Babasaheb Ambedkar and his ideas revolve around caste as the central problem of the Indian society. His vision and objectives are clear: establishing an egalitarian society through annihilation of caste. Throughout his life he fought for these objectives and provided philosophy, method, and vision for a new society. In many ways he succeeded in ensuring human rights for the downtrodden through constitutional measures and social reforms. Babasaheb provided an ideological base for Bahujan politics in independent India.
Post Ambedkar Dalit-Bahujan politics became significant mostly after 1982 with the emergence of Kanshiram and his political organisation Bahujan Samaj Party, although a social and cultural movement was already prevalent in Maharasthra. By appealing to different castes of Dalit-Shudras, BSP succeeded in forming government in a state such as UP under the leadership of Mayavati who belongs to the Dalit community. Through the political strategy of social engineering BSP emerged as a national party, managing to mobilise the different Dalit-Bahujan castes and became capable of forming government independently in 2007.
Apart from Uttar Pradesh, there has been a political consciousness across the country among Dalit-Bahujan and many organisations and parties are mobilising these castes and communities with the Bahujan ideology. Still, at the heart of these organisations are the ideas of Ambedkar. Although, these parties have managed to gather support from Bahujan communities but they have not reached the stage to change the national politics. Nowadays, politics of caste has become significant in the political arithmetic of almost every political party, but the idea of annihilation of caste remained untouched. The problems of inter-caste divisions remained as it is. As Ambedkar argued, caste cannot form a nation, and this applies to the ideas formed in Bahujan imagination also. What has happened through the Bahujan politics is the consolidation of caste not the annihilation of caste. Political tactics of the BSP to some extent managed to form a political alliance between different Dalit Bahujan castes but the project of social alliance has not been taken seriously. It is social-culture which decides the political culture of a society. A caste society such as India determines the political nature of the state.
Inter-caste division is a major hindrance for Bahujan politics, it is a spectre which is haunting it. Dalit as a social and political category has not been consolidated in its true sense by the Dalit-Bahujan political organisations and parties. Division and differences among Dalits are very much visible almost across the country. There is even a direct caste conflict between assertive castes among Dalits, sometimes: Mang-Mahar conflict in Maharashtra, Mala-Madiga in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, Paraiyar-Arunthathiyar in Tamil Nadu. Also, there is caste antagonism between Chamars-Pasis, Chamars-Valmikis in Uttar Pradesh. Along with this, there are several other castes among Dalits which have different social, cultural and religious perceptions of Hindu society, as well as divided political opinions. As every caste is a close group, there are hardly any social relationships developing even between two Dalit castes. For instance, inter-caste marriages are still taboo in the caste society, which includes even Dalits. Even the ideas of superiority and inferiority, purity and pollution persist among Dalits. Social differences which cause formation of different political opinions which divide Dalits. The idea of “Dalits” has still not been materialised by the political parties which are meant to unite Bahujans.
Moreover, there are layers of problems among OBC castes which assume they are a part and parcel of the varna system, and there is also graded inequality among constituent castes. Their relations with so-called untouchables is still a major challenge in front of these parties. As it has been recorded, most of the caste based atrocities are being done not by the upper caste (dvijas) but by the Shudra dominant castes, such as Ahir, Jat, Gurjar and Rajputs in north India, Vaniyar, Nadar, Kamma, Reddy and others in South India and by Marathas and Patels in Maharashtra and Gujarat. In fact, the social relations among Dalits as well as between OBC and Dalits are governed by the caste principle where each caste enjoys relative privilege and pride of being higher than the caste immediately lower than it, and at the same time suffers from relative humiliation and disprivilege of being lower in the caste hierarchy than the caste immediately above it. Caste as a system is not only produced and reproduced by the upper castes, but also by the so-called lower castes. Although, there have been anti-caste movements across the country by the lower caste legendary personalities, caste is still prevalent among the lower castes.
The political alliance between different lower castes has been temporary and has not been able to stand even for a decade. The method of social engineering failed when BJP managed a sweeping victory in 2014 general elections, particularly in UP. Caste calculations, and inter-caste antagonism among Dalits and OBCs was being leveraged by the BJP. They mobilised non-Jatav and non-Yadav castes against SP and BSP. Politics of caste used by BJP led to the consolidation of castes in favour of the party which fostered an imagined Hindu uniformity. The 2014 defeat of SP and BSP exposed the caste reality of UP, and the political consolidation of these two big parties in the state.
A new card has been played by the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh now, that is sub-categorisation of OBCs. If it succeeds, then the non-Yadav vote bank will tilt in the favour of BJP rather than SP and BSP in future politics. Among the OBCs, Yadavs, and among SCs, Chamars, constitutes the majority in number, therefore they have been primary beneficiaries of the reservation policy. The narrative promoted by the other political parties, including BJP, is that reservation has been availed by only these castes and the rest have been lagging behind because of the SP and BSP rule in state of UP. In fact, SP and BSP have failed to incorporate different non-Yadav and non-Jatav castes.
In the present political scenario, the SP, BSP and RLD alliance made a broad caste coalition of Yadav, Chamars and Jats who constitute a large section of population in the state. This alliance could have brought about a social coalition between these castes, but the problem of inter-caste divisions was not resolved and these parties were reduced to parties of Chamars, Yadavs and Jats. BJP played the same card of non-Jatav and non-Yadav again, and succeeded mobilising the rest of Dalit and OBC castes against the alliance. BJP gave around 39 seats to non-Yadav castes among the OBC; SP, BSP and RLD alliance could not reach half of that number. This formula of divide and rule has worked in favour of BJP. The BJP’s strategy and its success shows that the inter-caste issue has not been resolved by the Dalit Bahujan organisations, which has led to the polarisation of castes not the polarisation of social and constitutional categories such as Dalit-Bahujan and SC, ST, OBC.
The unexpected defeat of the Grand alliance in UP in the Lok Sabha polls clearly showed the caste antagonism among the Dalit Bahujan. Most of the Dalit leaders felt insecure due to the active participation of the SP workers, and the group of Yadav communities felt humiliated and insulted by Dimple Yadav touching the feet of Mayavati. Majority of the Jats preferred to go with BJP instead of Ajit Singh who was part of the Grand alliance. This political behaviour of the different castes shows that the Bahujan identity is not concrete and there parties should recognise the serious need for intervention to bring about a social alliance. Without a social alliance, any political alliance will be like a monsoon without rain. Dalit Bahujan politics seems to be withering away nowadays, leaders must take some serious measures to revive it. But their attitudes and political strategies are so horrible, they can finish their political existence itself.
Vinod Kumar is a PhD scholar at Center for West Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.