National

Are caste assertions fashioning a new paradigm in Indian politics?

Virendra Pandit Gandhinagar | Updated on January 08, 2018 Published on January 04, 2018

Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The Hindutva-development plank ousted Mandal politics in the late 90s, but caste seems to have returned to the discourse

How things have changed in just a fortnight; how the “vote banks” have fragmented.

The caste-based agitations that began in 2015, by Hardik Patel and his ‘frenemies’ Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore, despite their cross-purposes, left the BJP mauled in the recent Gujarat elections.

Two days ago, after ‘advising’ Prime Minister Narendra Modi to retire, Mevani travelled to Pune to participate in the Dalit agitation in Maharashtra. In Gujarat, Deputy Chief Minister Nitin Patel virtually arm-twisted his own party, the BJP, into giving him the finance portfolio, within 24 hours of fellow Patidar minister Saurabh Patel taking charge of the ministry. And, on Wednesday, Koli leader and Minister of State Parsottam Solanki skipped the first Cabinet meeting of the Vijay Rupani Government, demanding a Cabinet rank and plum portfolios.

Interestingly, both Nitin Patel and Solanki demanded ‘justice’ to the asmita (self-respect) of their respective castes. Narendra Modi, as Guajrat CM, would often use ‘Gujarati asmita’ to berate the UPA government. Clearly, aspiring BJP leaders are using the same ‘weapons’ now against their own party leadership to extract concessions.

Another senior BJP MLA Jetha Bharwad, an OBC leader, apparently unhappy at being left out of the ministry, announced that he would not contest the next polls.

Welcome to 2018, when new caste architectures are emerging in Indian politics and old community dynamics falls by the wayside.



Mandal, masjid & beyond



In the 1990s, the Mandal Commission’s recommendations empowered intermediate castes (later known as OBCs) and their leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav, Lalu Prasad, Mayawati and Nitish Kumar, all of whom gradually replaced the existing political domination of the Dwij (twice-born), or the upper-caste Hindus, many of whom supported the BJP. In the next decade, the Mandalites came to terms with the Hindutva forces, a socio-political reorganisation that culminated in Narendra Modi, an OBC, being elected as India’s Prime Minister, on the development-cum-Hindutva platform.

The recent collapse of the famed ‘Gujarat model’ and the re-emergence of caste reassertions has worried the ruling BJP no end as prepares for the hustings of 2019.

Within 48 hours of the party pacifying Nitin Patel on Sunday, Parsottam Solanki flexed his muscles. Members of his caste, group are spread over coastal Gujarat, and the Kolis are the largest of the OBCs, who together comprise 45 per cent of Gujarat voters. The Koli community is influential in 40-odd seats of the 54 Assembly constituencies in the Kutch-Saurashtra region. Solanki, a five-time MLA and a controversial leader, has remained a Minister of State in successive BJP governments.



Congress’ worries



Even the Opposition Congress should be worried. Party President Rahul Gandhi, after enlisting the Hardik-Alpesh-Jignesh trio in Gujarat, also supported the ongoing Dalit agitation in Maharashtra in which Mevani also played a role. But, the Congress itself was rocked by a fresh demand from senior Koli-OBC leader Kunwarji Mohanji Bavaliya, who wants to be made the Leader of Opposition in the Gujarat Vidhan Sabha. This is at a time when Patidar leader Paresh Dhanani, Congress MLA from Amreli, is being seen as a front-runner for the post.

Bavaliya, an MP from Rajkot during 2009-14, was earlier elected to the Vidhan Sabha twice in the past. This time, he has been elected from Jasdan in Rajkot district.



Signs from the future?



Following the caste-based agitations in Gujarat, different communities are now flexing their muscles, and not just in the State alone, as evidenced by the Dalit agitation in neighbouring Maharashtra, also ruled by the BJP. With eight States going to the polls this year, caste-based movements may spring up in several places.

The irony is that, despite their rival claims, the Patidars found themselves in the same boat as the OBCs and the Dalits, and against the BJP. This led to the election of OBC leader Alpesh Thakore on a Congress ticket and Dalit leader Jignesh Mevani as an Independent MLA, with Congress support.

The Gujarat elections also witnessed the split of the votes of Patidars, Dalits, OBCs and others. Even votes polled under the NOTA head numbered over five lakh, impacting the outcome in nearly 30 Assembly constituencies out of 182.

Also, the “Muslim vote bank” was not free from this disintegration process: Muslim women, supportive of the NDA government’s stand on the triple talaq issue, were reported to have overwhelmingly voted for the BJP even as many of their men voted for the Congress and others.

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Published on January 04, 2018
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