The first noticeable rise of the BJP’s nationalist politics began in Indian politics towards the late eighties when the party under the presidentship of Lal Krishan Advani went from two seats in the parliament in 1984 to 85 in 1989. That is when it first became a part of the national government as an alliance partner of the coalition government led by Congress dissident V P Singh. Advani’s Rath Yatra in 1990 further enhanced the party’s political profile. A year later, the BJP formed its first government in Uttar Pradesh which, however, was dismissed following the demolition of Babri Masjid the following year. The BJP continued its steady rise though. In 1996, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first BJP Prime Minister and completed the term, the first non-Congress PM to do so.
The BJP seemed to be on a roll. But its march was stymied by the parallel rise of caste politics, triggered by the Mandal Commission report implemented by the V P Singh government in 1990. Congress suffered the most by caste politics. The grand old party was almost wiped out of key states from northern and southern regions of India, where regional parties championing the cause of marginalized groups replaced it. The Mandal politics also proved an effective counter to the Ram Mandir politics of the BJP. The saffron party lost power in states including in Uttar Pradesh and was unable to build on its gains at the national level, while the regional caste parties thrived. That is before Narendra Modi took over the command of the party and turned things around in 2014. The party’s continuing dominance since is being called the Mandir politics 2.0, with Mandir now largely symbolizing the extreme variant of the nationalist politics. And while the BJP has enjoyed an unprecedented popularity since, the Mandal parties have lost their earlier appeal. The landslide victories of the BJP in two successive Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh testify to this.
But the demand for the caste census by the parties in the INDIA Alliance is bringing Mandal politics back to the foreground. And this time, Congress is at the forefront championing the cause of social justice. Billed as Mandal 2.0, the fresh round of caste politics has started with a bang with the RJD-JDU coalition releasing the state-level caste census. The survey found that over two-thirds of the state’s population of over 130 million belonged to “backward” or marginalised communities. This has given a headstart to the Nitish Kumar-Tejasvi Yadav alliance in the run up to the next year’s parliamentary election.
It would be interesting to see whether this politics will have any renewed resonance in Uttar Pradesh, the state where it essentially emerged in the nineties and reigned supreme until Yogi Adityanath’s takeover in 2017. With the Bihar government setting the precedent by releasing the caste census, the UP is unlikely to remain unaffected. Much like a polarizing, religion-based politics, the pull of the caste politics can be irresistible. More so, in a society rife with a deep caste-based injustice and the consequent resentment and grievance. Also, as against the electoral appeal of the religion-based hate, much of which is manufactured from an unverifiable history, the caste discrimination is structural in nature and is responsible for the economic marginalization of a substantial proportion of India’s population. This makes Mandal 2.0 a serious challenge to Mandir 2.0, as the former has an economic dimension that the latter doesn’t.
Congress has framed the caste politics in a catchy slogan, ‘jitni aabadi, utna haq’ (share in the government as per one’s population). It is, in fact, a rehash of the BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s famous slogan “Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedari.” Top Congress leader Rahul Gandhi first raised the slogan early this year at a rally in Kolar during the Karnataka polls which Congress won with an overwhelming majority Rahul suggested that reservation for SCs and STs should be proportionate to their population, and demanded removal of the Supreme Court-mandated 50% cap on quota. Since then, he has been consistently demanding a caste census, and has also extended the demand to an OBC quota within the women’s reservation recently cleared by Parliament. But Congress’ aggressive adoption of the caste politics is making the bonafide Mandal parties such as Samajwadi Party, RJD, JDU, etc uneasy, challenging the unity of the INDIA Alliance.
That said, it is widely believed that only Mandal 2.0 has the potential to break the grip of Mandir 2.0 which may have already accumulated some anti-incumbency over the nine year rule of the BJP. But it won’t be easy considering prime minister Narendra Modi still seems to command a large pan-India following, clearly unencumbered by any anti-incumbency. And with the prime minister set to inaugurate Ram Mandir in January 202, this will be the culmination and crowning glory of Mandir 2.0 politics. So, as parliamentary polls draw nearer by the day, it would be interesting to see the tussle between caste politics and Hindu majoritarianism unfold and its eventual outcome.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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