Beware the rise of new phenomenons and phantoms. Emergent social and religious groupings like Yadav-Dalit-Muslim and Dalit-Muslim are going to undercut the rise of ultra Hindu nationalism. Ethno centrism will battle cultural relativism in the collective mind space of the people. The stage is set. The prophets of doom are back, the ground beneath us is shifting, social matrix and calculus undergoing a deep hued metamorphosis. Soothsayers and naysayers are predicting an impending change, studying by-poll results and their internal dynamics. Gorakhpur, Phulpur have now been followed by Kairana (LS) and Noorpur (assembly) results and all of them are pointing to a radical change from the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and the 2017 assembly poll results when the BJP took a garrotte-like grip over the state in an unprecedented Hindu consolidation wave. The jousting for suzerainty has begun once again between a fatigued but still wily treasury and a once fractious but now increasingly buoyant opposition, but obviously the last word hasn't been heard. Neither has the last shot been fired in this long running drama of the Indian dust bowl. It is interesting how quickly things change in politics. In the 2009 Lok Sabha election, BJP +Apna Dal got 17.5 per cent of the vote in UP, SP 23.3 per cent, BSP 27.4 per cent, Congress +RLD 21.5 per cent while others landed 10.3 per cent.
An aggregation of the Hindu vote behind Narendra Modi opposing the appeasement politics of the other secular minded parties resulted in an anti-minorityism hysteria. In March 2014, a CSDS survey pointed out this emerging phenomenon with BJP+Apna Dal consolidating at 36 per cent vote share while SP, BSP, Congress+RLD and others brought up the rear with 22, 18, 16 and 5 per cent respectively. Acute polarisation due to the Muzzafarnagar riots meant that BJP was showing 38 per cent rural vote and a 30 per cent urban vote in the state. It is the segmentisation of the vote that the survey portended to which everyone ignored – 58 per cent upper caste wanted to vote for the BJP, 48 per cent other OBC, 29 per cent other SC and even 11 per cent Muslim which translated into upper castes and lower OBCs flocking to BJP. Of course, what happened was far greater than that too, as a Modi andhi swept Uttar Pradesh which overnight changed from Puttar Pradesh to United behind Modi Pradesh. It was undoubtedly a new paradigm, Modi's BJP had amassed 42.3 per cent of the vote taking no prisoners, SP trailed with 22.2 per cent, while BSP got no seat but 19.6 per cent of the vote and Congress 7.5 per cent.
To an extent the CSDS survey of March 2014 showed the shifting sands but didn't predict the enormity of the temblor. The seismic shock shook Indian polity, for not even during the virulent Ram Janmabhoomi movement did the BJP win in spades like this. Why did this happen? It has to be viewed in the context of UPA/SP/BSP appeasement and pandering to minorities. Modi emerged as a Hindu Hridya Samrat and while it is not politically correct to say this, he repeated this feat in the 2017 UP asembly polls when the backlash was even stronger. The Modi tidal wave sank everything in its path as the BJP got 312 seats with 39.7 per cent vote share, followed distantly by BSP 19 seats and 22.2 per cent vote share and SP 47 seats and 22 per cent vote share, while the Congress plumbed the depths with 6.2 per cent and 7 seats. Again, the Hindu vote consolidated behind Modi. The short journey thereafter has seen majoritarianism go awry under Yogi Adityanath, law and order breaking down with an encounter spree, Muslim and Dalit bashing becoming the norm and this has allowed fractured forces to regroup together.
New equations, new social engineering models and new partners. So the new calculus is Dalit/Yadav and Muslim vote banks combining behind SP/BSP and Congress. In Kairana this has been extended to Jats as well, it appears. If you look at the population make up of UP, India's most populous state with 200 million people – Dalits are a sizeable 21.2 per cent, Muslims 19.2 per cent, while OBC at 40 per cent have the Yadavs at 8.5 per cent, Jatavs at 11.5 per cent while the forward castes are at 22.2 per cent. If Gorakhpur, Phulpur and now Kairana have broken the Hindu consolidation theory and created a new caste plus Muslim math, then it is bad news for the BJP which has long been viewed as a party of forward castes – Brahmins and Rajputs predominantly. Now, if one were to extend this caste plus Muslims calculus, then 2019 will see a resurgent SP/BSP/Cong with RLD in western UP. Kairana provided a taste of the secret sauce to topple BJP. The SC judgment on Ayodhya later this year precludes this rise and rise of the other parties. That can have a significant bearing on Hindu heartland polity and play spoiler in UP, Bihar, MP, Rajasthan, Haryana, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh.
