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Brahmins unhappy with Yogi? How Akhilesh got trapped in a Lucknow-Delhi narrative

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat* 

The poll outcome in five states has gladdened many and disappointed others with BJP’s extremely impressive performance. It is also a complete failure of the opposition parties, particularly the Congress and BSP. At the same time, the results exposed the embedded media. Not to talk of the Modi bhakts, there is a ‘big’ anti-Modi anti-Yogi industry which has gained enormously since 2014.
The so-called alternative media turned individuals into ‘nayaks'. During the farmers' year long struggle, ‘journalists’ became spokespersons of ‘anti-Modi’, and in Uttar Pradesh anti-Yogi, narrative. Their monologues were often full of misinterpretations. Like 'Godi' media, the ‘alternative’ media thrived on falsification of news and complete disconnect from reality.
Those claiming ‘alternative media’ were neither alternative nor analytical, but were a party to, or perhaps were setting news ‘agenda’ for, the political sponsors. They attended political rallies, spoke to ‘bhakts’ and made many ‘feelgood’ that BJP had become ‘unwanted’. They forgot: the the farmers' movement and anti-CAA protests were legitimate struggles but were unable to offer an ‘alternative’ to BJP.
An analysis of the politically ‘apolitical’ social movement can gives one the understanding that most of them have ended up in helping the Sangh Parivar and its ‘idea of India’. The longer these ‘movement’ are pushed, the better for BJP to exploit their inherent contradictions. The faultline of the political analysts and ‘social scientists’ is in their portrayal of ‘progressive’ movement. They ignored: social movements took shape more due to political marginalisation of communities.
The Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal anti-corruption movement emerged after the Congress-led UPA won the second term in Lok Sabha polls in 2009. The movement in the name of ‘anti-corruption’ was led by savarna or dominant caste forces who felt that the Congress was marginalising the ‘upper castes’. The issue of reservation in promotion haunted the upper castes after the Supreme Court validated reservation for backward communities.
The Congress allowed the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) to grow and dent the Hindutva party but ended up with egg on its face. Arvind Kejriwal ultimately has become the biggest tool to finish the Congress.
Following the Punjab win, AAP is going to all the states to make it look as if it is the only alternative to BJP. However, the dark reality must not be forgotten that in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Goa, most of the AAP candidates forfeited their deposits. In Uttarakhand, their state president and chief ministerial face too forfeited his deposit. While Kejriwal might have become unchallenged ‘king’ of Delhi, his ‘anti-corruption’ movement ultimately helped the Sangh Parivar gain ground and decimate the Congress.
The Modi government faced various movements, whether they be students' protests against the marginalisation of Dalit-Adivasi students in universities, or anti-CAA-NRC protests, or the farmers' protest. Each of these movements were handled by the ruling dispensation with great contempt. The attempt was to keep them going for as long as possible in order to create fear among those who wanted to protest. BJP has by now become an ‘expert’ in the art of manipulating and using the inherent contradictions in our society. Any ruling party does so, and the Congress was no exception to it when in power.

Caste factor

The nature of the farmers' movement was exclusive -- it was without much sympathy and support of agricultural workers. Though Dalits participated in the movement, most of the farmers were happy that their zamindari status remained intact. Initially, it was dominated by Punjab farmers, but after the Republic Day incident last year, the farmers, particularly the Jats from western Uttar Pradesh under Rakesh Tikait, took the lead with their massive participation.
It was an extremely difficult condition for BJP, which had earlier made deep inroads in western Uttar Pradesh by feeding into Jat insecurities through its anti-Muslim narrative. While the farm protests were genuine, they became a tool for ‘political’ rehabilitation of Jats in the western Uttar Pradesh.
However, the farmers' issues appeared to have been "resolved" once the three ‘bills’ were withdrawn. Yet, effort continued to cash in on the movement at different places -- it became counterproductive and helped BJP. It wasn't kept in mind that farmers' issue was important, but it was merely one of the issues.
‘Experts’ are now ‘shocked’ to see BJP winning all the nine seats in Lakhimpur Kheri, where farm protests were sought to be brutally crushed by the Union minister’s son. Even in Uttarakhand, Congress’ central leadership spoke about farmers and ignored other issues. In the Tarai region of both Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh, Sikh farmers are always considered as ‘landed’ and exploiters -- a factor ignored by opposition parties.
Large number of people in the Lakhimpur Kheri region are actually migrants from eastern Uttar Pradesh. BJP effectively convert the narrative into Sikh verses non-Sikh. The farmers' issue was unable to challenge the citadel of casteism. While the issue is extremely important to protect agriculture in India, in villages, people still vote as per their caste identities. In eastern Uttar Pradesh, and especially Bundelkhand, the farm laws and the movement was unable to reach agricultural workers. It was always perceived as big farmers' movement, and no efforts were made to make it inclusive.
Caste is a powerful weapon in rural India. It was Rahul Gandhi who first launched farmers' protests in Punjab against the three farm Bills. His tractor yatras were well received, but once the name of Charanjeet Singh Channi, a Dalit, was announced as chief minister, the situation changed. The announcement was made very late after AAP declared Bhagwant Mann as the chief ministerial candidate. It looked as if the announcement was made in an attempt to create a caste-based formation.
Most of the farmers are Jat Sikhs and have been loyal to the Akali Dal. Many have also been Congress supporters, but with this declaration, the Congress was unable to work as a team. The party suffered credibility crisis as the party’s state president was not ready to play the second fiddle.
It the end, the Jat Sikhs refused to vote BJP, but they opted out of the Congress with Channi, a Dalit, as chief ministerial candidate. Even the Majhabis, i.e. Valmikis, did not favour the Congress. The caste question among the Sikhs is a dirty reality which most of the ‘liberal’ and ‘social justice-friendly’ authors and journalists deny. The defeat of the Congress has clearly shown that Punjab was not ready for this experiment and therefore AAP benefitted from it. The Hindus in Punjab voted for AAP and not the Congress.

