Rajat Sharma

Political cauldron: Tussle for leadership of opposition and caste politics in UP, Bihar

The monsoon session of Parliament has been a complete washout till now. Both the Centre and opposition are blaming each other for the ongoing deadlock. Senior leaders of all national and regional parties are in Delhi, the MPs visit Parliament daily but work inside both the Houses continues to remain disrupted.
What is, after all, happening in political circles? Assembly elections are due in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and two other states, and the leaders are busy charting out strategies. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath was in Delhi for two days and returned to Lucknow on Friday. He had a marathon discussion with party MPs from his state on how to go ahead with assembly elections. All MPs from UP will return to their constituencies once the monsoon session is over and start their party’s campaign.
Why Mamata did not meet Sharad Pawar?
West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee was in Delhi for five days. She was busy meeting all top leaders of different parties. She returned to Kolkata on Friday, but she did not meet Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, who was present in Delhi. Banerjee tried to lay the groundwork for forging a nationwide anti-BJP front. She made her own assessment about which parties to be brought together on a broad anti-Modi front, and about which parties can spoil the show.
In public, Mamata Banerjee made clear her aim was to defeat Narendra Modi and the BJP at the hustings. Since Congress is the largest pan-India party, she met Sonia Gandhi and her son, Rahul at their residence. According to sources, she told Sonia to ponder over whether Congress should contest only from those constituencies, where it is in a stronger position, and leave the rest to other parties. Though this is a far-fetched advice at this moment, the moot point was why Mamata avoided meeting Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar.
If all anti-Modi parties are to be brought on a single platform, Sharad Pawar will have to play a key role. Pawar was present in Delhi this week, he did not meet Mamata Banerjee and returned to Mumbai on Friday. There were speculations that Pawar is unhappy with Mamata’s move to project herself as the leader of anti-Modi front.
Before returning to Kolkata on Friday, Mamata Banerjee clarified that though she could not meet Pawar, she had a telephonic talk with him. She said, she would meet him during her next Delhi visit. The TMC supremo said, the opposition’s strategy is clear, the issues are clear, and the opposition is united. “To save India, we have to defeat the BJP, our slogan will be ‘Same Democracy, Save India’ ”, she said. She promised to visit Delhi every two months.
Though Mamata Banerjee may claim that the issues and slogans are clear, it is still unclear which parties will join the anti-Modi bandwagon. Maybe she would take her next step after making an assessment about the leadership. For the moment, she is evading the leadership question by saying this would be decided after the elections.
She said, issues confronting the nation now are price rise, unemployment, Covid pandemic and farmers’ protests. Banerjee was supposed to meet farmer leaders at their protest venue, but did not go. Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait said, there was talk about her visit, but there was no confirmation. He said, even if Mamata does not come here, her stand about farmers is clear and she should continue her efforts to forge opposition unity.
If political pundits sitting in Delhi claim that Mamata Banerjee is preparing herself to project as prime ministerial candidate for 2024, I will not be surprised. Since the opposition lacks a leader who has the same stamina and aura of Narendra Modi, such speculations are bound to figure.
I remember, when Lalu Yadav won Bihar assembly elections thrice, there were speculations that he could project himself as PM candidate. The same was said about TDP supremo N. Chandrababu Naidu. Some leaders do get carried away because of such speculations.
It is an acknowledged fact that there is not a single party in India which can mount a solo challenge against BJP. The only possibility is about forging a ragtag coalition government consisting of different parties. This possibility gives rise to speculations about who can be the PM candidate. Leaders then start dreaming about their prime ministerial ambitions.
The only exception, to my knowledge, was CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu. He was an experienced politician and he knew it was difficult to understand the intricacies of national politics. He kept himself away from such ambitions. As far as Mamata Banerjee is concerned, it is a fact that she won Bengal assembly elections thrice in a row, but her party lacks organization outside West Bengal. Moreover, she is not as popular in the rest of India as she is in West Bengal.
Mamata Banerjee understands her limitations and at this moment, it could be “Delhi door ast” (Delhi is far away) for her. Her only focus at this moment is how to embarrass Modi and the BJP on issues. She does not want to leave the field wide, and that is why, she has decided to visit Delhi after every two months.
Mayawati’s Brahmin gambit
Meanwhile, major political parties in Uttar Pradesh are busy drawing the battle lines for next year’s Assembly polls. While Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party is busy mobilizing its supporters among OBC and Muslim communities, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party is aiming at forging a Dalit-Brahmin combine. The Congress, led by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, is on a different plane.
