Wednesday, February 8, 2012

[ZESTCaste] The patches are showing (Shivam Vij)

The patches are showing

Posted by By ink at 3 February, at 10 : 58 AM Print


Five years later, the euphoria of the Dalit-Brahmin alliance that
catapulted BSP to power in 2007, is diminished. Dalits, especially,
feel the deal has favoured the Brahmins more. This tapestry which was
stitched in 2007, may be frayed now, but still holds the key in 2012.

In an inner lane in Lucknow where Kayasthas dominate a residential
colony, Election Commission officials are walking up and down looking
for hoardings and banners of political parties and ordering them to be
taken down. The indigo graffiti of the Bahujan Samaj party on the
walls is not on their agenda yet. The graffiti is for the candidate of
the constituency, a Muslim better known as "Pandit ji", and who writes
that useful epithet in brackets after his name.

Welcome to the Uttar Pradesh Assembly Elections, 2012. It's a
spectacle without a spectacle: the Election Commission's total
crackdown is matched by the political parties' strange lack of
enthusiasm. They have all been uncharacteristically late in declaring
their candidates. Travelling in January 2007, the festival of election
was in the air even though the election was three months away. This
time, everyone was taken aback by the Election Commission bringing
forward the election from April to February, and voters are still
making up their mind.

The tepid mood is shared by Hriday Narain Dixit, a Bharatiya Janata
Party (BJP) leader. This is the first time after several elections
that he won't be contesting. Dixit lives in the OCR building, famous
for housing legislators, and infamous for suicides from its higher
floors. In a modest house he welcomes us, apologetic about the
shortage of chairs. He is himself spread on a couch, behind him a BJP
banner and the rest of the room adorned with three new calendars in
which Hindu gods and goddesses occupy more space than the list of the
months ahead. I ask him what the BJP's chances look like. Before he
can answer, he gets a phone call. He tells the caller that no party
has an absolute hold among the Other Backward Classes, the peasant
castes—not even Mulayam Singh Yadav of the Samajwadi Party (SP).

His hold on his fellow Yadavs has declined, he says, adding that be it
Bharat or Misr, India or Egypt, a community's political character
changes. Social mobility gives it independence and reduces the need to
rally around a leader of their own community. "This is the principle
of society, from what I have read," he says.

"See Brahmins, for example," he continues on the phone. "Even a poor
Brahmin is high class by virtue of his caste. He does not need a
leader. He is already number one. How can he consider anyone else a

As a Brahmin leader himself, he would know. But he has more examples.
"You live in Delhi," he addresses the caller, "you won't need to call
an MLA [Member of Legislative Assembly]. You will call local
authorities. You don't need your MLA's help to get someone admitted to
a hospital. In the districts people need their MLA to do that."

He continues for some more time in the same vein about "backward
empowerment", ending with the explanation that he does not think of
himself as a leader but as a student. The stack of books next to him
is proof.

His theory about Brahmins not being in need of a leader continues when
I ask him if the Brahmins are as enthusiastic about the Bahujan Samaj
Party (BSP) this time as they were in 2007.

From 2005 to 2007, the BSP, a Dalit-led party, had made an unlikely
alliance with Brahmins, organising "Brahmin sammelans" or gatherings,
giving tickets to 89 Brahmins out of 406 constituencies. An astounding
46 of them won. Dalit-Brahmin "bhaichara" or brotherhood committees
had gone around convincing both groups of the alliance. The alliance
succeeded in displacing the Yadav-led Samajwadi Party. It was a
marriage of convenience that suited both Dalits and Brahmins, as both
of them say they are politically neglected and rendered powerless
under the Samajwadi Party's rule.

The BSP's anti-Brahmin slogans were replaced by "Haathi nahi Ganesh
hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai". The elephant, electoral symbol of the
BSP because of the animal's significance in Buddhism, was now
re-interpreted as the elephant-headed Hindu icon, Ganesh, and extended
to stand for the trinity of Hindu gods, Brahma the creator, Vishnu as
preserver and Mahesh or Shiva as destroyer. The BSP's mantra for five
years in power was "Sarvajan Hitaye, Sarvajan Sukhaye", Sanskrit words
that meant they were for everyone's interests and everyone's welfare.

