Clashes between the Dalit and Thakur communities have erupted in Saharanpur. The political significance of these clashes can be found in the Facebook post of a certain Shivam Vij, which appeared during the Uttar Pradesh elections earlier this year. Vij writes in his post:
“To counter Hindutva, left-liberals need to focus on caste. Nationalism, secularism, Kashmir, Pakistan are only going to help saffron grow bigger. By putting Hindutva on a backfoot, left-liberals would be able to create space to raise all their issues.”
Shivam Vij is, believe it or not, a former associate editor of scroll.in and the deputy editor of HuffPost India. A senior journalist openly advising the anti-BJP ecosystem to play its game on the basis of caste is appalling, but that is not the point this article seeks to make. What we are witnessing in Saharanpur illustrates the fact that certain cleverer sections of the anti-BJP ecosystem are doing exactly that. Dividing society on the basis of caste has been their bread and butter. They seek to return to their old ‘business-model’ and revive the fortune of their battered selves.
What the advent of Narendra Modi proved in 2014, was that the phenomenon of Hindu electoral consolidation was a possibility. Armchair sociologists who coined catchy phrases such as In India one doesn’t cast his vote but votes his caste were proven wrong.
Caste barriers were surpassed. If there is one factor which places Amit Shah far above his peers in terms of strategic depth it is this- that he has always looked for ways to surpass these barriers, and executed the same flawlessly. This was visible in both Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in 2014 when the BJP took a lion share of the seats in both states. It was repeated successfully by the BJP again this year in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections.
In his Facebook post, Vij offers another pearl of wisdom. Nationalism, secularism, Kashmir and Pakistan, he says, will only help saffron grow bigger. The anti-BJP ecosystem needs to take a lesson from this and understand once and for all that Narendra Modi’s statements about Muslim graveyards receiving more money than Hindu crematoriums, are not the reason for their losses. With Modi’s advent, it is their hypocrisy and the common man’s unconditional love for the country which have come to the fore. The narrative has shifted from caste to a range of issues which have been the ecosystem’s typical weaknesses.
In the case of Uttar Pradesh, the political landscape post Rajnath Singh’s stint as chief minister was largely dominated by two regional players. Anyone with half a brain could tell you that they have next to nothing in terms of work to their credit. To add to that, no instance of any display of love or loyalty towards the nation comes to mind. The parties survived courtesy astute politicking. They pitted communities against one another, appeased certain sections of society and discriminated against others, and simply reaped the rewards of these cycles they set in motion.
The BJP’s popularity was on the rise from the beginning of Manmohan Singh’s second term. But instead of banking solely on anti-incumbency to ride to power, the BJP crafted a long-term strategy. With the advent of Modi, it returned firmly to some of the basics which had propelled it to power initially, and which its Delhi-durbaar hadn’t taken very seriously since. Nationalism, respect for the country and the will to make the country respectable, were the broad outlines of this narrative.
The party’s growing popularity throughout Manmohan’s second term forced its opponents to react, respond and play the game in terms of this narrative. In other words, the BJP was setting the narrative now. The opposition had no choice, and this is where it lost the plot completely. Having indulged in communal and caste-based politics through the decades, it had nothing to show for itself in terms of nationalism. The other factors that Vij uses in his post such as Kashmir and Pakistan, are cornerstones of every debate centered around nationalism.
This is what caused a Hindu electoral consolidation, and with the narrative being driven in that direction constantly, this consolidation is far from reaching its peak let alone fading away. A party like the Mayawati-led BSP for instance, has been completely decimated. The party rose to prominence with the strong backing of the Dalit community, but finds that the BJP has not only broken into but stolen its niche vote. Mayawati, who dreamt of becoming the next prime minister eight years ago, is left without a single representative in parliament and less than twenty-odd MLAs in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh assembly.
It is of little surprise then that an intelligence report about the Saharanpur clashes states that the BSP is supporting the Bhim Army, the organization accused of inciting violence in the region. This report compiled by the Uttar Pradesh police states that Mayawati’s brother and second-in-command of the BSP, Anand, was in touch with the chief of Bhim Army through third parties. Dividing society on the basis of caste, pitting one community against the other to break any unity established in national interest, can help only those politicians who depend on the caste factor for electoral dividends.
The violence in Saharanpur is the first major test of law and order that the Yogi government faces. So far, it has taken strict measures to bring the situation under control.
It remains to be seen how the big fish who control the strings are dealt with. Yogi Adityanath understands that if he fails to deal with this issue at its very core, the old narrative would return and it would be politically suicidal for him. This is as much a political test as it is an administrative one. The Yogi will be keenly watched.