BSP’s ‘bhaichara’ politics

The shocking results of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in Uttar Pradesh -- it only got one seat -- reflects on the growing marginalisation of the party. The party’s vote percentage was 12%. BSP’s supporters were active on social media and many of them were challenging the narrative that the party is not in a position to give a fight. The party gave ticket to a large number of Muslims, but that did not help.
The party felt that by giving tickets to Muslims, it would be able to get their support. The BSP leadership did not understand was that Muslims were facing insecurities and at the moment their whole concern was to defeat BJP, and for that they were ready to defeat their ‘own’ candidates to allow the victory of any ‘secular’ party. In Uttar Pradesh, Muslims had made up their mind to vote for the Samajwadi Party (SP).
It is disturbing to see Mayawati blaming Muslims for BSP’s poor performance. It is a well known how BSP has played the ‘Brahmin bhaichara’ game. It tried playing the same game with other communities as well this time. To exploit the ‘anti-Thakur’ sentiment, BSP went overboard on promoting the Brahmin power, promising a Parshuram temple and statues. 'Prabuddha varg' sammelans were organised, and fairly large number of Brahmins got BSP tickets.
The party not only gave Brahmins tickets in large numbers, it only spoke about them. It was disappointing that no efforts were made to reach out to the other Dalit communities. BSP’s core voter in Uttar Pradesh is the Chamar-Jatav community, and when late Kanshiram began his political journey, his focus was to bring together all Dalits and most backward castes (MBCs), but that programme has now been converted into a ‘sarvajan’ idea which actually let down other Dalit communities like Pasis, Dhobis, Khatiks and Valmikis.
During a visit to Kushinagar a few months back, I met a district coordinator of the party from the neighbouring district. I was discussing the issue of the party’s outreach programme and my simple question was why the party was not trying to reach out to the Valmikis. The BSP leader said that they tried their best to bring Valmikis to the party but the community has never cooperated with them. Most of the time, the community is ‘drunk’, he said.
I was enraged and said the same argument was given by the dominant communities when speaking about Dalits as a whole. This is an extremely poor argument. He replied, they were a political party and not an NGO and need to work as per the political ‘sameekarans’ (equations) of the area. I informed him that Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s mission was not an NGO but to bring all the communities together. This is the dark reality of the cadres who have converted Dr Ambedkar as the leader of a particular community.