But Dixit says Brahmins have not had a good experience with the BSP:
they did not get to "dominate" the BSP government the way they would
have liked to.

"Satish Chandra Mishra is my friend," he says, referring to the
prominent Lucknow lawyer who became the BSP's Brahmin face in 2007.
"He is like a big bureaucrat rather than a political leader. He is a
prisoner of his political master. He is not allowed to address the
public or meet too many people. I know this is not his nature, only
Mayawati's orders."

That is true, but only since 2009, when the BSP won only 20 of 80
Uttar Pradesh seats in the Lok Sabha, against its expectation of 60
plus. Until May 13, 2009, when the Lok Sabha results came out,
Mayawati would almost never be seen without a much taller Satish
Chandra Mishra behind her. She would often let him answer questions
addressed to her in press conferences, and he would address rallies
after she had done so, making the point that the BSP was not against
the upper castes.

A key reason for the poor performance in 2009 was that many Dalits,
especially Dalits of sub-castes other than Mayawati's own Jatavs, did
not turn up at the polling booth, or worse, voted for other parties,
especially the Congress. This is borne out both by exit poll surveys
and by what BSP workers in villages say. The party cadre told Mayawati
that Dalits felt the BSP was being taken over by Brahmins; their
concerns were not being heard.

Hriday Narain Dixit did not join the 2007 wave of Brahmins shifting to
the BSP. Of the seven elections he has contested from Parva
constituency in Unnao district, next to Lucknow, he won the first four
and lost the last three. Despite arguing that Brahmins are unhappy
with the BSP, he refutes the idea that Brahmins "feel" collectively.

In his constituency, not more than 30 per cent Brahmins ever voted for
him, he says. He is not wrong, those from his constituency say.

Dixit entered politics through the socialist movement, though he
bluntly denies ever having been part of it. He was always a Sanghi, he
says, referring to the BJP's backbone, the Rashtriya Swayamsewak
Sangh. He quotes not the socialist icon Ram Manohar Lohia but the Jan
Sangh leader Deen Dayal Upadhyay, who he says refused to be identified
as a "Brahmin leader".

Now a member of the upper house, Dixit reads 4-5 hours a day,
including Shakespeare and Shelley, writes columns for leading Hindi
newspapers, where he explains to their young readers what "fantasy"
means by quoting Sigmund Freud. "Even when I go among the people, I
study them," he says.

Dixit's worldview is symptomatic of the BJP, which emerged as the main
rival force to the Congress in both UP and nationwide, the early '90s,
thanks to its "Ram Janambhoomi movement".

That movement, in the backdrop of the Mandal movement, managed to woo
UP's Brahmins away from the Congress. Having failed to foresee that
Mandal was going to be a long-distance runner and Masjid a
short-distance one, the BJP in UP today is a party in denial.

An internal presentation of the party says they are targeting only
140-odd seats, mostly urban ones.

Even in these, their hope lies in getting the RSS and BJP workers to
motivate their core upper caste voters, in individual candidates who
are locally powerful, and in the alleged Hindutva-OBC charisma of Uma
Bharti, who the RSS forced the BJP to welcome back in the party, much
to the dismay of its Hindutva poster-boy, Narendra Modi of Gujarat.

A tale of contradictions

Unnao is an hour's drive from Lucknow, made longer by the bad roads
and traffic snarls. A district with a rather large concentration of
Brahmins, its urban centre is a small town whose youth gain an
education to migrate to neighbouring Lucknow or Kanpur in search of
jobs. In the Vidhan Sabha seat of this main town is an exciting
contest whose result will be keenly watched. On one side is sitting
MLA Deepak Kumar of the Samajwadi Party, and on the other side Namrata
Pathak of the BSP, a new entrant. Even though the BSP's Brahmin
candidate here stood third in 2007, this time it is the Congress and
the BJP who locals say are vying for that position.

