It’s a conspiracy of Brahmins,” quipped RJD supremo Lalu Yadav when the President invited Atal Bihari Vajpayee to form the government. If Narendra Modi is crowned as India’s head of government, will Lalu scream, “It is a new Mandal conspiracy”? Lalu was not wide off the mark: Of the 67 years since Independence, India has been ruled by Brahmin Prime Ministers for over 51 years.
Between the ascendance of Vajpayee and Modi, the entire political sociology of India has turned 180 degrees. Vajpayee will perhaps be India’s last Brahmin Prime Minister. Until 2004, the two big national parties—the Congress and the BJP—were dominated by upper castes, particularly Brahmin leaders. The political eclipse of the Brahmins at the state level had begun much earlier with the rise of Mandal politics in the 1980s and 1990s.
A gradual erosion of the caste hierarchies has been taking place since Independence across the country, first in the south and later in the north. N D Tiwari in Lucknow and Jagannath Mishra in Patna were the last of the Brahmin chief ministers in the Hindi heartland. In the south, the Brahmins retreated much earlier with the rise of Dravida parties in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal, Brahmin bhadramahila Mamata Banerjee is still holding on. Even the CPI(M) in the state is led by a Brahmin—former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. However, in the heartland since 1989 the privileged perches of CM and other top ranks are firmly with backward caste and Dalit leaders.
In E-2014 with the rise of Modi—a backward caste leader to boot—both the Congress and the BJP are busy shunning Brahmins and adopting and reinventing the Mandal rhetoric. With no political party of their own, de-aligned, politically eclipsed, the Brahmins are the new floating voters all across the Hindi heartland. In the new fierce political competition, their votes—10 per cent in Uttar Pradesh and 8 per cent in Bihar—are up for grabs.
In an ironic twist of political strategy, the erstwhile Mandal parties and Dalit parties are busy courting Brahmins and other upper castes. Consider the ticket distribution in Uttar Pradesh for the Lok Sabha polls. While the Congress gave tickets to only 13 Brahmins and the BJP to 17, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati gave tickets to 21 Brahmins. In order to compete with the BSP, Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Mulayam Singh Yadav gave tickets to 18 Brahmins. The tide has surely turned in the other direction. Neglected by the mainstream parties, the Brahmins have allied with the marginal groups, the regional bigwigs of UP. Shunned by the national parties, the Brahmins are running for cover under Dalit and OBC leaders.
In forming a new sarvajan alliance, paradoxically, it is Mayawati who has given a new twist to the old slogan used by the Congress to defeat the socialists in 1967: ‘Brahmin-Dalit bhai-bhai, ye pichrijati kahan se aayi?’ (Brahmin-Dalits are natural brothers, where did the backward castes emerge from?) Mayawati has recreated the Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin sarvajan secular alliance in order to keep Modi at bay.
Although the entire UP and Bihar seemed to be gripped by the Modi wave, parts of western and eastern UP appear to be resisting the saffron surge just like a Lalu wave in north Bihar is playing spoilsport with the saffron surge. Consider Jaunpur that is scheduled to vote on May 12. Although the eastern UP Lok Sabha constituency is part of the Varanasi division, yet the saffron drama of Varanasi, where Modi is contesting, does not seem to have affected Jaunpur.
In Jaunpur, the BSP has fielded a Brahmin candidate, 51-year old Subhash Pandey, former minister of culture in the BSP government formed in 2007. Pandey, a trader from Mumbai, is a replacement for the sitting MP, Dhananjay Singh, a Thakur who was denied ticket since he and his wife are allegedly implicated in the rape and murder of a maid. Released on bail, Dhananjay is contesting independently.
The BJP has also fielded a Thakur, K P Singh. But the Congress has fielded Bhojpuri star Ravi Kishan, a Brahmin. The SP has fielded a minister, Parasnath Yadav, who had won from Jaunpur in the past. With over 22 per cent of Dalit votes, the core support of Mayawati, and a significant section of Muslim votes, Pandey is the front runner if he is able to get the dominant Brahmin votes for himself, says Pandit Mohan Tiwari, a Sanskrit scholar.
Tiwari begins with a joke: “BSP is Babaji Samaj Party, Babaji meaning Brahmins, whereas the BJP is Backward Janata Party.” Why do you say that? “All the Vajpayee men—mainly Brahmins and tall leaders of the BJP—have either been shifted or alienated. Kalraj Mishra has been shifted to Deoria, Murli Manohar Joshi was forced to vacate Varanasi for Modiji, Kesari Nath Tripathi and Lalji Tandon are simply cooling their heels.” But isn’t it that most of them are old and have been winning their seats with marginal majority? “Look at the irony of the contest in Lucknow today. Except for the BJP, which fields a Thakur, party president Rajnath Singh, all the other main parties have fielded Brahmins—Rita Bahuguna Joshi (Congress), state minister Abhishek Misra (SP) and Nakul Dubey (BSP). Lucknow, Varanasi and Jaunpur are Brahmin-dominated cities, but the BJP has fielded a Thakur in Lucknow, a backward Modiji in Varanasi and again a Thakur in Jaunpur.”
If the Brahmins in Jaunpur are as livid with a post-Mandal BJP as Tiwari, then the party is facing a drubbing in Jaunpur. The drama might be repeated in other eastern UP constituencies where Mayawati has begun forging ahead with her sarvajan strategy. With Mandal leaders—Lalu, Nitish Kumar, Mulayam, Sharad Yadav and their ilk—upstaged by Modi, it is only left to the BSP chief with her sarvajan strategy to spoil the saffron surge. Peeved Brahmins, in retreat from their earlier political eminence, might help Mayawati beat the new Mandal messiah.