Wrestlers' Protest And The Caste Cauldron
The political caste reasons why the BJP is not acting against MP Brij Bhushan
In India every development in the socio-political domain is covered in multiple layers. These layers get thicker when polls are around the corner. The same is being witnessed in context of the ongoing protest of wrestlers seeking arrest of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh.
Singh was reportedly booked under Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act along with other sections after an intervention by the country’s Apex Court.
While the battle of the wrestlers continues to be reported and debated largely at a superficial level, with the embedded media playing its usual games, there is a need to dive deeper to understand what is happening on the ground.
There are several social and political signals emanating from the villages, particularly in Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh. There, an attempt is being made for the past many days to polarise the people on the lines of caste, and particularly isolate the Jats. It needs to be mentioned here that the wrestlers are largely being identified with the Jat community.
Sources on the ground disclosed that every effort is being made to replicate what has come to be known as the ‘Haryana Model’ of achieving political goals by resorting to caste polarisation.
While this will be dealt with in detail later, there is first a need to understand what all has been going on in the villages of both Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.
No one is denying that in western Uttar Pradesh there is an attempt to project things as a Rajput-versus-Jat divide. It is getting complex because of other factors.
With Brij Bhushan hailing from the powerful Thakur community, there is an attempt to consolidate Rajputs under one banner. People are pointing to the proposed June 5 event at Ayodhya where Hindu seers will reportedly be coming out in support of Brij Bhushan.
Sources disclosed that the proposed event is being advertised in a big way across social media platforms with the usual right wing propaganda.
The question doing the rounds among the rational populace is why is the BJP leadership in the Centre, or the state, not ordering the law and order enforcing agencies to act against Brij Bhushan despite the fact that he has been booked under POCSO which has stringent provisions. One of the often reported reasons is his political clout among several Lok Sabha constituencies in eastern part of the state which the BJP would not want to disturb.
But observers feel there is much more to this. Some of the factors gathered from conversations and interviews with political observers are:
- The Hindu right wing whether in its political manifestation or in other forms of vigilante groups, or what they refer to as fringe organisations, on being cornered are trying to kill many birds with a single stone.
- On one hand they are trying to make it a Rajput-versus-Jat issue. On the other side there is a full fledged slander campaign tarnishing the image of the wrestlers for which character assassination is a very small word. There are messages doing the rounds holding the women wrestlers responsible for what they are complaining about”.
- Then comes the most interesting aspect of trying to isolate the Muslims in the entire set of affairs. There have been messages doing the rounds within the community that these wrestlers had been speaking against the Shaheen Bagh agitation decrying the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizens (NRC).
- The lack of political awareness and inability to comprehend things in perspective has led to the Right Wing achieving its goals to some extent. The Right Wing groups have been demonstrating their muscle and political power by coming out openly against the wrestlers,” pointed a political observer well versed with the developments on the ground in the region.
All these above mentioned aspects were corroborated with several others to whom this reporter spoke in the region.
But the question now is who stands to gain from all this ?
Whether it is the BJP that will gain or whether it has cornered the saffron party on the complex political matrix of the large state that is marked by both caste and communal permutations and combinations.
There is a view among many observers that the Adityanath government is aloof from the entire issue. They point out that it is a matter of the central unit of the party concerning a Lok Sabha member and not a legislator. The people are left to decipher this in whatever context they want to.
“You also need to understand that the Thakurs of the western Uttar Pradesh and those from eastern Uttar Pradesh are different. The ones on the west are mainly into farming and also services and the social milieu is quite different from the one in the east where a feudal mindset still operates in several pockets,” pointed out Yashpal Malik of Jat Sewa Sangh.
Malik was a prominent face during the Jat reservation stir of 2016 in Haryana as the face of All India Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti (AIJASS). He does not believe that communities can be pitted against one another in western Uttar Pradesh as Rajputs are dominant only in pockets.
“Resorting to caste colour on every pretext is cheap publicity gimmicks resorted to by the caste armies that have come into being over the last few decades. The issue of female wrestlers is something that everyone looks at with empathy. Daughters are there in every house and no one can tolerate their harassment except those with a criminal mindset,” Malik added.