They will, however, still be crucial in determining the winner,
because whose votes they will "cut" will be important. Kumar is from
the Mallah OBC community, the boatmen's caste, and Pathak is a
Brahmin, wife of senior BSP leader and Rajya Sabha MP Brijesh Pathak.
It may help Pathak's chances that delimitation is said to have reduced
some of Kumar's OBC votes. Both Kumar and Brijesh Pathak have been Lok
Sabha MPs from Unnao. The current MP from Unnao, though, is a former
Reliance Industries Limited executive Annu Tandon, because of the
welfare work done by her NGO for years. That election, caste was not
in the picture.

For Brijesh Pathak, this election is a gamble. A counter to Satish
Chandra Mishra in the BSP's Brahmin camp, if Pathak can't ensure his
wife's victory this election he could become dispensable for a
ruthless Mayawati. He realises as much, and is working 16 hours a day
to impress every voter. His multi-storeyed house has turned into an
election campaign office.

A large image of Gautam Buddha welcomes you as you enter. He's
upstairs, the men say, and after some dithering, let you go. In a
large hall Pathak is addressing the mostly Dalit "sector prabharis" of
the BSP; every "sector" has eight-ten polling booths to take care of.
The meeting is about to get over, and Pathak is saying that the
Election Commission has banned party flags and banners only on public
property and others' private property. Those who want to place one on
their rooftops are free to do so. Pathak agrees to speak to me for
five minutes, for which he takes me into a smaller room.

After accusing various pre-poll survey organisations of being biased
and corrupt and counting how many times they got their predictions
right, he predicts the BSP will again win over 200 seats. He has
little time he says, will I please ask him anything specific and
important if I must?

I ask him what Brahmins have gained from the "Sarvajan" alliance, if
they are happy with the experience? "In the history of independent
India," he says, "it was the first time that Brahmins got so much
respect and representation in power."

He knows the numbers by heart: "Forty-five Brahmin MLAs in one party
alone, unprecedented! Twelve to fourteen of them made ministers, 50
per cent DMs and SPs [District Magistrates and Superintendents of
Police] were Brahmin! Chief secretary, advocate general, all Brahmin!
He would have gone on if he had time, he knows the answer like a
Sanskrit shloka.

Historically, he says, perpetuating a myth the BSP spread to make the
alliance possible, Brahmins and Dalits have never been adversaries.
But he was wooing others too; he claimed the Lodhi vote, a peasant
community, was on his target, and then set off for a gurudwara.

It was the birth anniversary of Patna-born Guru Gobind Singh, tenth
guru of the Sikhs. He is welcomed warmly, goes up to the sanctum
sanctorum, sits amidst the city's Sikhs in the prayer hall, agrees to
exchange his ordinary handkerchief for a fancier one to cover his
head, folds his head and looks solemn. Symbolism is worth a thousand
words; politics is performance art.

It is not only the Congress party that is looking to consolidate
micro-vote banks this election. In the first past the post system, a
candidate could win or lose by a few hundred votes. In a multi-polar
contest like this one, the battle is intense.

Sikhs coming out of the gurdwara claimed Unnao had as many as a
thousand Sikh votes, and if Pathak's friend Pankaj Gupta did not
contest from the BJP, he would win easily. The word on the street was
that Pathak had managed to persuade Gupta to not contest; Gupta
claimed on the phone that he still hoped to get the ticket. In all
these conversations, nobody referred to the candidate as Namrata
Pathak; it was for all purposes Brijesh's election.

Deepak Kumar of the SP was equally busy in the campaigning, unable to
find time to meet us, away in villages, telling his OBC voters to come
out and vote and not be complacent.

To test Pathak's claims that the Dalit-Brahmin alliance is intact and
will ensure his wife wins, we go to Gangauli village 18 km away. The
BSP's man here, a former panchayat pradhan, is Ram Khilawan. He runs a
PDS shop; to see one that is open and functioning in a village, the
smell of oil in the air, is a pleasant sight. Men and women crowd
around with ration cards. Some more walk in to find out why we have

I ask Ram Khilawan that now that he has his party's government in the
state, what has it done for this Dalit-Brahmin dominated village?

