About Dr. B.R. Ambedkar
“Ambedkar is more dangerous dead than alive” are the words of Republican Party President N. Shrinivasan. Dr. B.R. Ambedkar is one of the most reverend social reformers in history. His journey of social reform starts from his time as a lawyer at the Bombay High Court where he formed ‘Bahishkirt Hitakarini Sabha’, which was founded as a central institution for removing difficulties of the untouchables and oppressed classes and placing their grievances before the government.
In the year 1947, B.R. Ambedkar was elected as the first Law Minister of Independent India. In 1932, Dr. Ambedkar signed a pact which reserved seats for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in provisional legislatures which was later enacted under the Indian Constitution of 1950, drafted by Ambedkar himself. The efforts of Dr. Ambedkar or Babasaheb, as he was fondly called, influence the socio-political reality of contemporary India.
Political Situation in Uttar Pradesh Vis-À-Vis Dalits
In the scenario of Uttar Pradesh, with the highest Dalit population and most criminal acts registered against them, Dalit rights form a central issue. Not to our surprise, contemporary politicians are embezzling the socio-cultural significance associated with B.R. Ambedkar’s name to foster vote bank politics in modern Uttar Pradesh. Political parties catering to the Dalits, like the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the newfound Bhim army are garnering votes on the promise of reservation, rights of the oppressed in the emerging right-wing doctrine of Hindu nationalism and superiority at the Centre. In this essay, we will focus on the key players who shape U.P. politics.
The Rise of Ambedkarisation: Causes And Effects
Since the late 1970s, there has been a wave of ‘Ambedkarisation’ in India. This is visible in schools, government offices, public buildings, murals adorning Ambedkar in portraits and statues. A major cause for this wave has been the post-colonial Congress government and the Gandhi family’s upper-caste appeasement which led to the rise of farmer politicians, grass-root level political parties and leaders, like Charan Singh.
Political parties like BJP have used Congress’ mistakes to their benefit by raising the title of chaiwallah to the pedestal. This has given rise to vote-bank politics, to an extent that it hinders the country’s socio-economic development. There has been a steep rise in reservations based on caste and minority status in educational institutions and government offices. This, in turn, has promoted other social groups (not given reservations), like the Jats recently to unite, rebel and ask for equal privileges as well. This demand for reservations is accompanied by communal conflict, clashes, and lynching. Political parties around the country have been trying to profit from this wave, the BJP has for sure gained a majority in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya sabha through this.
Key Players In The Caste Politics Of Uttar Pradesh
Bharatiya Janata Party
The Congress and BJP, often known for their upper-caste linkages and Hindutva politics respectively have not been favoured in Uttar Pradesh politics until recently. With the ongoing Modi wave and the Hindutva politics, shattering past beliefs and rightward swing of ideology the political public of Uttar Pradesh has entrusted its trust in the Bhartiya Janta Party and Yogi Adityanath. The idiosyncrasies of the Bhartiya Janta Party in Uttar Pradesh are what give it the popular support and the ability to sweep votes in every election.
While in 2018, Yogi Adityanath’s government installed a committee to plan a new reservation system, the committee trifurcated reservations for the OBC category – 7% reservation for castes like Kurmi, Yadav, and Chaurasiya, 11% for Kushwaha, Shakya, Teli, Gujjar, Mali castes, and 9% for Rajbhar, Mallah, Bind, Ghosi, and other backward castes. The underlying motive is to consolidate the votes of the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) which represents the majority of the population eligible to cast votes and to dissolve the impact of the Mahagathbandhan alliance. Politically speaking, ‘quota within quota’ will help the BJP bring non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav SCs in its vote bank who until now were loyal BSP supporters. (Narayan 2019)
Early 2019, BJP was criticized for bestowing 10% reservation to economically backward upper castes, yet it made up for it by contending for quota for the oppressed classes in Aligarh Muslim University. This “quota within quota” politics of the BJP has been regarded as a win-win strategy by analysts. Narendra Modi himself highlighted his caste identity as OBC (Other Backward Caste) during the last phase of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar elections. While appealing to both the elite and oppressed sections of the society, BJP strives towards its ideology of Hindu unity, stripping away claims from other minorities.
Bahujan Samaj Party
The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the sole cadre party at the national level against Hindutva, is also the third-largest national party. The party was founded by Kanshi Ram on 14th April, the birth anniversary of Babasaheb. It stemmed out of a trade union of BAMCEF. Kanshi Ram later gave the reigns of the party to Mayawati Das, a school teacher at that time. The BSP’s support base lies with the Jatav and Chamar community, which are the dominant Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh.
The BSP is best known for its ‘patronage politics’ where it made efforts to recruit more than 1350 civil and police Dalit officials into high ranking positions within the bureaucracy. The BSP has not essentially given any economic leverage to ordinary Dalits but is benefiting Dalits at the symbolic, organizational, and political levels in many parts of North India. Dalits are increasingly in a position to challenge the legitimacy of caste discrimination and to engage in everyday politics (Jeffery, Craig, and Jeffery 2008). Mayawati also constructed massive parks and erected statues of Ambedkar and herself, among other Dalit leaders, a move criticized by the Supreme Court.
In 2019, the BSP was the largest seat hoarder amongst the Mahagathbandhan (BSP-SP-RLD) and gained the second-largest seat share in Uttar Pradesh. The chief of the party, Mayawati, joint hands with her arch-rivals, chief of Samajwadi Party- Mulayam Singh and even asked her supporters to back him, forgetting their past tiffs. Though the BSP only gained 10 seats of the total 38 seats it contested for, it had the second-largest vote share in the entire state. This was an improvement from 2014, wherein it lost all its seats in the state legislature.
It is interesting to note that the Supreme Court has never objected to the construction of figurines of Gandhi or other Congress leaders. The socio-cultural reality of modern Uttar Pradesh is a vicious circle of misuse of the prolonged economic and social deprivation of its citizens by their government. While employment and the economy are in a miserable situation the government has harboured its interests in supporting anti-Romeo police and cow vigilantes, completely disregarding a crumpling Ayodhya, rise in communal hatred and disharmony and an increase in the number of mob-lynching. Years of suppression and a misguided interim government, along with vested interests of contemporary politicians have made the backward classes a catalyst to secure votes. Will the backward castes always be a tool in the hands of figures of authority or use their idiosyncratic politics to create a new future for themselves?
- Varshney, Ashutosh. 2000. “Is India Becoming More Democratic?” Journal of Asian Studies 59 (1): 3-25
- Jeffrey, Craig, Patricia Jeffery, and Roger Jeffery. “Dalit Revolution? New Politicians in Uttar Pradesh, India.” The Journal of Asian Studies67, no. 4 (2008): 1365-396. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20203489.
- Badri Narayan. “This is why Yogi govt’s ‘quota within quota’ system will be a win-win move in Uttar Pradesh” CNN.com. https://theprint.in/opinion/this-is-why-yogi-govts-quota-within-quota-system-will-be-a-win-win-move-in-uttar-pradesh/281173/ (accessed February 1, 2009).