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Maharashtra by-elections: Lessons for the Dalitbahujan

In India, the major political parties represent the brahmanical ideology. Their adversarial stance is only a façade, which leads the people up the garden path and keeps them voting for one or the other among them, writes Shrawan Deore

There was a time when by-elections were not taken seriously. But the recent by-elections in the Chinchwad and Kasba Peth Assembly constituencies in Maharashtra saw a tooth-and-nail contest between the rivals. In Kasba Peth, Ravindra Dhangekar of the Congress – a part of the alliance Mahavikas Aghadi – defeated Hemant Rasane of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It was after 27 years that the Congress could beat the BJP in Kasba Peth. Meanwhile in Chinchwad, BJP’s Ashwini Jagtap emerged victorious. 

What is important is that all the parties approached these by-elections as do-or-die battles. Even the parties that were not in the fray had their top leaders canvassing hard. The enthusiasm of the heavyweights vigorously canvassing in the two constituencies rubbed off on the voters too, and voter turnouts were handsome, almost matching those of general elections, which is unusual for by-elections. In the 2019 Assembly Elections, for instance, the voting percentage in Kasba Peth was 51.54 while 50.06 per cent voters cast their ballots in these by-polls. The corresponding figures for Chinchwad were 53.59 and 50.57 per cent respectively. 

This obviously means that the electorate took the by-polls seriously. Does this augur well for Indian democracy? Can we say that democracy will be strengthened if people participate in by-elections with as much enthusiasm as in the general elections? 

Chhagan Bhujbal, Praklash Ambedkar and others

The answer to both these questions is a firm “no”. Only elections do not make a democracy. Elections were held in Hitler’s Germany and still are in Russia and Communist China. But that hasn’t established democracy in these nations. Democracy is strengthened when political parties contest elections based on two or more ideologies.  

However, in India, the major political parties represent the brahmanical ideology. Their adversarial stance is only a façade, which leads the people up the garden path and keeps them voting for one or the other among them. This translates into brahmanical parties coming to power alternately. The Congress and the BJP are a case in point.  

Today, India has two major ideologies. The brahmanical, which supports the caste system, and the non-brahmanical, which wants to put an end to it. Mostly, it is the brahmanical parties that come to power. The Phule-Ambedkarite and Marxist parties, which believe that they are progressive and revolutionary, play second fiddle to the established parties. One has to concede, though, that the people of Tamil Nadu have forged formidable non-brahmanical parties, by purging the polity of Brahmanism. The Congress is almost non-existent in Tamil Nadu and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and its sister organization, the BJP, are yet to get a toehold in the state. 

In Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, thanks to the political polarization along brahmanical-non-brahmanical lines, parties led by OBCs have managed to strike deep roots and are in a position to challenge the brahmanical camp. The day the OBC-led parties in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar manage to bring about a cultural polarization along brahmanical-non-brahmanical lines, the Dalits will abandon leaders like Mayawati and, like in Tamil Nadu, accept OBC leadership.  

It is sad to see so-called Phule-Ambedkarite parties in Maharashtra in survival mode, clinging to the tail of the RSS-BJP and the Congress. The Communist parties, too, piggyback on the Congress and the Nationalist Congress alternatingly. It is clear that a non-brahmanical political alternative cannot emerge till society is polarized. 

Coming back to the by-elections, it is being said the BJP could win Chinchwad because of the presence of independent candidate Rahul Kalate. In the absence of the “Kalate factor”, it lost Kasba Peth.  

For how long will we depend on “Kalates” or their absence to defeat the RSS-BJP? Will the Phule-Ambedarites or the Marxists-Socialists ever show their mettle? The sole aim of Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi was to defeat the Congress-NCP, so it banked on the “Kalate factor”. Ideological polarization is not on its agenda. It only manages “emotional polarization” of its kith and kin. 

In the Kasba Peth by-poll, a new factor, “Anand Dave”, came to the fore. The constituency has been a Brahmin bastion, having returned Brahmin BJP candidates for the past 30 years. But this time, both the BJP and the Congress fielded OBC candidates. Incensed by this, Anand Dave, a leader of the Brahmin Mahasabha, threw his hat into the ring. He was not actuated by any ideology – his caste was his sole USP. Those dwelling in the past thought that Dave would corner the Brahmin votes and defeat the BJP, but the results belied their hopes.  

Not only Marathas and Malis but the Dalits and Adivasis, too – in fact all the communities – have been committing the folly of voting in the name of caste. Ideology is of little consequence for them. Had Dave been a Maratha, a Mali, a Dalit or an Adivasi, he may have been able to win a sizable chunk of votes. But he was representing a caste which changes its colours in keeping with the prevailing circumstances. Brahmin is the only caste in the country which knows well when to fly the flag of caste and when to accord importance to ideology.  

The Brahmins capture power by non-Brahmin castes as their front, and serve their own interests. When seeking votes, they raise the slogan “We all are Hindus.” After capturing power, they say, “We are Brahmins, and you all are Shudras.” They captured power in Delhi by projecting the OBC Narendra Modi, and in Maharashtra by using the Maratha Eknath Shinde as their front. Once in power, they worked in the interest of the Brahmins.  

After capturing power in 2014, the Brahmins pitched for “Sudama (the pauper Brahmin friend of Krishna) reservation” and while undermining the OBC quota, managed to win 10 per cent reservations for the Economically Weaker Sections (EWS). In government budgets, they ensured that Adani and Ambani got preference over the Dalits, the OBCs and the Adivasis. They provided sanctuary to Brahmin rioters like Sambhaji Bhide and also to the murderers of Narendra Dabholkar and Govind Pansare. They engineered the Bhima-Koregaon riots. Several Brahmin welfare programmes were executed. 

That the Brahmins – who give precedence to ideology over caste in politics and to caste over ideology when in power – have ensured that Dave lost his deposit was no surprise at all. Of the 40,000 Brahmin voters in Kasba Peth, just 296 voted for Anand Dave in the name of caste, while 24,704 Brahmins voted for their ideology. Thus, only 0.74 per cent Brahmins gave precedence to caste and 99.26 per cent gave precedence to ideology. On the other hand, among the Dalitbahujans, not a single voter decides whom to vote for on the basis of ideology. They only scour for candidates from their own castes.

Be that as it may, we should contemplate why Kasba Peth, the Brahmin bastion of 30 years, was handed over to the OBCs. It’s not a coincidence that both the BJP and the Congress fielded OBC nominees. 

It is a truism that in politics, there are no free lunches. A majority of voters in Kasba Peth are OBCs, but as long as they were under the sway of the Brahmins, it was the Brahmins who got elected. But over the past few years, with the OBC movement gaining ground, the OBCs are becoming more politically conscious and aware.

Elections are an important means for raising public awareness, Dr Ambedkar had told us. Elections are not fought only to be won. Elections have to be fought to take one’s ideas and ideology to the people. The number of votes won also measures the impact of the party workers’ efforts to influence people.

Established parties like the Congress and the BJP field those OBCs who are their slaves. Such OBC candidates, after getting elected, act as agents of the Brahmins and the Marathas. They never raise the issue of caste census in the assembly. The issue of caste census could have been brought on the national agenda by fielding members of the independent OBC movement in these by-polls. 

(Translated from Hindi by Amrish Herdenia; translated from the original Marathi into Hindi by Chandrabhan Pal)


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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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