"For the first time since independence," he says, "a cement road came
into the village." One of the bystanders interrupts: "And sir you just
came on that road, you must have seen what a great road they made!"

Ram Khilwan smiles sheepishly, as though he had been shut up. I prod
him to list more and he mentions another first for the village:
electricity poles and wires reached this village.

The bystander interrupts again: "That is not to say we got
electricity! The wires are not aluminium as they should be, they are
steel! All this showcase development only for corruption!" Ram
Khilawan has been silenced again. I ask the bystander if he is Dalit,
too, and he says yes. Ram Khilawan chuckles and the other Dalits
around break their silence: he is Brahmin. His name is Sushil Kumar
Tiwari and he is agent of the Life Insurance Corporation of India.

I ask Ram Khilawan about the Dalit-Brahmin alliance, and Tiwari
interrupts again. This time I insist I want to hear Ram Khilawan
first. Khilawan bluntly says what he feels: "Under Sarvajan Samaj it
is the Dalits who have suffered the most," he says, "Dalits have not
been able to make their voice buland (strong). If a Dalit was beaten
up, Pathak ji would side with the upper caste oppressor. As for
corruption, it may have increased but at least work gets done."

I ask Khilawan if he could tell me about specific instances of such
violence against Dalits where Pathak came to the aid of the upper
caste oppressor. He is silent, the Dalits and Brahmins around both
voice their opposition about getting into specifics.

Sushil Kumar Tiwari must have his word now. He says that Sarvajan
Samaj has helped only the rich Brahmins get richer, it didn't help
people like him. Overall, everyone agrees that no one is left enthused
about the alliance. "There isn't the aandhi, the windstorm of 2007
this election," Khilawan says, "The BSP's graph has fallen. Neither
Brahmin nor Dalit may work en bloc the way it did in 2007."

BJP leader Hriday Narain Dixit reads 4-5 hours a day, including
Shakespeare and Shelley, writes columns for Hindi newspapers, where he
explains to readers what "fantasy" means by quoting Sigmund Freud

And yet when I question them all on who they will vote for, they are
clear: the contest is between Mayawati and Mulayam, and the latter is
completely inimical to their interests, so Mayawati it will be.
"Majboori ka naam haathi," says Tiwari. Compulsion, thy name is
elephant, the BSP's symbol.

Ram Khilawan, part of the BSP's famous cadre that motivates people and
brings them out to the polling booth, checking on each one of they
voted, is the reason why the Dalit vote will be delivered to the
elephant. Similarly, the BSP also has its Brahmin cadres, created as a
parallel force that is made to work in tandem with the Dalit cadre
through "brotherhood" committees.

The party's Brahmin man in this village is Prabhat Pandey, whose large
double-story house, land, tractors and cattle, all sit with an odd
comfort just a minute's walk away from Ram Khilawan's humble abode.
His brother multiplies the family wealth by buying and selling land.
"I am only a farmer," says Pandey, sitting before his tractors in his

It is this class of the trading Brahmin that was most upset with the
Samajwadi party rule, affected by both the bad law and order
situation, and the favouritism to the peasant castes. "There haven't
been any special benefits for Brahmins in this government," says
Pandey, "but you know, Brahmins are paer se kamzor, weak in the feet."

He explains the metaphor: you can persuade a Brahmin by touching his
feet. In other words, the most important benefit the Brahmins took
away from the BSP government was the "respect" they "deserve".

Only some Brahmin families and clans have benefited from the alliance,
says a relative of his. Satish Chandra Mishra's nepotism, his penchant
for getting every distant relative a government post, has been a
matter of ridicule. This is true even of others, and when Pandey tells
me Namrata Pathak will visit this village tomorrow, that's his hint:
why are the BSP's Brahmin politicians multiplying within families?
Nevertheless, Pandey feels it's going to be a close contest, and the
winner's margin will be less than 5,000 votes.

I ask Pandey and Khilawan if they'd like to pose for a photograph
together, the BSP's foot-soldiers in Gangauli. They do so
hesitatingly, their body language speaking volumes about a political
alliance unable to bridge a social gap.

Meanwhile, the BJP announced its list of candidates a few days later.
Pankaj Gupta is contesting Parva.