All these three parties are planning to contest assembly polls separately. All three parties are trying to woo Brahmin votes. Akhilesh Yadav has decided to organize Brahmin Sammelans across the state from August 5, while the BSP is already holding Brahmin Sammelan. Since the Election Commission can issue notice for seeking votes in the name of a particular caste, BSP has renamed these as ‘Prabuddha Sammelan’ (Conference of the Enlightened).
At a Brahmin Sammelan in Amethi, BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra praised dead gangster Vikas Dubey. Mishra said, “Yogi government is murdering Brahmins, they are being killed by overturning their vehicles, state government is selectively trying to eliminate Brahmins, and police have been asked to “roko, naam poocho aur thoko” (stop, ask names and eliminate).
Nothing can be more unfortunate than glorifying gangsters for votes, because of their castes. Vikas Dubey was a dreaded gangster of Kanpur. He and his men fired at UP policemen, who had gone to his home to arrest him in Bikaru village on July 2 night last year. Eight policemen were killed in that incident. Vikas Dubey was caught in Ujjain, and while he was being brought to UP, his car overturned and he was killed by STF while fleeing.
To glorify such a gangster by describing him as a Brahmin hero, is questionable. Satish Chandra Mishra is a reputed lawyer. He knows Vikas Dubey committed heinous crimes. It is sad that a lawyer like him is now expressing sympathy for him and his associates in the name of caste.
Any why Brahmins only? A few days ago, some political outfit tried to garner sympathy from the backward caste to which former dacoit Phoolan Devi belonged. I think, times have now changed. Voters now know the real motives of politicians. Voters nowadays get detailed information on WhatsApp about criminals and their backgrounds, and also about politicians who back them. State BJP leaders say, the more BSP glorifies a gangster like Vikas Dubey, the more people will support the party because of its tough stand against gangsters. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath has already said ‘no criminal will be spared, whichever caste he belongs to’. This will be the main focus of BJP during UP polls.
It is a fact that BJP, SP, BSP, Congress and almost all parties seek votes in UP polls in the name of caste. Candidates are fielded by parties on the basis of caste. Parties give different data about castes too. Some say there are 9 per cent, some say 12 pc and others say, there are 16 per cent Brahmins in UP. Similarly, some parties say there are 7 per cent, and some say there are 13 per cent Yadav voters in UP. The Dalit data too vary. Some say it is 19 pc, while some say it is 22 per cent in UP.
Let me tell you, there are no authentic figures of population based on castes. No caste based census was ever carried out by the Centre across India. The last caste census was done in India during British rule in 1933. All present figures flow from that last census carried out 98 years ago. Much water has flowed down the river Ganga since then. India’s population jumped from 35 crore to 135 crore. Nobody knows the actual caste composition of our population.
Caste based data were collected during the 2011 census across India. This work continued till 2016, but the data were not published. Proportion wise, one can say, Other Backward Classes (OBC) are the largest, followed by Dalits and then by upper castes. That is why the demand for release of caste based census data is growing.
Why is RJD demanding caste census data in Bihar?
In Bihar, RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav, along with Congress and Left leaders met Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar on Friday to demand release of caste census data in the state. He pointed out that the Bihar assembly has twice passed motions demanding release of caste census data but the Centre is yet to take action. He asked the CM to put pressure on the Centre to release caste census data collected so far in Bihar.
The Bihar CM promised the leaders that he would write a letter to the Prime Minister. Tejashwi Yadav said, if the Centre declined, the state government should carry out a state-wide caste census on its own, and release data.
The biggest conundrum of caste based politics is that while almost all parties seek votes in the name of castes, not a single party is ready to accept this in public. RJD supremo Lalu Prasad never acknowledged that he indulged in caste politics. Similarly, Akhilesh Yadav will never admit that his party believes in Yadav-Muslim combination. BSP supremo Mayawati, who projects herself as the messiah of Dalits, is now wooing Brahmin caste because of their votes. BJP has started wooing OBC castes in UP on a large scale. During the recent cabinet reshuffle at the Centre, the BJP took pains to describe how many OBCs, Dalits, and tribals were made ministers.
Politicians argue that they can frame better policies if they are given authentic caste based data. Once these data are made public, the next demand will be: Give reservation to all castes based on their proportions. Even some NDA constituents are in favour of caste census. But, I can tell you, caste based census will not be done again.
In a written reply to Parliament on July 20, the Ministry of Home Affairs said, when census operations will begin next year (2022), no caste based data will be collected, except for scheduled castes and tribes. Data on caste census collected in 2011 will not be released. This firm stand by the Centre is surely going to open a floodgate of demands from parties indulging in caste politics very soon.

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