In December of 1990, the then United Front government led by the late V.P. Singh decided to announce the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commission Report which had been submitted in December, 1980.
That historic Report made two epochal recommendations, among others: One, to reserve 27% employment in government and public sector services for Other Backward Classes, as well as in admissions to educational institutions run by the state.
And, two, to reform production relations in the agricultural sector to begin with. Needless to say, the second recommendation has remained in cold storage, since it involves the forbidden task of ameliorating class-based entitlements.
The adoption of the Mandal recommendations with respect to reservations in jobs and education was, however, radical enough by itself to cause a political upheaval of a dimension never experienced before by India’s political parties since Independence which, without exception, came to be riven internally for and against the measure.
But, as P. Chawla noted in an article in India Today, September 30, 1990 (updated October 1, 2013):
“In the BJP it was virtual bedlam. It stood more undermined by the Mandal missile than any other. Its meticulously orchestrated efforts to unite Hindus along religious lines was in danger of being defeated as the community stood shrapnelled along caste and class lines.”
Be that as it may, it must be admitted that since those days of unprecedented social ferment in the nation, the Hindutva right-wing has made great strides in recovering a common denominational ground, especially since the advent of Narendra Modi as prime minister. Certainly, a base ideological vote of some 30% seems consistently in the kitty of the ruling BJP.
It was in pursuit of furthering that ideological project that Yogi Adityanath, an ordained priest of the Gorakhnath Muth, was chosen to head the secular-constitutional executive in India’s largest state in 2017.
Between 2014 and 2017, Modi’s leadership had so transformed popular preferences, especially among the influential new urban classes spawned by 10 previous years of neo-liberal economic policies, that no one, not even the customary court-addict, chose to explore the rightness or wrongness of the Yogi choice in a legal reference to the genius of the Indian constitution.
But here is the catch:
The dogged and founding axis of social identities in India, namely caste, was to remain as much a driving imperative in the psyche of the priest as his Hindutva persona, till, over the last four years or more, the Yogi was to find it impossible to cast away his allegiance to his Thakur (Rajput) moorings. His determination to root out “lawlessness” through no-holds-barred “encounter” killings was one expression of the projection of his martial Rajput identity.
As it is now in the open, this underlying reality has come to alienate many other castes from his leadership.
No surprise then that the party top brass is saddled with a situation wherein, Ram Mandir or no Ram Mandir, the Brahmins, sections of the Other Backward Classes, the Rajbhars, the Nishads, the Kurmis, sections of non-Jatav Dalits who had gone over to the Hindutva camp are restively coming calling for their piece of the ruling pie, in a reversion to the genius of the Mandal Report that belied the interested thesis that some eighty percent of Indians are just simply and unproblematically undifferentiated Hindus.
(In passing, the cross-over of the now erstwhile Congressman, Jitin Prasada to the BJP is clearly calculated to enhance the BJP’s prospects within the estranged Brahmin community. Even as the contrary fact of renegade TMC members in West Bengal returning to the TMC fold – including one who had been made national vice-president of the BJP in double quick time – rather frays the credentials of the saffron camp with respect to its great prowess in cannibalising members of other parties.)
Clearly, this occurrence poses now, in the heyday of Hindutva, a crucial ideological conundrum for the right-wing.
Having failed spectacularly to win over West Bengal for the Hindutva archive, so much of how its fortunes may shape in the General Elections of 2024 depend on whether or not it is able to push back the politics of social identities in favour of a saffron protagonist at the helm of Uttar Pradesh.
The problem here that the Bharatiya Janata Party faces is that saffron leadership in this state of states has not yielded a governance to match the other-worldly merits of the chief executive. Nothing has gone right in Uttar Pradesh, and the horrendous visuals of corpses floating in the holy Ganges persist as a metaphor for the quality of its material and spiritual failures.
These gut-wrenching visuals that continue to receive exposure on international news channels offer an unlovely contrast to the sight of millions of diyas that have graced Hindu festivals along the hallowed Ganges during Yogi ji’s tenure as a Hindutva icon. Stunning indeed has been the insensitive relegation of the dead, callously and impiously bereft of dignity due to them in death.
Imagine that in this darling state, population 230 million, only a hundred or so million less than all of the United States of America, less than four million have received their two COVID-19 vaccine shots thus far. Even as lack of proper awareness about the efficacy of the vaccine among many in the hinterland pose a problem of vaccine-hesitancy.
India’s other powerful determinant of identity
Look around the profile of the states, and almost with the single exception of Gujarat (for reasons not far to seek), almost all non-Hindi speaking states continue to thwart the spread of the Hindutva project — a fact that must not be lost sight of as a major factor ultimately in the BJP’s loss of West Bengal as well.