Samajwadis' Brahmin mission

The Samajwadi Party got 32% votes and 111 seats, which is way above it got during the last assembly elections. Akhilesh Yadav campaigned powerfully. His rathyatras attracted huge crowds and his social media too had a dedicated team. Of late, he started speaking aggressively. His initial approach to the elections related to highways, metros etc., shying away from identity issues, social justice, reservation etc.
It was only after three OBC leaders of  BJP, Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini, resigned and joined the Samajwadi Party, that Akhilesh Yadav realised that the issue of OBCs mattered. Their resignation created a flutter. Yet, none of the OBC leaders raised the issue of NEET or reservation. The only issue Akhilesh Yadav spoke was of caste census, which offended none.
Like BSP, the Samajwadi Party too engaged with Brahmins just to counter Yogi Adityanath’s Thakurwad. Akhilesh got trapped in the narrative being spread by the Brahminical media in Lucknow and Delhi about ‘Brahmin’ unhappiness with Yogi Adityanath, even when many of his media and close advisers were Brahmins.
In his attempt to get votes from Brahmins, the Samajwadi Party gave ticket to them, promised statues of Parshuram and many more things. For Brahmins, the real issues has never been Parshuram but their political representation. They were compelling parties to give them more seats.
However, no one asked the basic question as to why should the Brahmins be ‘unhappy’ with BJP. What has BJP done against them? Not merely Akhilesh Yadav, many of his allies too handled things badly -- one glaring example is Dalit leader Chandrashekar Azad. No doubt, Azad lacked maturity, but the Samajwadi Party failed to deal with him. Azad fought and got the taste of political defeat.
The Samajwadi Party needs dedicated cadres and not merely Yadav loyalists. It might have leaders from different communities but it does not have cadres at every level. It worked very hard but it needs a much bigger alliance on the ground. The party cannot hide from the issues of marginal farmers and reservation. It must know that the mere entry of a big heavy weight politicians is not an ‘assurance’ of the vote transfer from their community.
When Swami Prasad Maurya was given SP ticket from Fazil Nagar, BJP had already given ticket to local MLA Ganga Singh Kushwaha’s son Surendra Singh Kushwaha. This belt is dominated by Kushwahas who have now become strong supporters of BJP. It was forgotten: the Kurmis' and Kushwahas' main contradiction is not with Brahmins but with Yadavs, hence it was natural for them to go towards BJP.
While Akhilesh Yadav has wider acceptability, his alliance with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) failed. Perhaps, it was overhyped due to the farmers' agitation. It did not work on the ground. There are three big communities in western Uttar Pradesh -- Gujjars, Jats and Yadavs. The first two have now become solid supporters of Hindutva, while the Yadavs have mostly remained with the Samajwadi Party.
No doubt, the Muslim-Jat alliance stories helped RLD win a few seats in the Mujaffarnagar-Meerut areas, but not beyond. Perhaps, all the non-BJP political parties took this region for granted and felt that people are ready to vote to them, but they ignored that the farmers are a powerful community and they are not the only factor, as there are other communities too. Historical differences cannot get wiped out merely with anti-government protests, one needs to strengthen the outreach and socialise.

Congress’ 'ladki hoon' campaign

The Congress failed miserably. It has now been reduced to 2 seats with 2% votes. Priyanka Gandhi has been in the field for last one year and raised issues of Sonbhadra Adivasi massacre and Unnao rape victim's case or that of Hatharas. It was she who decided to go to Lakhimpur Kheri and was arrested by the Uttar Pradesh police.
The Congress gave 40% tickets to women and their campaign slogan was ‘ladki hoon lad saktee hoon’ which was attractive. They organised various marathons and it was reported that the crowds were ‘unprecedented’. Social media reporters of the Congress IT cell were giving thumps up to the party’s campaign.
But the Congress campaign under Priyanka Gandhi created an environment that benefitted the Samajwadi Party the most. The feeling that BJP is facing defeat actually was created by Priyanka’s various campaigns but then when suddenly she announced ‘Ladki hoon lad saktee hoon’ as the focus campaign, it was more seen as an NGO kind of event management and not really political.
Most of the Congress tickets went to local ‘celebrities’ who were active on Twitter and Facebook without much track record of any social or political work. The result was a large number of these overhyped ‘activists’ might have been victims of state brutality and needed justice, but failed to be the leaders to catch votes.
Priyanka campaigned for the rights of the Unnao rape victim, but giving ticket to her mother Asha Singh got symbolically more points only on social media. It failed to enthuse the people. Priyanka campaigned with Pankhuri Pathak for two days but could get on 13,000 votes. She was reduced to nothing as the seat was won by Pankaj Singh, son of defence minister Rajnath Singh, with a massive margin. There was another celebrity in Lucknow who too was rejected by people.
The Congress did not raise issues of different communities, particularly Dalits, MBCs and Muslims, and was superficially speaking about ‘sarvadharma sambhav’, concentrated on temple visits, and said they were against the politics of ‘caste and religion’. If you really want to provide counter-politics of religion and caste, you will have to speak about them and not sidetrack the issue. Most of the Congress leaders are savarnas and the space for SC-ST-OBC-Muslims in the party is very limited. The Congress effort to create rainbow of castes was powerfully hijacked by BJP.
Priyanka’s ‘Ladki hoon lad saktee hoon’ campaign was seen more as an NGO kind of event management and not political
Rahul Gandhi has given the Congress an ideological shape. He is also encouraging young leaders from different communities, but it is time the Congress develops regional kshatraps as it had in the past who could manage things for it. Despite all its efforts, the Congress leadership has not been able to connect with the people. It will not be possible for the party to emerge as an alternative in Uttar Pradesh, but it still needs to focus and rebuild a strong social coalition, train activists and build a narrative. It’s a gigantic task.
While in Punjab the Congress defeated itself, it killed its own prospects in Uttarakhand. In Uttarakhand, it refused to acknowledge the contribution of seniormost leader Harish Rawat. Since 2002, the Congress has refused to accept and respect Harish Rawat, who is still considered the tallest leader in Uttarakhand.
When all the poll surveys of the hill state were predicting a tough fight, in terms of popularity of individual leaders, all the surveys indicated that Harish Rawat was way ahead of others. Yet the party leadership refused to accept him. Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi rarely visited Uttarakhand. They travelled to the state just on election eve.
On the other hand, Narendra Modi and Amit Shah regularly visited Uttarakhand and made people feel that they are wanted and respected. There was nothing specific in Rahul's and Priyanka’s speeches in Uttarakhand to offer to people.

