots. But these intellectuals were hopeful even then because for them democracy only means OBCs and Dalits getting a share of the crumbs of power. The mass slaughter of Muslims holds no significance for their “democracy”.
Published in the April 2015 issue of the FORWARD Press magazine