Almost graphically, the ruling BJP remains in power in such places as Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh (Haryana must be counted as a freak in between languages, although with great charm of its own), Madhya Pradesh — areas where a social culture aligned to Hindi remains dominant. Even in Bihar, although Hindi speaking, aggregate factors of history (for example, strong traditions of socialist thought and love of local dialects) the BJP manages to hang on to power only under the aegis of a local satrap who has on more than one occasion declared his independence of right-wing sectarian theses.
In this sense, the fact of linguistic pluralism remains one strong guarantor of what remains of India’s federalism, a “basic feature” of the constitution. Indeed, along with the multiplicity of social identities, this fact of linguistic diversity makes the project of forging a homogenised, monochromatic “nationalism” thankfully difficult.
Viewed in that light, the prospective loss of Uttar Pradesh in 2022 will not but spell a game-changing paradigm shift, yielding the effect of dominoes in the days to come in states like Himachal and Uttarakhand which have historically anyway oscillated between the Congress and the BJP.
That the party is mow likely to lose Haryana as a fallout of the farmer’s agitation the next time around and has few possibilities in the Punjab, severed from the Akalis who have just announced a coalition with the Bahujan Samaj Party (the state has a population of some 30% Dalits), the loss of Uttar Pradesh must be fraught with the probability of a virtually BJP-mukt mainland in time to come, given that Bihar can lurch to the opposition Rashtriya Janata Dal sooner than later.
There are of course Tripura, Arunachal, Manipur, and Assam — regions that can change hands without any great hassle, depending on how their ethnic aspirations are met or not met. Little to do with ideological Hindutva there.
The right-wing faces another unlovely prospect vis-à-vis Yogi ji‘s leadership: to the best of our knowledge, he does not bear the same sort of allegiance to Nagpur as most BJP leaders. Were he to be alienated, it is not unthinkable that he might come up with his own candidates here, there. and elsewhere who could decisively damage the ideological centralisation of the BJP’s political drive.
And, should all his demands be accommodated, the Thakur may end up disaffecting many social allies that the BJP needs to score well in the coming elections.
What will be interesting is how the disparate political opposition in the all-important state shapes up or does not shape up to meet the saffron challenge.
The impressive showing of the Samajwadi Party in the recently-concluded Panchayat elections may enthuse that party to think that it had best go on its own into the Assembly fray. So might the Congress which also notched up victories in some 61 Panchayats, thinking that the much-improved ground work done by Priyanka Gandhi Vadra as General Secretary and a new, youthful base may have brought some lost tribes back to thinking of the grand old party as a primary option
And Mayawati of the BSP is never one to trade its own best ambitions for some elusive unity that may not put her at the top.
One can be sure that the ruling BJP is alive to these factors, and will leave no stone unturned to topple the opposition apple carts, however these may come to be conceived. As we know, in recent years, money has come to play a stellar role in inter-party trade-offs, and the BJP has several times more of it than all the others put together.
Contrarily, parties opposed to the BJP may think it wise to strike a modus vivendi between them, so as first to dislodge the “nationalists” from state power before other considerations come to prevail.
In that scenario, the exemplary performance of the Mamata-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal could function as an inspiration, and Mamata herself may think it worthwhile to give time to events in Uttar Pradesh to achieve a like result.
What remains to be seen is by how far the disaffections of the farmers, many of whom voted for the BJP the last time around, will outweigh the machinations of the BJP’s skills at engineering a fresh schism among them.
Then there is the power of bounties declared by the powers-that-be in timely fashion. Already, the prime minister has been pleased to announce some, raising Minimum Support Price on a few grains, and free vaccinations in state-run institutions till November. Alas, had this been done before now, many deaths may have been averted.
How far this canny politics may meet the scale of its alienation from the bulk of the populace, given the experience of the migrant workers during the first phase of the pandemic, and the unconscionable cruelty and insensitive collapse of empathy during the murderous second phase remains a question.
Not to speak of an economy decimated by inflation, unbelievable price rise, epidemic scale joblessness, and the abject disappearance of the health-care system, made revolting by the fudged figures about dead bodies, medicines cornered by the black-market or by nepotistic ruling elements, vaccines exported rather than ordered in time, defective ventilators bought from the PM CARES Fund (with no investigation in sight about the questionable purchase) the stunned revulsion of doctors and other medical staff, (now openly agitating under the aegis of the Indian Medical Association) at the calumnies they have had to bear on behalf of quakes in high places who declare with aplomb that no one that is yet born may ever arrest them for their misdeeds.
Lastly, if it is inevitable that the results of the elections to the Uttar Pradesh assembly will determine in consequential ways how opposition forces may or may not come to forge effective changes and strategies to meet the watershed test of the General Elections in 2024, will they agree on a face to meet the face that now rules?
As results in West Bengal and the panchayat polls in Uttar Pradesh have shown, it seems unlikely for now that the Hindutva right-wing will achieve its strategic goal of winning in all states so that it is on an ideological footing to declare India a Hindu nation, and go from there to suitably alter the constitutional arrangements of the secular-democratic state.
Of that later.