Ditto in Bihar where the Yadav-plus-Dalits-plus-Muslims arithmetic seems to be working on the ground at the moment. In 2014 one saw the BJP bag 22 seats, LJP six, RNSP 3 while Lalu’s RJD and Congress bagged 4 and 2 seats respectively out of 40. Then, in the 243 seats 2015 Bihar assembly poll the following year, things changed as Lalu's RJD won 80, JD(U) 71, BJP 53 and Congress 27. BJP's 'kutniti' weaned away Nitish Kumar from the Mahagathbandan with RJD and Congress to form the government in Bihar in what was perceived at that time to be a political coup. Now it has become a millstone around Nitish Kumar's neck and an embarrassment for the coalition which has been on a bypoll losing spree. Lalu's calculation is based on Yadavs and Muslims grouping behind him and the Congress, a distinct possibility as we have seen in recent bypolls in Bihar. Yadavs are 14 per cent while Muslims are 16.9 per cent in Bihar. Kurmis are traditionally Nitish supporters while a section of Dalits back Ram Vilas Paswan and Jitan Ram Manjhi.
Bihar’s caste world
In the complex caste world of Bihar, RJD has shown that it is front running Nitish and the BJP since the break-up. In the March bypoll in Araria, RJD's Sarfaraz Alam defeated his nearest BJP rival Pradip Kumar Singh by over 60,000 votes. Alam had crossed over from JD(U) to Lalu Prasad's party to contest the bypoll necessitated by the death of his father and RJD MP Mohammad Taslimuddin on September 17, 2017. Similarly, RJD's Shahnawaz Alam won the Jokihat assembly seat in Bihar on Thursday, defeating JD(U)'s Murshid Alam by over 41,000 votes. The Jokihat assembly seat fell vacant after sitting MLA Sarfaraz Alam resigned. The bypoll was being viewed as a contest between JD(U) and RJD of Lalu Yadav. Sarfaraz Alam's younger 73 plus brother Shahnawaz Alam of the RJD and JD(U)'s Murshid Alam were the main candidates, besides six independents and Ghousul Azam of Jan Adhikar Party (JAP). One of the 243 Vidhan Sabha seats in Bihar, Jokihat was vacated after Alam resigned from JD(U) and joined RJD. He was elected as a Member of Parliament from the Araria Lok Sabha constituency. Incidentally, Jokihat assembly seat is a part of Araria constituency and is Muslim majority with over 78 per cent of the population.
Given this Yadav-Muslim combination, Lalu and his son, Tejashwi, now have to wean away the Dalits to forge a YDM grouping like in UP. It is only then the IOU – index of opposition unity – will be complete in the two states that bring 120 MPs to the Lok Sabha and where BJP was successful in managing the breakthrough benefit last time in 2014 with 73 plus 22 plus LJP 6 plus RNSP 3, a total of 104 blanking out the opposition. The Kairana constituency fell vacant after the death of BJP MP Hukum Singh, whose daughter Mriganka Singh fought Rashtriya Lok Dal’s (RLD) Tabassum Hasan, a candidate supported by the Congress, Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party, Left parties and AAP. With nearly 17 lakh voters, Kairana has a significant number of Muslims, Jats and Dalit voters. The bypoll was viewed as a test case of whether the united opposition can consolidate their votes. And it has come through with flying colours.
Equally, the Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha seat, which was vacated after BJP MP Nana Patole resigned from the party to join the Congress, became a prestige contest. However, Patole, a leader of the powerful OBC Kunbi community, did not contest the bypoll as the Congress handed over the seat to its ally NCP. The NCP fielded former BJP MLA Madhukar Kukde, against the BJP’s Hemant Patle, who belongs to the Powar community and is also a former legislator. NCP heavyweight Praful Patel, who was defeated by Patole in 2014, had a lot riding on the result. The IOU impact is visible here too. Maharashtra, which has 48 Lok Sabha seats,saw the BJP-Shiv Sena win big. There was an anti Congress mood and it was swamped at the hustings – BJP won 23, Sena 18, NCP 4 and the Congress was routed winning 2. The same year, assembly elections in October saw the BJP winning 122 seats with 31 per cent of the vote, Sena struggled to win 63 seats contesting 282 while Congress and NCP won 42 and 41 seats respectively. The defeat of a three-term government is perhaps the least dramatic and unexpected part of the Maharashtra story. Contesting as allies, the NCP and the Congress polled 40 and 37 per cent votes respectively in 2004 and 2009. This time, contesting separately, they together polled 35 per cent. From 144, their seats have come down to 83, while the BJP has jumped from 46 to 122. Upper castes, OBCs and the rich voted for the BJP. Since then the two coalition partners in Maharashtra have drifted and Palghar actually saw them contesting against one another with the BJP winning. Maharashtra in recent times has seen a quadrangular contest and while BJP and Sena formed an alliance, it is NCP and Congress which forged the other grouping. Now the Sena stands apart, and while NCP has returned to partnering Congress as seen in Bhandara Gondiya, one wonders which route Sena will take in 2019?
