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Ahead of Bihar polls, BJP in caste balancing act

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Patna: Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for an end to caste-based politics, in Bihar a deep-rooted tussle in the BJP between upper caste and other backward caste (OBC) leaders ahead of assembly polls later this year has put the saffron party in a dilemma.modi1

Perhaps realizing the problem, Modi and party president, Amit Shah are taking steps to ensure that none of these leaders are allowed to dominate the public debate till the polls, fearing it may anger either of the groups, causing a loss to party’s social support base.

“The BJP in Bihar is a divided house. To project a leader from either the OBCs or the upper castes as a chief minister candidate would antagonize the other group. BJP is not in a position to project any one person against Nitish Kumar, who was declared chief ministerial candidate by Janata Dal-United (JD-U), Rastriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress and National Congress Party (NCP) alliance,” a senior BJP leader who did not want to be named said.

Another BJP leader told IANS, also on condition of anonymity, that the BJP was sure of its traditional base of upper castes remaining intact in Bihar. Its worry was to consolidate backward castes, in view of RJD chief Lalu Prasad joining hands with chief minister Nitish Kumar.

“If BJP projects a backward caste leader as its face for the polls, it is bound to anger upper caste leaders who have been in the forefront of the party in good and bad days,” he said.

In the caste-ridden politics of the state, there are over half a dozen leaders from the upper castes and the backward castes who have staked their claim for being nominated as the chief ministerial candidate. “All of them are lobbying hard,” the BJP leader said.

BJP’s upper caste leaders like C.P. Thakur, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Rajeev Pratap Rudy and Radha Mohan Singh are the prominent faces in the race for the top post. Similarly, BJP’s backward caste leaders include Sushil Kumar Modi, Prem Kumar and Nand Kishore Yadav.

Thakur, in his early 80s and a Rajya Sabha member, has repeatedly said in the last one month that he will be happy to be a chief ministerial candidate if the party gives this responsibility to him. Thakur belongs to the powerful landed upper caste Bhumihars, who are said to be overwhelmingly backing BJP in post Mandal politics in the state.

Union IT and Telecom Minister Prasad, who is also BJP’s face on television channels, is known for his communication skills and legal expertise. He belongs to the upper caste Kayasth community. There is a saying in the local Hindi dialect that if the BJP is sure of any one support, apart from traders, it is the Kayasths. Prasad is said to be in the good books of Modi and the Rashtria Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the latter for his family background as his father was one of the founders of Jan Sangh in Bihar.

Though Prasad said that he was not in the race for the chief ministerial post unlike Bollywood-actor-turned politician and BJP MP from Patna Shatrughan Sinha, another Kayasth face, leaders in the party say that Sinha was unhappy for not being taken in as part of Modi’s cabinet, is keen to be the chief minister. They say his denial is not credible.

Rudy and Singh are ‘Babusahebs,’ as their powerful Rajput caste is known here. Both are close to union home minister Rajnath Singh and the RSS. Even the name of another vocal Hinduvta champion known for making controversial statements – Griraj Singh, union minister of state for micro, small, and medium enterprise, is also doing the rounds. Singh is a Bhumihar.

Since last year, a powerful group of upper caste leaders in BJP have been opposing projection of former deputy chief minister Sushil Kumar Modi as the chief ministerial candidate.

Modi, who is from a backward caste, is the most influential face and commands respect even among upper castes, say some leaders. But Modi’s disadvantage lies in the fact that two BJP leaders from backward castes are also dead set against him.

Former minister and senior BJP leader Prem Kumar has also staked his claim to the chief ministership. He belongs to an extreme backward caste. “BJP should project a leader from an extremely backward castes like him to take on the new combination of the JD-U, the RJD, the Congress and NCP, which were together eyeing support of the weaker sections and the OBCs,” he said.

Another backward caste leader in the fray is Leader of Opposition Nand Kishore Yadav. “His UPS is that he belongs to the caste of RJD chief Lalu Prasad and BJP have to project a leader to eat into the traditional support base of Lalu,” BJP insiders say. Yadav opposes Sushil Modi’s projection as chief ministerial candidate.

In Bihar, all election arithmetic relies on caste. Most parties also lean on backward castes, Dalits, and Muslims. Even the Congress, till its influence began to wane from 1989, aimed to secure support of such a combination.

“In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, BJP applied the trick of wooing backwards though it got 78 percent upper caste votes. That was much higher than the OBC votes,” says socio-political analyst Soroor Ahmad.

Ahmad said the BJP has been relying heavily on the upper castes and had emerged as the only major party in Bihar that claims to safeguard their interests.

