24 Apr 2019

A Socialist Tuesday

The Muslim-Yadav bastion that went to the polls in Phase 3 was stormed by the BJP in 2014. This time around, the SP is back — and we believe a new normal is emerging around caste identities.

Narendra Nag

First things first, we don’t see a single clear win for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in the third phase. In fact, there are four seats where we may end up seeing a photo-finish — Aonla, Bareilly, Etah and Pilibhit — with the BJP potentially only winning two out of these four.

All the other seats are being won by the Gathbandhan candidates.

So, does that mean there’s a wave for the Gathbandhan? We think that’s too simplistic an explanation and believe we are seeing the emergence of a new politics of identity. There is a generation coming of age in Uttar Pradesh who now represent a new kind of caste-based vote bank.

Here’s our short (and simplified) summary — the oldest version of this vote-bank belonged to the Congress — a party that promised a future free from oppression. The removal of the privy purse, nationalisation of banks, slogans like Roti, Kapda aur Makaan resonated with a very poor country. The second version of this vote-bank belonged to Kanshi Ram, Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and others who promised an end to oppression by seizing and redistributing power. Kanshi Ram, more than anyone else, made sure the poorest realise that they didn’t have to wait to receive, they should take. The third, and newest, version of this vote-bank seems to be aligning itself with leaders like Akhilesh Yadav who represent a post-oppression, aspirational future. Let us be clear — they are NOT post-caste and believe more power is available being card-carrying members of a well-defined, and permanent, group identity. Further, there is now real pride associated with their identity. It is no longer just a way to get a government job, or benefit.

This assertive caste-identity is on open display. To understand what we’re talking about, open up TikTok (yes, that terrible, banned app) and search for #Dalit or #JaiBhim and see some of the videos that have been posted. You will find a group of young, confident men and women who are challenging the status quo. Some of them have the word “Chamar” shaved into their haircuts.

In Uttar Pradesh, sections of the BSP and SP seem to have understood this better than most. The semiotics and language on display at the joint rallies are a sign. But perhaps the most telling sign is how the upper-castes have been dismissed from local equations and political rhetoric. The days of slogans like Tilak, Tarazu aur Talwar are long gone. While the upper-castes continue to enjoy social privileges in villages across Uttar Pradesh (there are older Dalits who continue to sit on the floor in the presence of an upper caste neighbour), their space and privilege is shrinking rapidly.

Nowhere is this more obvious than amongst the younger SP - BSP supporters who are succeeding in not treating each other as belonging to differently ranked social groups.

This is translating into a simpler vote transfer than would have been possible ten, or even five years ago, giving the Gathbandan an air of winnability. That, in turn, is convincing the Muslim voter that the Gatbandhan candidate is the best bet. And this is giving rise to a new political reality in Uttar Pradesh where Yogi Adityanath — with his upper-caste semiotics — is considered with ever increasing suspicion.

This comradery amongst younger, traditionally oppressed classes of society was on full display on Tuesday when people went to vote — which is why we are calling it a Socialist Tuesday.

These notes are an experiment in data-driven points of view. We are immersing ourselves in information screens and data patterns and allowing ourselves to connect dots. We emerge to write a note — like the one you’re reading — which is our best understanding at a given moment in time. We believe ourselves to be correct in the moment, but are happy to be proven wrong. In either case we learn and improve.

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It's Time to Adjust our Weights for the BJP