Two years of pandering to the Dominant castes

The week-long extravaganza celebrating two years of Narendra Modi in power haven’t faded from popular consciousness yet. But one thing was curiously left out from the PR blitzkrieg – the BJP’s steadily expanding pandering to dominant castes by way of quotas.

First it was the Gujjars, then the Patels. By the time the Jats came along, the pattern was clear. In some cases, the reservations have been blocked by courts – the Jats are threatening to resume their agitations.

But broadly, a pattern has emerged. If you’re a dominant community upset by an upsurge of power in the people you’ve repressed for centuries, there is an easy three-step process you need to follow:

  1. Organise big agitations laced with violence and threatening rhetoric. Vandalise public property, block arterial roads and national highways.
  2. Use traditional muscle power in media and government to amplify your message and sympathetic tale of neglect and decay, all because your rights have been “usurped” by the erstwhile weaker sections. Call yourself the new Dalits.
  3. Threaten the government – preferably BJP — with dire consequences in the next elections. Make the threats incommensurate with your demographic strength and get kinsmen to write news analyses about how the violent protests are going to hurt the government.

The formula has been honed to perfection in BJP ruled Haryana, Gujarat and Rajasthan, ably aided by the Brahmanical civil society and journalists.

Every time a dominant caste thinks they’re being shortchanged, the institutions that are otherwise so tardy about enforcing reservations properly, swing into action to assuage the feelings of hurt.

The Gujjars, Patels and Jats are dominant agrarian and pastoral communities that have lost their stranglehold on government jobs and political representation in the last 50 years. Rural patriarchs are upset over this tilting of scales that has been effected by the scheduled castes and other backward classes catching up in education, buoyed by affirmative action and constitutional safeguards.

So what do they do? They harness that traditional muscle power, violently clash with police and authorities – most of whom are from the same community — because they’re smug in the knowledge that the government will be loathe to act against them.

Their aim? Grab the power back or dismantle the affirmative action system in the process. Patel agitation leader Hardik Patel said as much in an interview to Hindustan Times’ Prashant Jha.

Two interesting things happen during such demonstrations.

One, commentators blame the crippling agrarian crisis for these communities demanding quotas – saying their traditional dominance in agriculture doesn’t count for much as farming has collapsed. But for the rest of the year, no one talks about how the crisis is affecting the millions of lower caste and tribal labourers, who are mostly landless and were living precariously even in the golden days of the Green Revolution.

Two, civil society protests against affirmative action that are so visible every time the government ups quotas for SC/ST/OBC – remember the Mandal and Mandal –II violence – are absent.

Meritorious doctors and engineers who constantly talk about how us Dalit Bahujan students are taking away their hard-earned positions never complain about Jats and Patels subverting the Constitution. Maybe they dream they’ll be next in line.

The only line of criticism to such violent protests is always an indictment of the affirmative action system, undermining the socio-economic realities of India even today. Commentators fall over each other in asking, “Are reservations failing”, “ Is it time to end quotas”, as if Dalit Bahujan and adivasis should bear the brunt of the dominant community’s greed.

Such conversations about quotas almost never feature SC/ST/OBC voices talking about how quotas have been great for them and their communities, as if the judge of the system will be the dominant castes – whose oppressive ways necessitated the quotas in the first place.

In hindsight, it should come as no surprise that the BJP is at the forefront of extending quotas to dominant communities. The same party that is vociferous otherwise about not breaching the 50% quota cap set by the Supreme Court doesn’t blink when bringing dominant communities under the quota umbrella. Contrast the mollycoddling received by the Patels and the Jats with the kind of response received by DalitBahujan assertions in Hyderabad and elsewhere: People lathicharged, arrested, imprisoned for days. Activists vilified, police issuing rape threats and the state refusing to listen to their demands.

This is not to absolve the Congress – the originator of upper-caste politics in India. But in its current emaciated state, it is hardly a factor in major tracts of India.

So if you’re a dominant community and feel upset about how can no longer claim most of the pie because of your birth, you know what to do. Move to a state ruled by the BJP, break some things, burn, loot and arson and the government will gift you by trying to restore your dominance. Just go us one favour, stop with the righteous nonsense arguments about equality. We see your evil unconstitutional designs and will call your bluff.

 

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Dhrubo Jyoti Written by:

I am a 26-year-old journalist who works and lives in New Delhi. I identify as a Dalit, genderqueer person and work on issues of caste, gender, sexuality.

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