The political arena in Uttar Pradesh resembles a museum of identity, where caste and religion are perpetually in a love and hate relationship.
Thus, the political fortune of any party in the heartland is always a temporary affair which perpetually hangs in balance. This, in turn, brings into spotlight any event or political action which has the potential to alter the prevailing power equation.
Therefore, the ongoing debate and reports over Brahmin anger with the Yogi Adityanath-led government in Uttar Pradesh merit attention as the community constitutes around 10% of the state’s electorate in addition to being a dominant caste.
To begin with, the Vikas Dubey encounter, which could have slipped under the radar as just another shady encounter in Adityanath’s tenure has erupted into a huge controversy. On social media, Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh who are considered core BJP supporters and Hindutva supporters are attacking the BJP, and demanding the resignation of chief minister Adityanath – an icon of hardline Hindutva.
While the former accuse the chief minister, who comes from the Thakur (Rajput) community, of unleashing a reign of terror and discrimination against Brahmins, many BJP supporters and independent experts are criticising the Brahmins of the state for defending criminals from their caste.
Further, while the social media clamour from a significant number of Brahmin users is indicative of a backlash from the community and a withdrawal of support for the 2022 elections, almost all experts and BJP leaders are of the opinion that such an event is unlikely, as Brahmins are disproportionately coddled by the BJP and have no other party to go to. Besides, their so-called ‘political strength’ is said to be deeply exaggerated. How true are these allegations and explanations?
The psychology of Brahmin outrage: ‘Encounter’ of a criminal or something else?
While most of the Brahmin respondents we spoke to agree that it was the brazenness of Vikas Dubey encounter that led to the outburst of community’s resentment, a majority said they didn’t have any sympathy for the slain gangster.
“The issue is not about an individual but the perception. In the wake of the brazen handling of the Vikas Dubey episode and others, there is a sense of alienation, marginalisation, and oppression among the Brahmins who traditionally have not felt like they are a suppressible class and with their unsuppressible history their restlessness is increasing”, said Pushkar Misra, who is Convenor of Policy Research Department, BJP, Uttar Pradesh and member of the state executive.
“There are deeper issues causing resentment among the Brahmin community and the biggest was a feeling of systemic neglect under the current government,” said ex UP cabinet minister and Samajwadi Party leader Abhishek Mishra. “They are feeling that even their genuine grievances are not being heard, which was never the case under previous governments,” he said.
Arvind Shukla (name changed on request), a state level office bearer of one of BJP’s frontal organisation in UP agreed. “A certain anti-Brahmin feeling has crept into the BJP and even the RSS, under the current leadership. Brahmins could not get any work done in this government,” he said and added, “And those Brahmin faces like Rita Joshi, Shrikant Sharma who are made ministers have no mass following. They are just showpieces who will never dare to question the people who made them ministers. You can fool other communities with these tricks but not the Brahmins.”
Perceived or real, if this is the case, what is the connection between Vikas Dubey’s encounter and the prevalent resentment? “While most people don’t empathise with him, there are some legal-constitutional issues with this case, like the shady police encounter of Prabhat, a juvenile who had no criminal record. And the case of arrest of a newly wed woman in the family, who spent days in jail for no crime. People from the community are suddenly realizing this could have happened to their children, and that is making them speak up,” Abhishek Mishra said.
“But when our people, especially youth spoke up against these excesses on social media, they were attacked by their own BJP comrades, especially those from the Thakur community”, said Shukla. “This forced them to take a hardline stand and many started glorifying Vikas Dubey”.
A Brahmin right-wing ideologue from central UP, serving as a senior bureaucrat in Delhi, endorsed this perspective. “Clearly, a sense of victimisation at the hands of the current government led by a Thakur, with almost no strong Brahmin leader, has seeped in the community as in many cases where Brahmins are victims, the response of police and the chief minister was intended to send a message to the community as to who the top dog is, in the state”, he said pointing towards a recent spate of murders of Brahmins in UP. “People could be Brahman Virodhi, but the current government is Brahman Drohi, as it targets them for their caste with the aim to denigrate them, and that is not acceptable,” he added.
