The ‘encounter’ death of Kanpur-based don Vikas Dubey, while he was in transit with a Uttar Pradesh police contingent, had the nation transfixed in July last year. Dubey’s gang killed seven policemen in an ambush in Bikaru village of Kanpur district on the night of July 2, 2020. Seven days later, he was shot dead too. During the hunt for the don, the police also killed six of his associates. Almost all of them, including Dubey, belonged to the Brahmin caste. Even as he was on the run, social media posts and forums had sprung up hailing him as a “saviour of Brahmins”.
But it was after his death that the community suddenly became a new focus of politics in Uttar Pradesh. Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) national president Mayawati accused the Yogi Adityanath government of trying to intimidate the Brahmin community in UP. In August 2020, Jitin Prasada, who was then a senior Congress leader, started a campaign to mobilise Brahmins through the organisation ‘Brahmin Chetna Parishad’, formed under his patronage. During the Covid transition days, Prasada was very active online on UP Brahmin forums, trying to make a case for the anti-Brahmin bias of the Yogi Adityanath government. He also wrote a letter to Yogi demanding restoration of the state holiday on Parashuram Jayanti, abolished by the BJP government after it was formed in 2017.
But with less than a year to go before the 2022 assembly election in the state, the ruling BJP sprung a surprise. Apprehensive that its Brahmin vote might get dispersed, the party opened its doors to Prasada. On June 9, Union minister Piyush Goyal formally inducted Prasada into the party at the BJP’s national headquarters in Delhi. Soon after this, Adityanath tweeted saying that “Jitin joining BJP will strengthen the party”.
It may not be that easy. Amarnath Mishra, president of the ‘Brahmin Sansad’, an organisation that works to secure the interests of Brahmin society, says, “In 2017, the Brahmins had supported the BJP wholeheartedly. But this government has done nothing for us, either in providing employment or security. To add to this, a large number of Brahmins have been harassed, with false cases registered against them, and many innocent members of the community have been murdered. The community is very angry.” BJP state spokesperson Manish Shukla, however, refutes these allegations, saying “the Brahmin society has never got so much respect as it has under the Yogi government”.
Acharya Pramod Krishnam, a senior state Congress leader and the peethadheeshwar of the Shri Kalki Dham, Sambhal, says, “Brahmins have a prominent place in the Hindutva politics of the BJP. In UP, Brahmins along with their sub-castes make up close to 11 per cent of the population. The community is very unhappy with the Yogi government. For this very reason, the BJP will find it difficult to play the Hindutva card in the 2022 assembly election. They are now trying to do damage control by inducting a few Brahmin leadersbut they are not fooling anyone.”
Political analysts are also looking at the Brahmins afresh, especially the way they vote. Prof. S.K. Dwivedi, former head of the department of political science at Lucknow University, says, “The Brahmin voter is actually a ‘floating voter’ whose main concerns are issues like security and employment. Political parties create a secure environment for themselves by getting Brahmins and other socially dominant upper castes on their side. It isn’t just coincidence that whenever a party sweeps the state, it also has the maximum number of Brahmin MLAs.”
A case in point is the BSP, which formed the government in UP in 2007 with 41 Brahmin MLAs (of a total of 403), while the Samajwadi Party (SP), which formed the government five years later, had 21 Brahmin MLAs (see graphic On the Winning Side). A total of 56 Brahmins won in the 2017 assembly poll; of these, 46 won on a BJP ticket. Is it any surprise then that before the 2022 assembly election, all the parties are once again wooing the Brahmins?