Urban wilderness

If Unnao is a rural expanse crying for development, neighbouring
Kanpur is an urban disaster, once a great industrial town, Manchester
of the East, but today best known for being one of India's most
polluted cities. Cities like Kanpur, with their history of communal
violence and high concentration of Hindu upper-caste middle classes,
are amongst the BJP's last bastions. And yet, of the ten
constituencies here, the BJP won only four last time, the Congress and
Samajwadi Party two each and the BSP one. The two-time sitting Member
of Parliament is the hard-working Shri Prakash Jaiswal who makes
himself accessible to people and manages local alliances and
"understanding" with local leaders of other parties.

The BSP's Dalit-Brahmin formula didn't work any wonders here last
time. In 2007, I met Sarvesh Shukla, locally known as "Bum Bum", once
a student leader in Kanpur university with a dabang (strongman) image,
that was his big chance in politics. Back then, to convince me of his
chances, he showed off the support he was getting from Brahmins in the
Generalganj seat, a BJP stronghold. He introduced me to an old RSS
leader as his relative, R N Bajpai, white sage-like beard and tilak on
the forehead. Bajpai had told me frankly and bluntly that the Brahmins
were shifting to the BSP because the BJP's Thakurs and Baniyas had
sidelined its Brahmin leaders after Atal Bihari Vajpayee's retirement,
and the Congress was nowhere in the picture. That is how strongly
Bajpai, a Sanghi of 60 years, had felt about the UP Brahmin's
political alienation.

But this time the Congress is in the picture, the BSP's Brahmin
alliance didn't do well in Kanpur and there is no "wave" for any party
to jump into. I meet Sarvesh again, who tells me that old Bajpai has
passed away, that he was no relative of Shukla, who did not get a
ticket from any party, having been sacked from the BSP. That happened,
he claims, because he put up too many posters of himself in Kanpur,
something Mayawati and her cadres don't appreciate as it threatens her
supremacy as the sole face of the party.

Shukla repeats the same complaint that many Brahmin politicians seem
to have with the BSP: the domination and nepotism of Satish Chandra
Mishra, the sacking of Brahmin ministers and MLAs and denying sitting
MLAs tickets. Brahmins, Shukla says, are a confused lot.

Delimitation has meant shifting of vote banks from one seat to
another. Old politicians have jumped constituencies and new ones have
sprung up to exploit new caste and religion combinations and try their
hand at the game of numbers. The most Brahmin-dominated seat is called
Kidwai Nagar. The contest here, unlike most of UP, is between the
Congress and the BJP. The Congress' Ajay Kapoor is a stalwart, a
two-time victor despite his rivalry with the Congress' Kanpur MP Shri
Prakash Jaiswal. BJP's Viveksheel Shukla is trying to displace Kapoor.

Kapoor is a Hindu Punjabi Khatri, a well-to-do local businessman, the
sort of person usually identified with the BJP. Viveksheel Shukla is a
gentle Brahmin of the sort who fits better with the Congress. If both
seem to be in the wrong party, it is because Kapoor's hold in the area
is regardless of his party. In the basement of his multi-storied
building are parked two ambulances with his name on them; on the first
floor is an office where people with problems of any kind show up for
help, and on the third floor is the campaign office.

Kapoor is not in town and some say he is in Delhi.  Others say he is
in Mumbai, but his large cut-outs don't let his absence be felt, even
though they reduce his girth by several inches. There are so many
trophies and metal mementos all around you'd think he's felicitated
once a day.

In the office of his campaign manager, Shoaib Khan, hangs a calendar
printed predictably by Kapoor Electricals. When I am introduced to
Khan as a visitor from Delhi, he wonders if I am "the SMS guy". Khan
tells me how it's an easier election for them because delimitation has
halved the number of voters. A phone call interrupts the conversation.

"Why do you have to put a flag on your car for booth committee duty?"
he asks agitatedly on the phone. "We'll have to tell the Election
Commission about it and add the car expenses to the election budget.
If we can move without a flag why can't you?"

