Year 1989 was a watershed one in the politics of North India, particularly, Uttar Pradesh. It was the last time when the India’s most populous and politically important state had a Brahmin chief minister.
Starting from Congress stalwart G B Pant, who was the first chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, UP had several Brahmin CMs including the likes of Kamlapati Tripathi, H N Bahuguna and Sripati Mishra. N D Tiwari was the last in 1989.
Since then, the emergence of SP and BSP changed the politics of the state. Many among Brahmins rue that over the years their political influence has been on the wane. Still, the support of the community which constitutes around 10% of population in the state remains crucial in forming the government. Thus, in the ongoing UP polls, the focus is on Brahmins as most of the political parties are eyeing the substantial vote of the community.
“Brahmin was once the leader, now he is just the voter”, says middle-aged Romi Pandey, who lives in Orai. “As Brahmin vote is substantial in all seats, every party is eyeing it but none of them is going to get it en bloc, the vote will be divided”, he says. “Caste factor is the strongest in UP. The winnable Brahmin candidate who is locally strong will get the vote of community irrespective of the party. If there is no Brahmin candidate in the fray, then a big chunk of the Brahmin vote may go to BJP”, he says.
Citing an example of the political mood, he says, “the SP-Congress alliance has fielded a Brahmin candidate (Vinod Chaturvedi) in Madhogarh constituency; BSP has also put up a Brahmin candidate (Girish Awasthi). But just putting up a Brahmin won’t help BSP as there is overwhelming support for SP-Congress candidate”.
Clearly, there is a sense of loss of power among Brahmins in the state that elected prime ministers, right from Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi to A B Vajpayee.
Mohan Shukla, 46, who hails from Haidargarh (Barabanki) and lives in Lucknow, feels that the vote would depend on local considerations. “There is a section among Brahmins which is inclined towards BJP. But this is an assembly election and the candidate who is locally popular and influential will get the support”, says Shukla.
Uttar Pradesh has one of the highest Brahmin populations in the country. In fact, apart from Dalits and Muslims, Brahmins are the biggest single block, almost at par with Yadavs. Hence, their support can have a major impact on the electoral fortunes of any party. The Akhil Bhartiya Brahmin Mahasabha has announced its support to the BSP.
This decision was taken recently. Mayawati’s aide Satish Chandra Mishra was present alongside Mahasabha leaders when the decision was made public. However, it is to be seen if the announcement will have an impact.
“The Brahmin leadership was killed in Uttar Pradesh”, says a Brahmin community leader in Allahabad, who doesn’t want to be named. Who killed it? There is no straight answer to this question.
“We are a divided community unlike other groups who vote on caste lines”, he says. In fact, the sentiment about the leadership being killed is what one comes across repeatedly while talking to Brahmins across the state. “For a while, Brahmins supported BSP and later SP, but there is no party that is going to get Brahmin vote en bloc”, he says. “We are 12% in the state”, he claims.
“But if this vote gets divided among 3-4 parties, it loses its impact. This doesn’t happen with other groups”. “If Brahmin vote goes to one party, it helps create a wave. Year 2007 was different when Brahmins overwhelmingly supported Mayawati and she became CM but this time, the community is not with BSP”, he says. “Brahmin vote will chiefly split between BJP and SP-Congress, with BSP getting it where it has fielded strong Brahmin candidate”, he adds.
The late 1980s period frequently comes in discussion in UP. It is probably because, since then, only two upper caste leaders — Rajnath Singh, a Thakur, and Ramprakash Gupta, a Vaishya, became chief ministers, that too for brief stints. Singh was CM for over a year while Gupta couldn’t even complete a year in power. The emergence of SP and BSP led to backward and Dalit castes with sizeable numbers, wrested power from upper castes.
The mandir movement had given a new lease of life to BJP after its poor performance — two seats in the general elections in 1985. Though the BJP, whose leadership largely comprised of upper castes, kept growing in the country, they lost their political influence in both the major states — UP and Bihar — as the V P Singh government implemented the Mandal Commission report to counter it.
And, it is the Brahmin populace that has felt the loss of power more because it has
the highest numbers among upper castes and because of its influence in the Uttar Pradesh politics.
(The writer is a senior journalist)