Before the 2017 election, the BJP had employed its evergreen turncoat strategy by getting seasoned Brahmin leaders from other parties to defect and join the party. Brajesh Pathak, a senior Brahmin leader from the BSP, crossed over in August 2016, followed by Rita Bahuguna Joshi, the then president of the state Congress, in October. The same strategy is in place now, with the saffron party trying to create a ‘conducive atmosphere’ for prominent Brahmin leaders from other parties to defect. Prasada wasn’t the first convert. Former BSP MP Seema Upadhyay, wife of Ramveer Upadhyay, the party’s Brahmin face in western UP and MLA from Sadabad in Hathras, joined the BJP on May 15. Ramveer too is likely to join before the election. Sources say after Prasada’s exit, many more young Brahmin leaders of the Congress in Purvanchal have been in touch with senior BJP leaders. State BJP vice-president Vijay Bahadur Pathak dismisses the idea that the party is focused on Brahmin defectors. “People of all castes want to join us, based on the BJP policy of ‘sabka saath, sabka vikaas’. The Brahmin community is just one among them.”
The Samajwadi Party (SP), the other big player in UP, is also trying to woo the community through a proposed statue of Parashuram, the axe-wielding Brahmin warrior god. Two days after the bhoomi pujan of the Ram temple in Ayodhya on August 5, 2020, Abhishek Mishra, SP national secretary and a cabinet minister in the former Akhilesh Yadav government, announced that if the party came to power, they would instal a 108-ft-tall statue of Parashuram in capital Lucknow. Parashuram idols have already come up in 10 districts, including Jalaun, Orai, Shravasti, Balrampur and Gonda. Abhishek says, “A six-member team of SP leaders has been formed in all the districts to identify locations for the idol. We are also identifying a spot for a massive statue of Parashuram in Lucknow.” A social media post on a Brahmin community forum says: “In 2017, it was Ram lahar (wave), 2022 will be Parashuram lahar.”
Mayawati has also announced a Parashuram statue project if the BSP gets to form a government in UP. The BSP is trying to replicate the social engineering formula that brought it to power in 2007. So ‘Bhaichara committees’, like the ones formed in 2005 which brought together the Dalits, Brahmins and OBCs, are being formed in the districts. Amar Chandra Dubey, sector convenor of the Bhaichara committee in the Gorakhpur-Basti region, says, “We are running a campaign to connect young and experienced people from Brahmin society with the BSP. The bhaichara committee has held frequent meetings in every assembly constituency and we have had angry Brahmins joining us in large numbers.”
Before the 2017 assembly election, the Congress had projected former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as its CM candidate in UP. Later, the party contested with the SP but won only seven seats. Once called the party of Brahmins, the Congress currently has just one Brahmin MLA in the assembly. Prasada’s exit must be galling, but state in-charge and national general secretary Priyanka Gandhi has given important responsibilities to some of the Brahmin leaders to activate the party organisation. Aradhana Mishra, a two-time MLA from Rampur Khas assembly seat in Pratapgarh district and leader of the Congress Legislature Party, has been vigorously raising issues related to alleged “atrocities by the BJP government in UP” inside the House. State vice-president Laliteshpati Tripathi is in charge of the Congress frontal organisations in UP. Mohit Pandey, a former JNU (Jawaharlal Nehru University) students’ union president, heads the ‘UP Congress social media cell’ and is responsible for the party maintaining a robust presence online.
The Congress is also planning a new-look organisation in UP, with regional presidents dividing the party work in the four regions, East, West, Awadh and Bundelkhand. The four regional presidents will report to state president Ajay Kumar Lallu. Sources say that at least one of the four will be from the Brahmin community. Apart from this, former Rajya Sabha MP Pramod Tiwari, former MP from Varanasi, Rajesh Mishra, and Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Lucknow, could get some big responsibilities. Acharya Krishnam says, “Congress leader N.D. Tiwari was the last Brahmin chief minister in UP in 1989. We haven’t seen a Brahmin as CM since. If the Congress projects a Brahmin leader as the chief minister, the party could get large-scale support from the community.” A Brahmin in the top spot may be a stretch given the caste complexities of the state, but the forward community will be reassured that it now has the ear of every political party in UP. Will the ‘Parashuram lahar’ work its magic this time too?
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Source: India Today