Khan returns to tell me how they have been mobilising people for some
months now. A great show was in October, when they held a cricket
tournament called the Kanpur South Premier League (KSPL). 16 teams
played, twelve of them fall in Kidwai Nagar. The winner, Kidwai Nagar
Lions, won a Tata Nano. The tournament's "ambassador" was a famous
local resident: the enormously popular Hindi stand-up comic and TV
celebrity Raju Srivastava.

The BJP's Viveksheel Shukla sneers at Kapoor's star power. "He is not
in town because he has gone to Mumbai to hire B-grade actors and
rejected models for his campaign," says Shukla. As we drive in
Shukla's SUV with him on the front seat, it is clear they are up
against a wall. Their campaign is focusing on attacking Kapoor for his
wealth, his hiring of stars, even his girth. "In eight years as
legislator he has accumulated so much, from 55 kg to 200 kg!" Shukla
says, "He is trying yoga these days!"

But Shukla knows his real hope lies in the slight increase of the
percentage of Brahmins in the seat thanks to delimitation. Will the 30
per cent Brahmins of Kidwai Nagar vote for their popular leader or one
of their own? Add Uma Bharti and her Hindutva-OBC appeal to that.
Shukla has been a political confidante of Bharti, leaves the BJP when
she does, and his is the only case, he says, for which Bharti
exercised her veto to make sure he gets a ticket.

To be sure, Viveksheel Shukla doesn't have to play the Brahmin card.
His surname does it for him. On a crossing, he rolls down the window
pane to greet someone on a bike. The young man introduces himself with
a Brahmin name, drops the name of his well-known uncle, and says that
he's a worker of the Samajwadi Party. "I am a Brahmin," the young man
on the bike says, "on this seat my support is for you."

Shukla invites him to join the BJP but he declines.

Vote banks again

The example of Ajay Kapoor is typical of the Congress focus on
choosing and cultivating popular "winnable" candidates. The Congress
is said to have used independent surveys to find out the popularity of
candidates. That does not mean that the Congress is not doing what is
popularly known as "caste politics". On the contrary, the Congress has
come up with a Nitish Kumar-like caste strategy to make an alliance
between all those small and big castes who feel left out in the big SP
vs. BSP binary.

Until the rise of Mandal and Masjid that wiped the Congress out in UP,
its vote base was a coalition of extremes and Dalits, Muslims and
Brahmins. That is to a great extent the formula that the BSP turned on
its head. Just before the 2007 elections, Rahul Gandhi was looking
around for a caste formula, but there was none. In 2009, the Congress
did not win because of any caste formula even though it had started
wooing Dalits.

Rahul Gandhi's team realised that the Jatav Dalits, who are more than
two-thirds of all Dalit voters in UP, are tied to the BSP like a horse
and carriage. So began the Congress efforts to woo the non-Jatav
Dalits, particularly Pasis in central UP. The Congress wanted to
revive its old formula.

However, thanks to the social scientists who advise the Congress and
also double up as political commentators on TV and op-ed pages of
newspapers, the Congress' Nitish Kumar-like strategy has a big
surprise. For all the tug of war between the BSP and the Congress over
the last five years, for all of Rahul Gandhi's targeting of Mayawati
and her Dalit vote, the Congress is really out to get the Samajwadi
Party. The Congress sees a bigger opportunity in the SP's Muslim and
non-Yadav OBC vote than in the BSP's Dalit vote.

With such plans, the Congress office in Lucknow has hope in the air.
Unlike 2007 when it looked abandoned, it is now full of politicians
and candidates and journalists milling around. In the media room,
spokesperson Ram Kumar Bhargava is in a hurry. He agrees to sit down
and talk for five minutes, but his attention is more at an assistant
who is not putting enough roses into a bouquet.

He gives me the usual Congress spiel about how the Congress hasn't
been tried by UP's voters for 22 years, that Rahul Gandhi is asking
for a chance now. That sounds like the 2009 Lok Sabha strategy, when
an assistant comes in with the latest table on caste-wise break-up of
the first four phases.