In fact, social media is rife with similar allegations of victimisation. A widely shared Facebook post says, “Earlier Muslims were killed in fake encounters, now Brahmins have to face it too. Thanks Yogiji for this equality”. This sentiment is factually incorret. But in politics perception matters, not facts. If this narrative of victimisation percolates into the Brahmin community’s psyche, it could become a political force and initial responses reveal the undercurrents of this sentiment. “In this age of social media, resentment has gone till the villages,” said Shukla.
Brahmins as a political force in UP
Behind the outrage of Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh lies their dominant location in all the regions of the state barring Ruhelkhand. Unlike other states, Brahmins in UP are a deeply entrenched community – demographically, socially, economically, culturally and politically.
Hence, the votaries of Louis Dumont, who take their analytical clues from the ancient Hindu sacred texts and corresponding anti-Brahmin political ideologies, would never be able to understand the structure of the Brahmin factor in the heartland. Here, the socio-political psychology of the community is of a dominant caste. They are a landed gentry and a farming community in addition to being a social and demographic power.
Their deeply embedded association with state power precedes the regimes of the BJP and the Congress. Further, their sense of being the bearer of culture and religion places them at ease with politico-religious projects like Hindutva. Unlike, the majority of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits who have discovered a sense of respectability and identity-glorification in the Hindutva discourse, a Brahmin shares a sense of ownership of the same and expects a perpetual reverence out of its votaries.
However, the existing non-Brahmin and subaltern versions of Hindutva which are dominating the landscape, share a subtle but inherent anti-Brahmin sentiment. When needed, they do not shy away from tactically employing the Ambedkarite rhetoric against the community. To a Brahmin, their demonisation by the social-justice centric and Ambedkarite discourse is exogenous to their paradigm which is problematic but understandable. However, their victimisation, perceived or real, by the votaries of non-Brahmin and subaltern Hindutva, as seems to be the case in the wake of Vikas Dubey encounter, is internal to their worldview and by extension an act of betrayal.
Besides, the political history of the state is testimony to the fact that the sway of Brahmins has successively led to decisive political and electoral shifts. It was their desertion that led to the electoral decline of the Congress and the ascendency of the BJP in the 1990s. Further, in the 2000s, it is their swing that placed the BSP, SP and BJP in power with a decisive mandate in 2007, 2012 and 2017 respectively.
In the wake of an intra-subaltern political split, Brahmins with around 10% population hold the key to power, which makes them indispensable to any party. It is not surprising then that all the opposition parties are trying hard to cash in on the community’s anger. Further, the prevailing scenario reveals that anger is being internalised against the Yogi-led BJP government. As it seems certain that the BJP will contest the 2022 state assembly elections under chief minister Yogi Adityanath, there seems to be no easy solution to this resentment for the party.
Political alternative in 2022
Thus the saffron party faces a political deadlock as a section of Brahmins are likely to show their anger at the ballot boxes in 2022. The next election is most likely to be a BJP-SP contest as Congress is weak despite Priyanka Gandhi’s efforts and the BSP appears to be a spent force. This then brings us to the question: Would a section of Brahmins shift to the Samajwadi Party that they have never liked in the first place?
Despite strong resentment amongst Brahmins against Mulayam Singh Yadav, previously influential mafia politicians from the community like Amar Mani Tripathi of east UP and Guddu Pandit from west UP have supported SP. However, under Akhilesh Yadav, decent faces from the community have started emerging in the party as leaders, like Abhishek Mishra and Tej Pratap alias Pawan Pandey. So despite not being a default choice of the Brahmins, SP continued to get Brahmin votes. The present question remains whether the SP is aiming higher this time.
“We will make sincere effort to do that this time”, said Abhishek Mishra. “We will reach out to them, ask their grievances, appoint point persons to act as communication channels”, he added.
A social media post said, “in 2017 it was Ram lahar, 2022 will be Parshuram Lahar”. If that happens, and the community decides to swing like in 2007 to send a warning to the national BJP leadership, Hindutva may face a tough challenge on its home turf and that too, from within.
Rajan Pandey is a freelance journalist and Sajjan Kumar is a political analyst. They are both associated with the Peoples Pulse.