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Anti-Brahman Upsurge Of
Elections 2004

By Chandrabhan Prasad

25 May, 2004
The Pioneer

While the NDA and the Congress-led alliances fought pitched battles in the Gangetic belt, a shrill-yet sound-proof-undercurrent swept the minds of the non-Brahman, non-Baniya voters. Neither the winners, losers, nor the now-insolvent pollsters, had any idea of what was happening inside that society. The largest slice of Delhi's population lives in slums and unorganised settlements under the constant threat of the corporation's bulldozers.

During the past five years, hundreds of slums have been destroyed, or re-located partially due to the closure of industrial units. The just defeated Jagmohan's so-called "Clean Delhi" drive was an additional menace. Most of the domestic helps, plumbers and security guards of the housing complex I live in know Jagmohan well. And so do hawkers, vegetable vendors, taxi drivers and industrial workers. In their collective perception, Jagmohan is a terminator threatening their very existence in Delhi.

Millions of Delhi's slum dwellers are migrant labourers from the Gangetic belt. More often than not they are Dalits and the so called "lower" Shudras. After the industrial slowdown of Calcutta and the closure of Mumbai's textile units, Delhi emerged as their next big hope for survival. These labourers return to their homes in April-May every year to attend to harvesting and the marriage season. The message they carried back home this April was clear: "The BJP-led NDA is determined to banish the poor from urban India as another mandate to the NDA would be self-destructive."

Dalits account for over one-fourth of India's population. Since Independence, government jobs and some facilities in education are the only two rights the community has had any access to. But the privatisation of education threatens to push Dalits out of education. The privatisation of state-owned enterprises seeks to send them back to their pre-1950's misery. The former Disinvestment Minister, Arun Shourie, of Worshipping False Gods infamy (a book lambasting Dr BR Ambedkar penned by him), was the most hated and feared name among educated Dalit circles. In almost every district of India, there would be at least one Dalit journal, howsoever un-professionally produced, unanimous in condemning the NDA's privatisation and disinvestment drives. To the Shudras, this was seen as a ploy to make the Mandal reservations redundant.

The "India Shinning" campaign was reminiscent of Rajiv Gandhi's "21st Century" slogan of the 1989 general elections when it became a matter of public ridicule. Cartoonists and columnists tore it to shreds. Now it is now commonly acknowledged that the communication revolution owes largely to Rajiv's initiatives than any wonder by the NDA. Rajiv Gandhi, despite his remarkable vision, had terribly overlooked the need for "social packaging" of his slogan. Though he was unleashing the reindustrialisation of India, he failed to capture the imagination of the beneficiaries of his projects. Likewise, the "India Shining" slogan too turned into a crude joke on the dispossessed.

When the NDA's leaders reminded people about how India has turned into a "food exporting nation"-a truth no doubt-the anguished landless, who toil hard for a few kg of wheat under the harsh summer sun, decided to give a fitting reply to the wordsmiths who coined this grotesque line. The NDA failed miserably with the social packaging of its "India Shining" slogan.

Social packaging must mean a concrete policy bouquet for the disadvantaged groups. The NDA failed to realise this. The Vajpayee regime's greatest achievement was to introduce "consumerism," a phenomenon without which no economy can re-industrialise itself. But this will be appreciated only a decade from now. It is only in an industrialised and urbanised India that caste prejudices will recede. The Jan Sangh, the forbear of the BJP, was known as a Baniya party till the 1960s, but acquired a Baniya-Brahman image during the 1970s to 1990s. In the 1990s, it acquired a hard-Hindutva identity.

During the early days of the NDA, it transformed almost into a duplicate of the Congress when various groups began joining it. But, the trinity of Jag Mohan-Arun Shourie-Pramod Mahajan which master-minded the "India Shinning" slogan, re-earned the Baniya-Brahman identity for the BJP. Most non-Brahman-non-Baniya castes reached a quick and self-assured conclusion: The NDA is determined to transfer the State's assets to industrial and trading houses, in other words, to Baniyas. And the institutions of the State, after being privatised, will go to the Brahmans.

The message reached most non-Brahman-non-Baniya homes faster than the speed of sound beyond the Arawali, Vidhyas, the belt which spreads through Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhatisgarh, touching Orissa, and which have neither a history of great labour migration to Delhi nor any organised history of anti-Brahman movements. Frightened as they were, most non-Brahman, non-Baniya castes reached the polling booths with the resolve to vote the NDA out of power. A caste-wise study would conclusively prove that the XIVth Lok Sabha has the least number of Brahman-Baniya MPs since 1952. This amazing anti-Brahman-Baniya upsurge was missed by all.