Of the 271 seats declared by then, 13.28 per cent have been given to
Brahmins, a few per cent more than their population, 14.02 per cent
for Thakurs, who despite their enmity with Brahmins are also old
loyalists that the Congress wants to wean away from the Samajwadi

Some 5.53 are Vaish, usually with the BJP, as are the Kayasthas, who
have been given 1.84 per cent seats. The 15.86 per cent seats for
Muslims are less than their population, and the 25.46 per cent for
"SC" are more than their population, but these percentages may change
when all 406 seats are announced. The real story, however, is visible
even in this list: 15.49 per cent "BC" or Backward Castes and 11.80
per cent "OBC". The Congress is not only playing well, it is playing
for the long-term, interested more in increasing vote share than
seats, establishing itself as a serious player in the evolving
political process of Uttar Pradesh.

Although this list is for the local media, Bhargava is apologetic that
I got to see it. "The Congress does not believe in caste politics he
says," and then mutters something about the compulsions of
contemporary Uttar Pradesh politics. I ask him why the Congress
president in Uttar Pradesh, their leader in the assembly, the Youth
Congress leader, and he himself – why are all top Congress leaders in
Uttar Pradesh Brahmins.

He names all the insignificant non-Brahmin names, but he's right about
Beni Prasad Verma, who's influential in crafting the Congress OBC
strategy. Will a Brahmin-dominated Congress really be able to
manoeuvre its way through Uttar Pradesh's intricate caste politics in
the near future? The results of this election could determine that.

In Bundelkhand

Chitrakoot district is only 277 km from Lucknow, but it feels like
thousands of kilometres. In the heart of the neglected, barren
Bundelkhand region, it shares a border with Madhya Pradesh. The
Chitrakoot forests where Ram and Sita went into exile for 14 years are
divided across this state border. Although the politics across this
border is a world apart, the society is not.

Bundelkhand is more Brahmin-dominated than the rest of UP. It has only
22 seats in the assembly from seven districts, but they are closely
contested. Bundelkhand is also where a lot of the tussle between the
Congress and the BSP, over development funds and statehood and Dalit
welfare and so on, has taken place. The fight this election, however,
remains between the BSP and the SP.

For most of the 2000s, the small class of rich people in most of
Bundelkhand— the landed feudal, the corrupt public servant, the
prosperous businessman—had a peculiar problem. They couldn't buy cars
even if they had the money. The presence of a dacoit forced them to
hide their wealth.

The dacoit was Dadua, a Kurmi Robin Hood who was India's second
biggest dacoit after Veerappan in recent memory. A young Dadua had
become a dacoit because of Brahmin violence, and made a natural ally
for Yadavs and other OBCs. His word would decide the election winner
in a few seats, and the Samajwadi Party would do well.

Then he fell out with the Samajwadis and allied with the BSP. The
Kurmi-Dalit alliance was a disaster for Dalits, who faced
unprecedented violence from Kurmis; Dadua's diktat was the law of the
land. This came to such a pass by 2007 the BSP would have done badly
in the election, except that by this time the BSP was doing a
state-wide "Sarvajan Samaj" alliance.

In numbers, there's no combination that could defeat the Dalit-Brahmin
alliance in most seats. In 2007, the BSP won 15 of 22 seats, and less
than three months after coming to power, had Dadua killed in an
"encounter" by the elite Special Task Force. It was the biggest trophy
amid a series of encounters and arrests that controlled organised
crime, a big reason why people voted out the SP in 2007.

Chitrakoot town is a constituency called Karvi. The MLA who won here
in 2007, an old Sanghi and BJP politician who switched to the BSP, was
Dinesh Mishra. He took credit for saving Dalits and Brahmins alike
from Dadua's terror.

Yet in 2009, when his elder brother Bhairon Prasad Mishra stood for
the Lok Sabha from Chitrakoot-Banda, he did not get many Brahmin votes
and many Dalit votes. Brahmins were unhappy with the prospect of so
much power concentrated in one family, a refrain you hear in
Chitrakoot and elsewhere all the time about the BSP's Brahmins.

