Will caste politics comeback with a bang ?


Lalu Prasad Yadav accused the BJP of targeting him in the fodder scam only because he is a "champion of social rights" which is to say that he is being targeted because he is an OBC.

Jignesh Mevani won his seat in the Gujarat elections by rallying against the cause of "Brahmanical hegemony" which he claimed was being promoted and nurtured by the current fascist regime.

The riots in Bhima-Koregaon took place in Maharashtra, wherein Hindu extremists groups attacked Dalit people, who were celebrating the 200th anniversary of the battle of Koregaon in which Dalit-led British forces defeated Bajirao Peshwa II.

All the incidents mentioned above, though occurring in different parts of India, lead us to the same conclusion that the rise of casteist politics is on the rise. The rise comes at a time when the ruling party, the BJP, has been accused of giving a free-hand to fringe groups such as Akhil Bhartiya Hindu Mahasabha, Bajrang Dal, Durga Vahini etc. The ideology of "Hindutva"-- endorsed by the RSS(the parent body of BJP)--is based on a caste-based system and opposition parties have been attacking the BJP on the use of this particular word since they came to power for the first time in 1998. The present scenario reminds us a bit about the Mandal era which led to a new wave of politics--especially in the states of UP and Bihar. At the time of implementation of the Mandal report, Congress was in the opposition. Similarly, in today's scenario, the Congress is in opposition. The Mandal movement gave rise to Lalu Prasad, Nitish Kumar and Mayawati whereas today we have Jignesh Mewani, Alpesh Thakor and Umar Khalid who are positioning themselves as champions of Dalit rights.


The question, that arises out of the spark that has lit up the new wave of casteist politics in India is that whether there is an actual and substantial increase in violence against Dalits in India, since the Modi government took power in 2014.

The data suggests there was a significant rise in atrocities against Dalits in the years 2012 and 2013--the last years of UPA II's rule. Though there has been an increase in incidents of violence against Dalits in 2014 and 2015,it is nowhere substantial to suggest that the coming in of the new administration prompted a rise in violence against Dalits. The caveat here is that the Government, from the year 2016 onwards, does not provide data for crimes specifically committed against the SC/ST community. An estimation --by the newspaper mint--points that 214 crimes per million of SC population took place in 2016 as compared to 207 per million in 2015. This estimation too, fails to vindicate the stand of the opposition on the casteist nature of the regime. A valid point that can be raised is that atrocities against Dalit may have stepped up after the Una incident--4 Dalit men were lynched for skinning the carcasses of cows-- as the community started to assert itself by protesting against the current regime. There does seem to be something fishy in the government not releasing the reports for 2016 and 2017 given that it could clear itself off the charges of the opposition--if indeed it is innocent.

There have always been contradictions in the preaching of Rashtriya swayamsevak Sangh which, on the one hand claims as the elimination of caste as one of its main goals and on the other hand supports the ideology of Hindutva--an ideology which has caste system in its very roots. It has had a history of opposing legislation such as the Hindu Code Bill--calling it an 'atom bomb'. Almost all of the presidents of the organization have been upper-caste Hindus. The policy of vegetarianism which is promoted by the RSS as well as the BJP does not go down well with the members of lower-castes who are involved in the practice of meat-eating. It is only right then that questions regarding the credibility of BJP in maintaining social harmony rise up.


When the party BJP was born in the year 1980, it was seen as a party of the "Brahmins and Baniyas". The part didn't seem to mind the tag and successfully used the tag in the Ayodhya movement of the 1990's as well as made gains the Hindi-Heartland states--chief among them the win in UP in the year 1991. It also came to power at the centre, with the Congress staring at a leadership crisis without a Gandhi at the helm. The rise of BJP also corresponded with the rise of regional forces that looked to capitalize on the demise of the Congress. Caste was a major factor in the northern states--chief among them the states of UP and Bihar--and with the BJP having solidified its support among the higher-caste Hindus with the ram-mandir issue at the forefront, there was a possibility of consolidation of votes with regards to the votes of the Muslims as well as the backward castes. The order of firing on Kar Sevaks by Mulayam and the arrest of Advani by Lalu Prasad Yadav during the Ayodhya movement were moves that solidified the vote-banks of these leaders for the decade to come. With time,as the BJP faced the challenge of re-positioning itself as a national party and faced declines in the state of UP(the state which initially propelled it to power in 1998 by supplying 58 of its 180 seats in the parliament)--where it went from 221 seats in 1991 to just 47 in 2012. The party under the leadership of Narendra Modi decided to make the fight a Hindu vs Muslim one rather than a caste battle. The strategy worked, as for the first time the party was able to cross the 40% vote share in the state election of UP in 2017 signalling that backward castes had voted for the party, perhaps for the first time in large numbers. The focus of the Congress party as well as regional players on Muslim vote bank and at the same time taking certain vote banks for granted (such as Dalits were going to vote for Mayawati nationwide and Yadavs were going to vote for Mulayam and Lalu in the states of UP and Bihar) meant that these core constituency of voters felt betrayed and decided to give the "development story" sold by Modi a chance.


Since the Gujarat elections, the focus of the opposition has been to focus on bringing back the "Hindu votes" back to its fold. We are seeing temple visits from leaders such as Rahul Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee--a thing that was not seen in the past. Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav are advancing the agenda of being an anti lower-caste party in a bid to retain their core-constituencies of voters. The results of the Gujarat elections, as well as By poll results in various states, show that the rural voters--a constituency that gives major value to caste and identity politics-- have largely deserted the BJP. The challenge for the BJP is whether it can maintain divisions of the vote on the lines of Hindu-Muslim agenda, failing to do the above would mean a split in the "Hindu Vote bank" with the opposition capitalizing on the caste divisions that are still considerable in our country.