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Another historic opportunity knocking on the doors of OBCs (Part I)

OBC leaders had a formidable presence in the Janata Party that formed its government in 1977. That had led to the constitution of the Mandal Commission. About a decade later, in 1989, the ruling Janata Dal was dominated by the OBC leaders and the obstructionist RSS-BJP were out of power. That was why the campaign to bring down the government was launched, writes Shrawan Deore

The national elections are due in 2024. Both the opposition and the ruling coalition have started their preparations. Self-appointed revolutionaries – leftists, socialists and Phule-Ambedkarites – are in such a tearing hurry that they are going gaga over even a faint ray of hope. 

Conventional wisdom suggests that any imminent danger alerts an individual or society and they get down to devising strategies and plans to stave it off. Here, it would be relevant to see how the leftists and the progressives have reacted in such situations in the past.   

In 1975, efforts were made to save democracy, which was under threat due to the imposition of Emergency. The Lohiate Socialist Party, the pro-Brahmin Jana Sangh of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and the faction of the Gandhian-capitalist Congress opposed to Indira Gandhi merged to form the Janata Party. The new party included socialists and the RSS-Jana Sangh, which were sworn enemies of each other. The Gandhian faction of the Congress was coordinating between them. This coalition won hands down in the Lok Sabha elections held in 1977, ending the dictatorship of Indira Gandhi and re-establishing democracy in the country. This coalition would have had a longer spell in power but for the caste conflict that emanated among its ranks. The roots of this conflict lay in the election manifesto of the Janata Party.

Leaders who had emerged from the socialist movement had played a key role in the formation of the Janata Party and in the formulation of its policies. Most of them were OBC leaders from rural backgrounds. They had a formidable presence on the ground. It should be remembered that in 1967, OBC leaders had become the chief ministers of Tamil Nadu, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh on their own strength. At the time, the Jana Sangh was perceived as a party of the Brahmins and the Banias, and its social following was nothing to write home about.  

It was on demand of the OBC leaders that the promise of implementing the report of the First Backward Classes Commission, popularly known as the Kalelkar Commission, was included in the manifesto of the Janata Party. Immediately after the party came to power with a huge majority, demands for implementing the report became increasingly audible. 

The issue of reservations for the OBCs had led to the collapse of state governments in the past. So, Prime Minister Morarji Desai, an adherent of the Gandhian-capitalist ideology, was treading with extreme caution. He tried to build bridges between the Jansanghis, who were proponents of varna and caste, and the socialists, who stood for the annihilation of caste. But when the demand for the implementation of the recommendations of the Kalelkar Commission began gaining strength, Morarji Desai sculpted a way out by claiming that the recommendation of the commission that had wound up years earlier had turned stale and so there was a need to appoint a new commission.   

(Clockwise from top-left): Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin

This stratagem helped Morarji Desai buy time, but he was clueless as to how he would save his government two years hence, when the Mandal Commission would submit its report. He extended the term of the commission by a year to delay the danger. But the RSS camp was not happy. It knew that if the Mandal Commission report was tabled in the Lok Sabha with the Janata Party in power, no one would be able to stall the implementation of its recommendations. That was because the Janata Party had a powerful group of aggressive OBC leaders and also because the RSS camp could not have openly opposed the Mandal Commission. At the same time, they could not have brought down the Janata Party Government on this issue. So, they dug out the issue of dual membership (of those Janata Party members who were holding on to their Jana Sangh membership) and pulled down the government. Thus, the brahmanical camp successfully stalled the implementation of the Mandal Commission report.

How hollow the issue of dual-membership, which brought down the Morarji Government, was, is evident from the fact that George Fernandes, who led the opposition to the dual membership of the Janata Party and the RSS, later became the convener of the RSS-BJP led ruling coalition, the National Democratic Party (NDA), and served as the minister of defence in the Cabinet of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It would not be wrong to say that Fernandes was rewarded for coming to the aid of the brahmanical grouping of the RSS-Jana Sangh by engineering the fall of the Janata Party government and thus ending the possibility of the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. 

To sum up, the Janata Party experiment, aimed at ending the dictatorial regime of Indira Gandhi and saving democracy, brought the struggle between the brahmanical and non-brahmanical camps on the national agenda. But the issue of annihilation of caste through implementation of the Mandal Commission report was still hanging fire. 

