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Mainstream, VOL 60 No 38 September 10, 2022

Swarna Aayog Movement and the Politics of Caste Polarization in Himachal Pradesh | Rohit Kumar

Friday 9 September 2022

by Rohit Kumar *

As state assembly’s elections are approaching in Himachal Pradesh many new factors and issues have found their headway in state politics in last few months. Where the results of five assemblies’ elections recently have once again established that the BJP is new dominant political force of the country, the victory for Aam Aadmi Party in Punjab state assembly’ elections created tensions for the political parties in upcoming elections in Himachal and Gujarat. Other than this the state specific caste polarizations and religious churnings are some other issues which have made the electoral contests more interesting considering the demand and movement around reservation for Patel community in Gujarat, which consolidated the Patels’ mobilization under the leadership of Hardik Patel, and the recent movement for the formation of Swarna Aayog in Himachal Pradesh under combined Swarna Morcha and leadership of Rumit Singh Thakur. Where in Gujarat the movements for reservation for Patel community emerged long back and marked its influence in last assembly’s elections too, the movement for Swarna Aayog has its own context and claims in Himachal Pradesh.

Himachal Pradesh has around 27 percent Scheduled caste population which is second in the country after Punjab but still combined majority of Rajpoots and Brahmins has remained dominant in state politics and in social sphere. Besides 17 state assembly seats reserved for the scheduled caste all the Chief Ministers of the state always hailed from these two upper castes of Rajputs and Brahmins irrespective of the government of any political party. Other than this political context, no major uprising and movement can be found from the lower castes in demand of their any social, religious and political right. Still the recent movement for Swarna Aayog from upper castes under the banner of Swarna Morcha is a new churning in the state considering the impact of national level uprisings and politics.

But why this should be called the impact of national level uprisings and politics? The reasons are several. First, the influence of national level politics and ruling party at the centre remained a long trend in state politics. Second, the first time nitty-gritty incidents of caste and religious violence in the state marked their way only after the reign of the BJP to political power since 2014. And third, the majoritarian politics of the BJP at the centre and in many states has also influenced the consolidation of caste polarization in the state. As the demands for reservations among many communities in many states (Kapus in Andhra Pradesh, Jats in Haryana and Patidars in Gujarat), even being a upper caste remained a long trend and which can be considered a reaction against caste based reservations, the policies and politics of majoritarianism after 2014 has given new character to upper caste mobilizations against lower caste minorities. The everyday violence against lower caste by the upper caste goons has become a new normal of new India which has its various reflections in different states and in different forms. And the incidents and the attempt of recent caste polarization in Himachal Pradesh is no different from these.

The movement for Swarna Aayog has no different meaning than the sentiment of anti lower caste minorities and the reservation that empowering them. Swarna Morcha has organized a massive protest during winter Vidhan Sabha session in Dharamshala in December 2021 where the Chief Minister of the state Jai Ram Thakur has been compelled to announce the formation of a committee to look into the matter of the formation of Swarna Aayog. Then again in Shimla, during budget session in February/March 2022, Swarna Morcha has organized another protest where a large scale of upper caste population from different districts of Himachal Pradesh took part but where a setback to the movement has come when its leader has announced to form a party and take part in the elections. A group of the movement seems unhappy by the decision of forming a party and contesting elections. Though this was not the first time that the leadership of the movement has talked about contesting the elections but the formal announcement that did not come during the protest in Shimla has been made.

Another important and interesting political context of the similar is that this demand was found appreciation initially from the leaders beyond party affiliations which later became a serious concern for both major political parties (BJP and Congress) and silence on the issue has been kept by the both when the movement took serious traction. Now when the leadership of the Morcha has been charged with other crimes and sent on remand they announced the formation of a political party and decided to contest state assembly elections.

What became important now in the context of state politics is that till now the politics of the state remained bi-partisan and the electoral contest was always limited to two national parties, the BJP, and the Congress, in the upcoming assembly elections in October/November 2022, going to be the multi-party contest in the presence and new entries of AAP and the party by Swarna Morcha of Himachal Pradesh? And in which form this multi-party contest will impact not only the electoral outcomes but the politics of the state largely is another important question to be considered.

Therefore, the movement for the formation of Swarna Aayog in Himachal Pradesh is, first, the outcome of a long-due sentimentality of social majoritarianism among upper caste Hindus against the reservations of lower caste minorities and the upward mobility that they have achieved from this and, second, it has found expression under the patronage of a regime which from a long past remained in the opposition of reservations or at least against the caste and social backwardness as the criteria of reservations. Now the movements by upper caste Hindus, like the Swarna Aayog movement in Himachal Pradesh, are merely a consolidation of upper caste constituency even in absence of any lower caste movements, demands, and consolidation. And now this consolidation and attempts of caste polarization by upper castes in Himachal Pradesh are meant to provide political benefits to already socially and politically privileged communities.

* (Author: Rohit Kumar is a PhD Research Scholar, the Department of Political Science Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. He is associated with Peoples Pulse, a Hyderabad based Research Organization on Politics)

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