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MP Elections 2023: BJP strategy of digging up caste icons and announcing caste-focused sops

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has announced that welfare boards will be set up for all (Hindu) castes and subcastes. The chairpersons of these boards will enjoy the status of ministers, with all the pecuniary benefits and perks that come with it, writes Amrish Herdenia

Yet another day – 22 May – has been added to the already long list of public holidays for the state government offices and educational institutions in Madhya Pradesh. It happens to be the birth anniversary of Rajput chieftain Maharana Pratap, who waged a bitter, albeit losing, battle against the Mughal Emperor Akbar. 

The announcement was made by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at a grand event organized by the Rajput Samaj in Bhopal on that day. The chief minister was heard eulogizing Maharana Pratap as a “jewel of India who fought off the alien invaders”. 

Earlier, on 23 April, he had announced a public holiday on Parshuram Jayanti, revered by the Brahmins, at a Brahmin Convention. He also declared that the priests of temples were now free to auction the land belonging to the temples and that the government wouldn’t interfere in the functioning of the temples. Earlier, temple property could only be auctioned under the watch of the district collector. The chief minister said that Parshuram had raised his axe to kill terrorists! 

Since September last year, at least six new public holidays have been announced in the state. On 18 March, the chief minister announced an optional holiday for the anniversary of Raja Todarmal, one of the Navratnas in Akbar’s court, who is said to have been a Kayastha and on 15 March, another optional holiday for Vishwakarma Jayanti. Vishwakarma is the deity of the castes who have been traditionally carpenters, blacksmiths, bronze smiths, goldsmiths and stonemasons, all of whom come under the Other Backward Classes (OBCs). On 28 December last year, he declared that employees of the Khangar community could take a holiday on the anniversary of Raja Khet Singh. Khangars have also been classified as OBC. Holidays have also been announced on the Prakatosav of Chitragupta (April 21). Chitragupta is revered by the Kayasthas. In February last year, Chouhan had announced a series of schemes for the welfare of Scheduled Castes at a function held to mark Ravidas Jayanti.

Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan speaks at an event held to celebrate Parshuram Jayanti in Janapav, Indore district, on 23 April 2023

For more than a year now, the chief minister has been hopping from one community convention to another. The ruling BJP, apparently, has devised this formula to appease all the communities, right from the Brahmins to the Dalits. A known, not-so-well-known or unknown icon of each community is identified. The communities concerned are persuaded to organize functions to mark the death or birth anniversaries of these personalities, with the chief minister in attendance. The chief minister showers fulsome praises on the icon and makes announcements for the welfare of the community concerned. Among others, the chief minister has attended conventions organized by Jat and the Manjhi (fishermen) communities. 

Whether the government has the financial wherewithal to implement the announcements made at these gala events, is, of course, immaterial.

Then, the government is also setting up welfare boards for different castes. The state now has a Brahmin Welfare Board, Kori Welfare Board, Rajak Welfare Board, Teldhani Welfare Board, Vishwakarma Welfare Board and Swarnakala Welfare Board. The chief minister has announced that welfare boards will be set up for all the (Hindu) castes and subcastes. The chairpersons of these boards will enjoy the status of ministers, with all the pecuniary benefits and perks that come with it. How the cash-strapped government will arrange offices, staff, cars and other paraphernalia for these boards is unclear. As for the Kirar (OBC) caste to which Chouhan belongs, his wife Sadhna Singh is the All-India president of the Kirar Kshatriya Mahasabha. So, sops for the community are bound to flow unhindered. 

Evidently, the BJP has the upcoming assembly elections in its sights. While this campaign has been continuing for the past one year, the defeat of the BJP in the Karnataka elections had added a sense of urgency to it and one can safely presume that more caste conventions, sops, welfare boards and holidays are in the offing. 

The Karnataka poll outcome has unsettled the BJP leadership of the state, because there are many parallels between the southern state and Madhya Pradesh. In both the states, the Congress governments that took office after the last elections were pulled down by engineering defections and BJP governments took their place. And in both the states the turncoats won the by-polls that followed their resignations from the assembly, thus perpetuating the rule of the new governments.

Though the chief minister, addressing a convention of BJP workers in Bhopal, rubbished the idea that Madhya Pradesh may witness a replay of Karnataka in the polls due in November – he said, “Karnatak-Varnatak se kya hota hai” (what can the Karnataka election result do!) – Congress’s morale is up and the BJP’s is down. 

But wooing Muslims or Christian is not on the agenda of the government or the ruling party. No conventions of Muslims or Christians have been held or are planned. They are the political pariahs for the BJP.  

Forward Press also publishes books on Bahujan issues. Forward Press Books sheds light on the widespread problems as well as the finer aspects of Bahujan (Dalit, OBC, Adivasi, Nomadic, Pasmanda) society, culture, literature and politics. Contact us for a list of FP Books’ titles and to order. Mobile: +917827427311, Email: info@forwardmagazine.in)

About The Author

Amrish Herdenia

Amrish Herdenia is Editor (Translation), Forward Press. He has been the Madhya Pradesh bureau chief for ‘Deccan Herald’, ‘Daily Tribune’, ‘Daily Newstime’ and the weekly ‘Sunday Mail’. He has translated several books, including ‘Gujarat: Behind the Curtain’ by R.B. Sreekumar, former Director General of Police, Gujarat, from the original English to Hindi

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