The RSS was well aware that earlier the Congress government had consigned the report of the Kalelkar Commission to the dustbin. Hoping that it would put the report of the Mandal Commission into cold storage, they indirectly helped Indira Gandhi return to power in 1980. After coming to power, Indira Gandhi ensured that the report of the Mandal Commission met the fate of the Kalelkar Commission report under the Nehru regime in 1955. Thus, the brahmanical camp in the Congress and the RSS cooperated with each other and cemented their friendship. They were friends in need. 

But the brahmanical camp was well aware that given the emergence of a band of aggressive OBC leaders who were the products of the socialist movement and were imbued with the anti-caste democratic ideology of Phule-Ambedkar, it would be impossible to keep the Mandal Commission report under wraps for long. Hence, they did not rest even after handing over the responsibility of suppressing the Mandal Commission report to Indira Gandhi.  

In the 1984 Lok Sabha elections, Rajiv Gandhi won a steamroller majority, riding on the wave of sympathy triggered by the assassination of Indira Gandhi. To stall the potential attack by anti-caste forces, armed with the Mandal Commission report, the RSS and its new political wing, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), entered into a secret pact with Rajiv Gandhi to launch a religio-cultural movement. They made Rajiv Gandhi open the doors of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya, thus clearing the way for politics centred on Hindu versus Muslim. The Congress and the RSS-BJP had started executing their conspiracy from 1985. 

But the Mandal Commission report had transformed the politics of the country. The issue kicked up a big row in the political circles, which led to the then foreign and finance minister, V.P. Singh, revolting against the Congress. Singh forged a joint front with the socialists, by tapping into the caste-related popular resentment, and with the Communists by stirring anger in favour of the economic issue on the agenda of his Janata Dal. The Janata Dal emerged victorious in the 1989 elections and V.P. Singh became prime minister.   

OBC leaders had a formidable presence in the Janata Party, which formed its government in 1977. That had led to the constitution of the Mandal Commission. About a decade later, in 1989, the ruling Janata Dal was dominated by the OBC leaders and the obstructionist RSS-BJP was out of power. That was why the efforts to bring down the government were launched once it had ensured the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. 

These slices from history show that whenever the left-wing progressive forces and the Phule-Ambedkarites forged a joint front or a party against the dictatorship of the Congress and the BJP, the battle for annihilation of caste reached its next stage. The credit for this must go to the OBC leaders. 

In the 1990s, the Dalit movement launched by Kanshi Ram was also quite powerful. But the BSP scored a self-goal by aligning with the BJP. It is an incontrovertible fact that if the brahmanical camp of the Congress, the RSS and the BJP fears anyone, it is the OBCs and the OBCs alone. Even now, the OBCs, in the form of Stalin, Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish-Tejashwi, are posing a strong challenge to the brahmanical camp. 

Having learned its lessons well, the brahmanical camp came up with a new trick. Both the major parties groomed their own band of OBC leaders. Then, dossiers were prepared on the corrupt practices of OBC leaders and these were used to silence them. The Enforcement Directorate (ED) and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) were deployed to force them to abandon their plans of launching an OBC movement. OBC leaders in the BJP and the Congress were tasked with ensuring that no authentic OBC worker, equipped with revolutionary ideas, turned into a leader as had already happened in Tami Nadu, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.  

Be that as it may, the brahmanical lobby of the Congress-BJP has overcome the setback that was the implementation of the Mandal Commission report in 1990. Seven years later, the OBC government led by H.D. Deve Gowda resolved to hold a caste census. But by then, the OBC movement had been successfully hijacked with the help of some misguided OBC leaders. After the Mandal Commission, the Congress-BJP were not ready to invite another catastrophe in the form of the caste census, come what may. Thanks to some opportunist OBC leaders, the battle for caste census could never become aggressive. 


(Translation: Amrish Herdenia)

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About The Author

Shrawan Deore

Shrawan Deore became associated with the progressive movement in 1978 while he was still in college. He joined the movement for the implementation of the Mandal Commission’s recommendations in 1982. He has been elected the vice-president of the Maharashtra OBC Association. In 1999, Deore set up the OBC Seva Sangh for the OBC Employees and Officers and became its general-secretary. He is often the main speaker and chief guest at events organized in different parts of Maharashtra to raise awareness among the OBCs.

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