With RJD chief Lalu Prasad and Nitish Kumar, both from powerful agrarian backward castes – Yadav and Kurmi – the stage is set for a major caste battle in the state, though through the ballot box.

(With inputs from IANS)

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What Would Be The Outcome Of The Judgement On Homosexuality With BJP At The Centre?

If parties like the BJP and "cultural" organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation.

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Flag Of BJP, homosexuality
Ruling on gays: Is the BJP out of sync with modern realities? Flickr

More than the social impact of the Supreme Court’s judgment on homosexuality, what will be of concern to the ruling party at the Centre is its political fallout. Hence, the eloquent silence of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on the subject.

For the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), any expansion of the concept of civil liberties is fraught with danger to their restrictive worldviews since a widening of human rights carries the prospect of greater individualism.

If the rights of the homosexuals to live without legal constraints are conceded, it can only encourage the people to free themselves of other restrictions as well such as on choosing live-in partners (of whatever sex) and eating, dressing and speaking as they please.

Homosexuality, India
SC decriminalises homosexuality, victory for gay rights. Pixabay

It is noteworthy that the verdict on gays has come close on the heels of the judgment which described the right to dissent as a “safety valve” which the government can only shut off at its peril lest there is an explosion.

Moreover, the court had also upheld not long ago the right to privacy which the government described as an “elitist” concept.

For the Hindu Right, as also for other religious fundamentalists, this dalliance with civil rights — the freedom to criticise the government, the exaltation of privacy and now the decriminalisation of homosexuality — entails a push towards liberalism and modernism which are anathema to any group which wants the society to be bound by shackles of orthodoxy and obscurantism.

It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.

Now that one of them is gone, there is little doubt that these closet followers of Britain’s 19th century politician Lord Macaulay — even as they decry the secular groups as “Macaulay’s children” — will hold on resolutely to the law on sedition as their only safeguard against the “anti-nationals” who, they believe, stalk the land.

Homosexuality
It is ironic that although the Hindutva brotherhood speaks of decolonising the Indian mind, the two colonial laws which have long been its favourites are the section on homosexuality in the Indian Penal Code and on sedition.
Wikimedia Commons

It is also possible that the saffronites will keep a hawk’s eye on any social problems that may arise because of the assertion of gay rights. As the BJP MP Subramanian Swamy has said, with eager anticipation, if a five-judge bench can overturn an earlier judgment in favour of criminalising homosexuality, a larger bench can undo the present verdict if gay bars begin to flourish and there is a rise in the cases of HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infections.

Interestingly, what these judgments underline is how the judiciary is more attuned to the changing world than the elected representatives of the hoi polloi who often argue in favour of giving greater primacy to the legislature than the judiciary since they claim to represent the people while the judges are unelected denizens of an ivory tower.

However, one possible reason why MPs and MLAs, especially of the BJP, seem to be out of sync with the present-day world is the presence in their midst of a large number of criminal elements who can hardly be regarded as the most progressive sections of society.

For instance, of the 543 elected members of the Lok Sabha, of whom 186 have a criminal record, 63 belong to the BJP, followed by eight of the Shiv Sena, four of the Trinamool Congress and three each of the Congress and the AIADMK.

Homosexuality
Gay Pride Procession. Pixabay

What the Supreme Court judgment appears to have done is to persuade parties like the Congress, which usually hedges its bets lest it should fall on the wrong side of public opinion, to come out in the verdict’s favour, presumably because it senses that this judgment, more than any other, has become a touchstone in the matter of breaking out from the stranglehold of the past.

To distance a party from it, as the BJP is doing, will amount to virtually alienating the entire youth community. Even if a majority among them do not have homosexual instincts — according to official figures, there are 2.5 million gay people in India, but this may be an underestimate since, till now, it was unsafe for them to reveal their sexual orientation — the youths nevertheless see the ruling as an assertion of living life on one’s own terms and not be held hostage by the dictates of a society steeped in conservatism and of political parties which believe that their agenda can only advanced if the country is made forcibly to conform to khap panchayat-style social and cultural norms.

Also Read: Why JDU & BJP Coalition Will Remain Instant

To these youths, being or not being aware of homosexuality is of little consequence. What matters to them is to be able to make up their own minds and not be told by elders to abide by certain rules which are regarded as outdated by the younger generation.

If parties like the BJP and “cultural” organisations like the RSS realise the value and motivation of such mindsets, they will desist from their present attempts to impose a straitjacket of their pseudo-religious identity on the nation. (IANS)