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The rise of the backwards is BJP's Waterloo - The Asian Age

Seema Mustafa ()
30 November 1996

Title : The rise of the backwards is BJP's Waterloo
Author : Seema Mustafa
Publication : The Asian Age
Date : November 30, 1996

How the mighty fall. The facade has crumbled for the
invincible party which had aroused religious passion
through Hindutva and appealed to the basic middle class
obsession with discipline, morality and, of course,
stability. The Bharatiya Janata Party was "not like the
others." Even its opponents conceded this,
speaking.almost in awe of the reach the BJP had, the
cadres that were so committed that they could make the
nation tremble, the tentacles that had reached into every
house. The party spoke in one voice, acted like one
person, followed the leader without question and had a
"vision of India" which suited its one line programme of
establishing a "Hindu rashtra."

The party appeared omnipotent after the Babri Masjid was
demolished. Nothing, it seemed at the time could prevent
India from being taken over by the fascists. Aggressive
communalism had come to stay and with a party like the
BJP at the helm of affairs it could only move forward,
not backward. The horizon was dark, the future bleak and
though the nation fought back it did not seem like a war
that had been lost before it began.

The pessimism did not hold. The picture began to change
as the people, states, political parties and above all
secular organisations fought back. The drops became the
ocean in which secularism asserted itself and the fascist
onslaught was pushed back. But, even then, the BJP
remained at centre-stage as a disciplined, committed and
very stable party. In an era of squabbling Janata Dals
and a ragged Congress, it did begin to seem that the BJP
would soon occupy the space left by the Congress and help
hasten the disintegration of supposedly secular outfits
like the Janata Dal. BJP leaders like L.K. Advani began
to give the impression of being gods in disguise as they
spoke with the self righteousness of religious personali-
ties rather than politicians dependent on the people for
their basic existence.

Everyone forgot about Mandal - or more simply about the
caste factor which had slowly begun to assert itself.
The appeal of reservations as a tool for real empowerment
had started penetrating the rural areas, particularly in
the north of India which in 1991 had missed the import of
the Mandal report in the BJP-inspired religious blitz on
the Babri Masjid issue. Advani was one of the few lead-
ers at the time who had recognised the true importance
and possible consequences of the "Mandal card" and had
taken out the rath yatra simply to diffuse the message.
He had hoped that the results would help consolidate the
BJP and would eventually rob the issue of reservation of
sharp edged potency. It was a calculated gamble which
appeared to have paid off, particularly when the BJP was
able to strike its first major blow against the Indian
nation on December 6 1992.

But over the months and years the, common villager began
to realise the import of the reservation policy for the
backwards. Without going into the merits of the issue at
this stage, it should suffice to say that the backwards,
in particular, saw in reservation a direct empowerment.

Villagers who had lost all faith in the political system
and its ability to deliver insofar as development and
social justice was concerned, saw in reservations an
opportunity to empower themselves without waiting end-
lessly for deliverance from politicians in whom they had
lost all confidence. Mandal began to work and the politi-
cal parties bitterly opposed to it were compelled to pay
lip service to the cause. A stage came when the BJP and
the Congress were forced to adopt the agenda of reserva-
tions in their manifestos, even though it was these
parties which had organised largescale violence against
the implementation of the Mandal Commission report. The
people had adopted the agenda as their own, and the
political groups were left with no alternative but to

Very slowly the backward presents, lying dormant in these
parties began to assert itself. The Shankersinh Vaghelas
and the Kalyan Singhs began speaking their mind, and even
upper caste dominated parties like the BJP had to recog-
nise their existence so as to get the backward votes. It
was as if a volcano, that has been simmering for thou-
sands of years, had erupted. The upper castes could not
bring a party into power, and the backwards began taking
decision about their political future for perhaps the
first time in history. The churning and realignments
taking place in villages far away from Delhi were obvi-
ous, particularly to intelligent leaders like Advani and
Atal Behari Vajpayee. It was clear that the gestures
being made in the appointment of persons like Mayawati,
Mulayam Singh Yadav, Laloo Yadav, Deve Gowda as the
beacon of change had to be reciprocated, however reluc-
tantly, by the BJP. So, in Gujarat there was Vaghela to
galvanise the backwards, and in Uttar Pradesh Kalyan
Singh emerged as the state leader.

It is these backwards who have proved to be BJP's Water-
loo. The party, which has been unable to resolve its
inherent bias against backwards and dalits, is now find-
ing itself in the grip of those it did not want to have
any place for. Geared to upper caste belief and a style
of functioning, the BJP is able to reconcile its prefer-
ence for the forwards with the political necessity to
adjust the backwards. This contradiction is not just
showing, but threatening to tear apart the party. The
invincibility has already been exposed by Vaghela in
Gujarat who waged a successful war against the central
leadership, simply on the basis of the backward support
he commands within the party. The invincibility has
already been exposed by Vaghela in Gujarat who waged a
successful war against the central leadership, simply on
the basis of the backward support he commands within the
party and, in the state. Disciplinary action was unable
to disarm him, and eventually it was the BJP that was
caught with its pants down, riot its erstwhile chief

The same is happening in Uttar Pradesh. Kalyan Singh,
dependent on the central leadership for every political
morsel till just the other day, is now an "independent"
leader. He has been able to resist the upper caste
influence over the UP state unit which wanted him to be
replaced as the candidate for chief minister by just the
whisper of a threat to resign. This whisper has stayed
the mighty hand of the BJP, with both Advani and Vajpayee
and its entire central leadership retreating to give

Kalyan Sin.h whatever space he demanded. He did not want
Mayawati as the chief minister. Agreed. He wanted a
chance to prove the majority. Agreed. He still wanted a
chance to prove his majority. Agreed. The Kalraj Mishras
are out of the picture. Kalyan Singh Mishra can sulk.
Advani can complain, Vajpayee can thunder but the BJP
dare take no action against Kalyan Singh who has become
the leader of the backwards in the BJP camp.

The backward-forward divide is making itself felt in
every district BJP workers resort to fisticuffs these
days to settle disputes arising out of this basic con-
flict within the rank and file. It has only religion to
fall back on. Hindutva has lost its edge and will lose it
further when confronted with the mass realignment of
social forces that is taking place. The BJP has reached
a peak in Uttar Pradesh for instance, where even a divi-
sion in the anti-BJP forces was unable to help it in-
crease its tally. If the contradiction within the party
persists it will mean a major change in the entire com-
plexion of the BJP. Either the backwards will take over
or they will leave to begin their own parties or ally
with other forces. Vaghela and Kalyan Singh. it must be
remembered, are ardent proponents of Hindutva but in both
their cases the caste factor has over-shadowed the Hin-
dutva card.

The central leadership finds itself helpless, with its
role reduced to that of a helpless member in the audience
which has little to no say in directing the play as it
unfolds on the politic stage. Something is happening
which cannot be strategised. for once, the political
brain cannot manipulate and direct a political event
which is of such great and grave magnitude that it will
change - in fact it has already begun to - the face of

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