Not NaMo vs RaGa
Once again what needs to be thrown into stark relief is that it is not Rahul Gandhi versus Modi anywhere. Their obsession for one another is allowing a Third Force to strengthen its foundations. It is this Federal Front where the Congress at the moment is a bit player which is emerging stronger with the passing of each day. In Maharashtra, for instance, the calculus operates differently, it is going to be a Marathas who make up 33 per cent of the state's population versus Dalits battle in 2019. Upper caste Marathas – groups like the Akhil Bharatiya Maratha Mahasangh, Sambhaji Brigade and the Maratha Seva Sangh at the forefront, while Dalits and Adivasis constitute 19 per cent of the state's population, The all-powerful Marathas abandoned Sharad Pawar in both the 2014 elections, but the politically agile Maratha strongman is wooing them back. Today, 50 per cent of all educational institutions, 70 per cent of district co-operative banks and 90 per cent of the sugar factories in Maharashtra are controlled largely by a handful of Maratha politicians. Just 3,000 families own 72 per cent of the state’s total agricultural land. Of Maharashtra’s 18 chief ministers since the state was formed in 1960, ten have been Marathas. Bhima Koregaon violence in Pune was a defining moment in the spread of Dalit backlash in Maharashtra. They were celebrating a military victory against upper-caste Peshwas in Koregaon village, on the banks of River Bhima near Pune, that happened almost 200 years ago. It was the bicentenary celebrations of an English victory against the Brahman Peshwas in 1818. An East Indian Company force comprising, among others, ‘untouchable’ Mahars, who had forced a division of the Peshwa’s army to retreat. A memorial obelisk was erected within a year. A list of dead soldiers was furnished as a tribute — 22 among them were later identified as Mahars on the basis of their surnames.
The YDM acronym is the one to watch in UP and Bihar to a slightly less extent while the rise of Dalit politics simply cannot be ignored in Maharashtra and other parts of India including UP. These are new elements in the great Indian political whirligig. If the Dalit-Muslim grouping gravitates to Third Force/Congress across the country, then again it is bad news for BJP. This Dalit fire has not been properly doused by the BJP. Four of BJP’s Dalit MPs from UP and one from Delhi has openly voiced their dissent against the way the party has handled issues concerning the marginalised section of the society. Lok Sabha members – Savitri Bai Phule from Bahraich, Chhote Lal Kharwar from Robertsganj, Ashok Kumar Dohre from Etawah, Yashwant Singh from Nagina and Dr Udit Raj from Delhi – are of the opinion that the party did not handle properly cases of atrocities against Dalits, for instance in his letter to PM Modi, Dohre wrote that Dalits were specifically picked up and framed in false cases. Three of the four constituencies – Bahraich, Nagina and Robertsganj – that they represent have over 50 per cent combined Dalit-Muslim votes.
With little over a year left for the Lok Sabha polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month asked BJP MPs including Union ministers to reach out to Dalits. The development took place at a time when the BJP was receiving flak for its alleged “anti-Dalit” stance despite it being “the biggest Dalit party” in the Lok Sabha. Modi himself a Ganchi and a backward will have to protect his turf. Trouble mounted for the BJP with Savitri Bai Phule raising a banner of revolt last month following the Supreme Court ruling over the SC/ST Act. She organised a Save Constitution Rally in Lucknow. Interestingly, BJP flags and party symbols were missing at her rally in the UP capital on April 1. The next day on April 2, Bharat Bandh had been called by various Dalit outfits forcing the government to file a review petition in the Supreme Court for amendment in the SC/ST Act ruling. Later, Udit Raj complained, "Dalits are tortured at large scale after April 2 country-wide agitation. People from Barmer, Jalore, Jaipur, Gwalior, Meerut, Bulandshahr, Karoli and other parts calling that not only anti-reservationists but police also beating & slapping false cases." All these places are in the BJP-ruled states. Issues like suicide of Rohith Vemula, assault on Dalits by cow vigilantes at Una in Gujarat, attack on Dalits in Uttar Pradesh's Saharanpur, Bhima-Koregaon protest and Supreme Court judgment resulting in dilution of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Protection of Atrocities) Act were held against the BJP. They hang fire shaping a new Dalit uprising. This will be a new vote bank which can do incalculable damage to the BJP.
YDM and DM are the new social engineering models which are going to be exploited by a defiant opposition going forward. They will try and circumvent the Hindu majoritarianism and consolidation that brought Modi to the apex of Indian politics. There is obviously a new game in town, and it will have myriad roles to play in the elections of 2018 and 2019. Ignore Dalit activism and Muslim bashing at your own peril.