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Mainstream, VOL. 52, No. 21, May 17, 2014

Modi Caste Wars

Monday 19 May 2014, by M K Bhadrakumar

The Hindi-belt journalists have gone ecstatic over Narendra Modi’s “naked attempt to get into the caste politics of Poorvanchal and Awadh regions of Uttar Pradesh”. They have reported that it is going to be Modi’s “trump card”.

It doesn’t seem to occur to them even remotely that there is a much simpler uncomplicated way of looking at what Modi and the BJP have attempted, namely, a last-ditch, desperate attempt at the eleventh hour when the poll has reached the final stage and the going doesn’t look good—and it could well be the joker in the pack.

The fact of the matter is that Modi played his OBC card in the deep South in Kerala two-three months ago already and it turned out to be a dud card. Of course, no one in the Hindi belt took note at that time. When he came to Kerala, the local BJP chaps had already begun spreading word that Modi is an OBC. The strategy aimed at eroding the Left parties’ power base in Kerala.

In his speech, while addressing an exclusively Dalit-OBC audience, Modi said he was an ‘untouchable’ himself and still remained so, and that they could take pride if he as one of them were to become India’s Prime Minister.

Of course, the crude strategy didn’t work with the politically-savvy Malayali. The Left’s Kerala citadel remains intact.

But, the funny part was that while Modi was saying this in remote Kerala, his campaign managers were busy entertaining the Brahmins, Baniyas and upper castes of the Hindi belt with the tantalising thought that Ram Rajya was round the corner once Modi took over.

Indeed, the BJP’s poll campaign sang different tunes in different places. In the Hindi belt, it also aimed at polarising the Hindu opinion with an anti-Muslim overtone. Now, as it happened, that strategy worked only partly.

While a substantial chunk of the Brahmins, Baniyas and other upper castes might vote for BJP in the Hindi belt, the mlecchas failed to rally. In sum, the Hindutva plank is not delivering optimally, because, while the Muslim votes are vehemently going against the BJP, there has not been the corresponding Hindu consolidation.

Will Modi’s OBC card work? The media-persons affiliated with the BJP-RSS bandwagon are feverishly establishing Modi’s OBC credentials and are spreading the gospel.

Seasoned journalists have cited Gujarati scholars and intellectuals to establish the stunning reality in the Hindi belt that Modi is no fake OBC.

But in this mad scramble, what is being forgotten is the impact all this is going to make in the final round of polling on Monday (May 12) in some 41 remaining seats.

The BJP-RSS scribes seem to estimate that the OBCs in these 41 constituencies are going to get worked up into such a frenzy that on Monday morning they are going to troop into the polling booths and cast their votes for the BJP because it is OBC leader Modi’s party and he happens to be a genuine twentyfour-carat OBC.

This is all becoming far too hilarious for words. But what is truly appalling is the latent caste prejudice in the Hindi belt. The BJP discourse seems to be taking it for granted that the OBCs of the Hindi belt are only country bumpkins or a lower form of life with no thinking capacity. Nitish Kumar had once framed the big question: If Modi is an OBC, where was he all this while?

True, social formation in the Hindi belt is rather backward in comparison with a ”super-model” State like Kerala. But even making allowance for that, I refuse to believe that the OBCs of the Hindi belt are no better than cattle with a herd mentality.

On the other hand, my understanding is that as early as the late-1960s, the first stirrings of OBC consolidation and empowerment began appearing in the Hindi belt. And the OBCs are no longer the cows of the Hindi belt. They are a ruling class in UP and Bihar.

The BJP-RSS scribes are insisting that the RSS has lately undergone a metamorphosis and is itself now on a determined course to transform as an OBC outfit. Really? Will someone recite to me the names of the bigwigs in Jhandewalan?

By plunging into this disgraceful, primitive caste war, Modi’s election campaign has come full circle. Remember how he began dramatically at the Confederation of Indian Industry with the so-called development plank to enthrall the Indian middle class which is above caste and religion? And now he is ending with the OBC card. What a fall! 

Ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.

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