However, Sompal Shastri, who has been active in various political forces including the Janata Dal led by former Prime Minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, being a minister of state in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee led BJP government and also Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), has some interesting takes on the prevailing and emerging scenario.
“It was witnessed that the Jat support to the BJP that had been there for sometime dipped during the 2022 state assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh. Muslims in any case stand consolidated against the BJP.
“In the present scenario it can be said that almost 70% of the Jats are not with the BJP and almost 99% Muslims are also opposed to it. The Brahmins have also been miffed with the party leadership.
“Of late there has been an interesting phenomenon that is emerging in the region. The Gurjars who also used to be with the BJP are drifting apart. This was pretty evident from the events that unfolded in Saharanpur a couple of days ago where the Gurjars and Rajputs stood on the opposite sides of the fence on the issue of Samrat Mihir Bhoj Pratihar Gaurav Yatra undertaken by the former,” Shastri said.
According to news reports the members of the Rajput community had protested in Saharanpur by forming a human chain against the Yatra undertaken by the Gurjars. They claimed that the Gurjars had resorted to the action without taking permission from the appropriate authorities.
Reports say that things had gone to the extent that to check the spread of rumours the administration had to suspend mobile internet services.
The members of the Gurjar community reportedly took out a Yatra from Fandpuri to Nakud despite Section 144 being in force.
Sompal Shastri further stated that one of the reasons for the Gurjars and Jats getting peeved with the BJP was the latter not allowing any leader from these communities to become powerful.
“The drifting away of both the Jats and Gurjars away from the party is definitely a cause of worry for the BJP in context of the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls. It faces the prospect of being confined to a single digit in western Uttar Pradesh.
“You have to analyse that even leaders like Sanjeev Balyan and Rajendra Aggarwal had won their respective Muzaffarnagar and Meerut seats with thin margins on the last occasion as well,” said Sompal Shastri. He hails from the Jat community and has also been a part of the Planning Commission as well as the Agriculture Commission in the past.
Talking about the community, Shastri said that the Jats by their temperament have largely remained anti-establishment. They have always looked to have a say in the larger scheme of things as was reflected by the rise of leaders like Chaurdhary Charan Singh and Devi Lal in the past.
“This was not the case with communities like the Yadavs as leaders like Mulayam Singh Yadav and Laloo Prasad Yadav were largely confined to their states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar” said Shastri.
Moving to the other side, all eyes are set on Haryana in context of the political implications of the wrestlers’ protest. Right from the day the protest at Jantar Mantar was announced, and the foot soldiers of the Hindu right wing got to their jobs of discrediting the wrestlers, the people have been drawing inferences to the happenings of the 2016 Jat reservation stir that had seen the state being engulfed in unprecedented violence.
The people recall how things were ‘allowed’ to develop into an inferno. This reporter can recall from the visits to the ground at that time how the whole machination was to isolate the Jats and demolish the social fabric of ‘36 Biradari’ (communities).
What was achieved was a ratio of 35:1 where the Jats were vilified through a design and the rest were aimed to be ‘politically consolidated’. It needs to be pointed out here that the Jats are roughly one fourth of the population and apart from being the farmers they are well represented in the Police, paramilitary and the Armed Forces.
That was the time when the administration stood paralysed. At the same time certain leaders were allowed to spew venom against the agitated Jats to achieve the caste polarisation.
Things had turned a full circle when all the communities had come together during the farmers’ agitation against the three controversial farm laws. It was once again the Jats who in complete harmony with the other communities led the agitation using all their resources.
The people have been pointing that the same game of vilifying the Jats through the wrestlers is on once again. “One gets to see interesting patterns in the state. On one side is the empathy for the women wrestlers that no one, even if he or she is a BJP supporter, is being able to defend.
“But at the same time the foot soldiers of Hindutva organisations are trying their best to convey, even if in feeble terms, that all this is an effort to demonise the BJP and a conspiracy against Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” pointed an observer.