Yogi’s Thakurwad

Yogi Adityanath was charged with preferring Thakurs and it was claimed that Brahmins were being side-lined despite the facts that the Brahmin presence in his Ministry as well as bureaucracy was substantial. Yogi’s close media advisers were Brahmins and Banias. Yet, to target Yogi’s Thakurwad, ‘experts’ in Lucknow and Delhi started the campaign that there is a ‘huge’ anti-Yogi sentiment among Brahmins.
Both BSP and the Samajwadi Party jumped into it and started organising meetings to get support from the ‘Brahmin’ community. In their overzeal to attract the Brahmin votes, all the parties went overboard to ‘placate’ the Brahmins, who voted massively for BJP.
The attempt to create an anti-Brahmin sentiment also helped Yogi Adityanath, who in an interview to a national channel said that he was proud to be born a ‘kshatriya’. Many political commentators and experts felt bad about it, but Yogi knows: in the politics of identity he can’t afford to lose his core constituency.
BJP gave tickets to 68 Brahmins and 67 Rajputs. Banias got 31 tickets. Massive chunk went to OBCs like Kurmis, Kushwahas, Shakyas and Lodhs. Among the Dalits, it gave 30% seats to both Jatavs and Pasis each. The results show how BJP’s gamble paid. Total number of Brahmins from BJP who got elected is 46, while only five SP Brahmins won.
Among the Thakurs, BJP got 43, SP 4 and BSP 1 seat. Further, 27 Kurmis, 19 Jatavs, 18 Pasis and 3 Yadavs have been elected on BJP ticket. Clearly, the massive Brahmin outreach programme of the Samajwadi Party and BSP failed miserably. All the savarna communities are extremely comfortable with BJP. 
The anti-Brahmin accusation on Yogi fell flat and looked as if it was created to confuse the opposition from raising other issues of importance. No doubt, Yogi's continuous anti-Muslim rhetoric did not help much but one cannot ignore the fact that in Uttar Pradesh things are still polarised.

Media, money and limits of electoral system

While it is important to acknowledge that BJP has a powerful cadre and election-winning machinery, one cannot and should not ignore the fact that they also made use of technology and system. Though the Prime Minister and the Chief Minister were doing big rallies in Uttar Pradesh prior to declaration of the election schedule, the Election Commission’s ban on big rallies was helpful to BJP.
No other party has even one third of strength of BJP in terms of money and technology. There was no level playing field. There were reports of EVM malfunctioning and serious allegations on officers on duty yet nothing happened. The issue of VVPAT has never been addressed giving rise to speculation. I don’t have the data but any win below one thousand votes gives rise to speculations and the best way would be to get the VVPAT counted and matched with the machine result.
It was uneven fight. BJP had a massive political machinery and also used Income Tax, Enforcement Directorate and other departments against political opponents. It did not care for election code of conduct, and the Election Commission was quiet on various violations. The language of BJP leaders during the the election campaign was unparliamentary, many times threatening and intimidating. The Prime Minister and the Chief Minister used media interviews to promote their party violating the election code of conduct but no action was taken.
One channel would broadcast wn interview on the eve of the polls and others would ‘report’ all the time. Journalists became BJP’s propaganda agents. Every day, opinion polls were being conducted, media was organising events and social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook became the biggest agents of the ruling party, denying space to opposition. Links exposing the ruling party never got enough visibility.
Meanwhile, it is time political parties started thinking reforming the electoral system. India must move towards proportional electoral system. RLD with 2% vote share got 8 seats in Uttar Pradesh, while Congress with the same percentage also got 2 seats. BSP with 12% vote share got just 1 seat. BJP with 41.3% vote share got 255 seats, and SP got 32% vote share got 111 seats. In a proportional electoral system, BJP would have got only 165 seats and the Samajwadi Party would have got 128 seats.
---
*Human rights defender. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vbrawat. Twitter: @freetohumanity

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