The Dalits were unhappy that while they were getting no attention from
Mayawati and her government, the Brahmins were overtaking the Kurmis
as their oppressors. As a result, the winner was R K Patel, a Kurmi,
of the Samajwadi Party. Bhairon's explanation of the loss is that
Brahmin votes got divided between him and the BJP's Brahmin candidate.

In 2009, in a village 20 km from Karvi, I had met a BSP "sector
prabhari", Durjan Ram. He had told me how he was a daily wage labourer
with no land, and since nobody had any land rights he, like every
other Dalit around, paid the Brahmin sarpanch a bribe of  Rs 2,000 to
get some land next in front of his house, to use as a courtyard and
carve out a small patch for subsistence farming—to grow a few
vegetables that he won't be able to afford to buy from the market.

But before the 2009 elections, the Brahmin sarpanch was denying he had
been given the bribe, and claimed the land as his own. This led to
violence, death threats and eviction. The Brahmin sarpanch was a
relative of the Mishras, and Durjan Ram told them he would complain to
the higher-ups in the party. The harassment stopped, but a court case
is ongoing.

When Bhairon Prasad lost in 2009, it sealed Dinesh Mishra's fate too.
Dinesh has not been given a ticket from this seat this time; in fact
only one of 15 Bundelkhand BSP MLAs has been given a ticket. More than
50 per cent sitting MLAs, even some prominent ministers, have not been
give tickets by the BSP across the state.

The reason for this, as in Karvi, is that the BSP's core Dalit voters
feel that Dalit interests were compromised by these men who felt they
did not owe anything to their Dalit voters, treating them as the
cattle that Mayawati's cadres would bring to the polling booth anyway.
That is what has happened to Dinesh Mishra's ticket, too.

He is not in town; he's in Lucknow, making last-ditch efforts to
convince the party to let him contest. At his house, Bhairon Prasad
Mishra sits beneath a portrait of the Brahmin icon Parshuram, seen as
a symbol of Brahmin violence by all other castes. "We are saying do a
survey and you will find my brother can still win," Bhairon says. Even
so, the BSP can't give him a ticket and alienate its core voters.

Bhairon complains about Brahmins having been given short-shrift by
Mayawati, and in the villages he says, upper castes were harassed,
with Dalits filing false cases under the strict SC/ST Prevention of
Atrocities Act, and that they misused their power and so on. I ask him
if Dalits also got something in return that was in his view not
unfair? He says they won some respect from Brahmins in day-to-day
life, and a little less harassment and violence from everyone.

Ironically, Durjan Ram says the same. The bumpy ride to his village is
worth the drive: he's just back from hours of campaigning in the
village around him. Along with him is a new Yadav friend he made
through a "bhaichara committee". It is difficult to prevent the Yadav
from answering questions put to Durjan. The new candidate is also a
Brahmin, a relatively lesser known Ram Sewak Shukla. The SP first
announced Dadua's son for this seat but then gave the ticket to
another Kurmi.

According to Durjan and his Yadav friend, Brahmin and Dalit voters
together make up over a lakh of voters in this constituency of 2.65
lakh voters.

When Durjan goes around motivating Dalit voters to get ready to cast
their vote once more for the elephant, what is it that he tells them
about his government's achievements?

He mentions the raising of the minimum daily wage from  Rs 58 to  Rs
120, the sort of raise an SP government would probably not announce as
it serves the interests of the farmers who hire daily wage farm
labourers, not the labourers themselves. Durjan mentions a pension
scheme which gives  Rs 400 a month to those who may be landless and
don't have a ration card, are unfairly not listed in the Below Poverty
Line list.

Is that all? "We got a bad MLA," he says. "This new candidate is also
a Brahmin but a great man. If he wins, he will be great," Durjan

"Most of all," Durjan says, "I remind Dalit voters of the fact that we
have been less afraid of Brahmins in these last five years than we
used to. Even if we get no material benefits, we get protection from
the rest."

Durjan would know; had he not been able to play his BSP card against
the Brahmins, we would not be sitting on this patch of land. He has
also started a small shop to sell beedis and tobacco. All his children
go to school, he does not fear for his life the way he  did before
2009. If the BSP's new Brahmin candidate does not win, Durjan may not
look as happy and cheerful as he does these days.


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