Leaders like Inderjeet Singh of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) feel that this time the powers that be will not be able to achieve the caste polarisation. “The people know that this is the last weapon they have. But the fact remains that the government under Manohar Lal Khattar stands badly exposed and discredited.
“There is palpable anger that can be easily seen in all the sections of the society. The manifestation of this anger can also be easily seen across the state,” he pointed out.
It needs to be underlined that Haryana is scheduled to go in for state Assembly elections a few months after the Lok Sabha polls next year. Many observers are of the opinion that the BJP would like both the Assembly and the Lok Sabha polls to be held simultaneously as it wants to reap the dividends of Modi’s ‘popularity’ that might help it overcome the massive anti-incumbency that it is up against.
The party has been in power two consecutive times since 2014. Its main adversaries – the Congress and the Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) have a considerable Jat base.
It needs to be underlined that the Jats with their substantial numerical presence have always wanted to be at the helm of the political power which the BJP had denied by making Khattar the Chief Minister of the state.
Meanwhile, the state continues to witness protests both by the civil society as well as the political outfits on the wrestlers’ issue.
There was a lot of anger over the treatment meted out to the wrestlers on Sunday when they were picked up by the Police and the protest site at Jantar Mantar was cleared. This anger got multiplied on Monday when the wrestlers announced their decision to submerge their medals in the Ganges.
At a protest organised by Jan Sangharsh Manch Haryana at Kaithal, senior functionary of the organisation Phool Singh said the BJP government has done a “heinous act by giving protection to offender Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh and suppressing women wrestler daughters’ who are demanding justice”.
“This will not be tolerated at all. The government's dictatorship has reached its limit. Farmers, labourers and women who were to attend the Mahila Mahapanchayat in Delhi on Sunday were imprisoned in their homes, to prevent them from reaching Delhi,” he said in the presence of a large number of people from all walks of life.
Leaders like former Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda of the Congress and Abhay Chautala of the INLD have been quite vocal in support of the women wrestlers.
In neighbouring Punjab, Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann on Tuesday expressed deep anguish and sorrow over the ‘callous attitude’ of the union government due to which wrestlers had been compelled to announce the immersion of their medals in the Ganges.
He attacked the Modi led Government of India for ignoring the genuine demands of the wrestlers and said that these wrestlers have given their sweat and toil for bringing the medals for the country.
Mann said that these wrestlers have been struggling for their legitimate rights and if the entire country just remains a mute spectator to the ‘unholy acts’ of the Modi government then the day is not far when the people will have to submerge the ‘ashes of democracy’ in the river.
He said that the country should unite against the high handedness of the union government and rally solidly behind the players. Mann said that it is the need of hour to save the country and strengthen the ethos of democracy.
The farming community that had fought an unprecedented battle against the passing of the three controversial farm laws is rallying behind the agitating wrestlers. The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) which is the umbrella organisation of various farming groups across the country has given a call for a nationwide agitation to secure the democratic right to protest by Indian Wrestlers and all other sections of society and to demand the arrest of Brij Bhushan Saran Singh.
The SKM has announced demonstrations and effigy burning at district and tehsil centres on June 1, 2023. It has stated that it will coordinate with platforms of trade unions, women, youth, students and all other sections including traders, intellectuals and social movements to organise demonstrations across India.
The SKM has also announced demonstrations and effigy burning of Brij Bhushan Saran Singh at village and town centres on June 5, the day an event in the latter’s support has been announced in Ayodhya.
“The Modi government's action against the wrestlers protesting against sexual harassment proves its anti-women and anti-people agenda. The crackdown against the protest infringes the citizens’ right to protest which has been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court, “ the SKM said in a statement.
The statement referred to the words of the Apex Court in the Rakesh Vaishnav case when the Court said, "Indeed the right to protest is part of a fundamental right and can as a matter of fact, be exercised subject to public order.
“There can certainly be no impediment in the exercise of such rights as long as it is non-violent and does not result in damage to the life and properties of other citizens and is in accordance with the law.
“We are of the view at this stage that the farmers’ protest should be allowed to continue without impediment and without any breach of peace either by the protesters or the police.”