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Caste Irony

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It is ironic that the constitutional objective of ending the ‘inequities’ of the caste system by ending distinctions at the social level has come full circle to further bolstering these structures. It began with identifying castes for affirmative action in terms of reservations for jobs, political representation and education, but has ended up creating special interest groups based on just the one criterion – the seemingly permanent social dominance of the ‘upper castes’, particularly Brahmins. Social justice has come to mean targeting ‘Brahmin Patriarchy’. So, it comes as a surprise that, all of a sudden, there is such concern today among ‘progressive’ and ‘Ambedkarite’ political parties for the well-being of this particular caste.

The BSP is holding ‘Brahmin Sammelans’ in UP to woo them away from the BJP fold. Constituting a mere ten percent of the electorate, they seem to have become a significant section from the electoral point of view. Seeing this, the Samajwadi Party, thus far focused on the ‘MY’ strategy, has also empathised with Brahmin interests. It is not that they really care – the thrust is on projecting the state’s Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath as a ‘Thakur’ inimical to the other castes, as apart from a ‘monk’ who remains above social divisions. Breaching thereby the mobilisation based on ‘Hindutva’, it would become a free for all, once again.

Considering the fact that the tiniest of sub-castes (which number in the hundreds) are today forming political parties under ambitious individuals – some quite successfully, such as the Bhim Army – it is clear that each wishes to negotiate its own terms with the power brokers. They are hoping for tickets, even ministerial posts, from the larger parties. That, in earlier such alliances, such leaders have ended up being absolutely sidelined is not deterring the present lot of hopefuls.

The BSP is among the earliest of caste based organisations that used confrontationist politics to create space for itself. However, having limited itself in this way, it has struggled to expand its influence. Its coalitions have always been with upper castes rather than the OBCs, whose interests did not match with it. This made the BJP its natural ally. Unfortunately, it also meant the possibility of its voters shifting loyalties to the larger, more inclusive party. This contradiction has bedeviled its politics almost to the point of irrelevance. It remains a shining example of how caste based politics has its limitations. It can flourish in a fragmented society, but consolidations of the kind Hindutva creates leave it disarmed and helpless.