Surely Uttar Pradesh (UP) Minister Sanjay Nishad is aware of who Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia is. Lohia was the first to introduce the idea of reservation for OBCs (Other Backward Classes), bringing the concerns of all backward caste communities to the centre stage of Indian politics. While the country's founding fathers debated economic inequality, Lohia wanted caste inequalities to be bridged along with class inequalities.

His fight was against the ruling class, 90% of whom belonged to 'upper castes'. Till his death in 1967, Lohia tried to persuade political leaders to be deeply concerned about the majority of citizens belonging to the lower castes. He wanted to end the dominance of the savarnas. Lohia came from the Bania caste and his concern was that most political parties were led by leaders belonging to upper castes. Under the circumstances, people belonging to lower castes would never find a real opportunity to improve their lot.

His solution was to give nearly 70% of leadership posts in politics, government services, military, trade and industry to members of backward castes, to women, Sudras, Dalits, Adivasis and to religious minorities. Lohia's economic understanding was simple. He said if a rich citizen has ten of something, then the equation of what the poorest of the poor is entitled to should at least be one.

It is surprising that minister Nishad seems to have forgotten that Lohia was such a champion of the rights of lower castes. If not, then why does the minister seem to be averse to a statue of Lohia? Lohia's statue was installed earlier by the Lohia Trust in the front garden of a house used as its office. The premises are on the prestigious Vikramaditya Marg, known as the Lucknow neighbourhood similar to Lutyens' Delhi. The same house has now been allotted to Minister Nishad who has got Lohia's statue covered with a plywood structure painted in red and green.

Local socialists are in a state of shock. They point out that the name Nishad is a two syllable word with ni meaning water, and shad meaning ruler. The Nishad community is traditionally seen as rulers of the water mostly as boatmen and as fishermen. In UP, the Nishads fall under the Other Backward Castes (OBC) category. The economic and social status of the Nishads slipped to an all-time low after the community was deprived of practising its profession, and later it was outlawed and marginalised as a gang of bandits and thieves by the British.

That Sanjay Nishad enjoys a ministerial rank today is largely due to the fair politics practised by Lohia in the past.

Chaos in Kanpur

The recent riot that erupted in Kanpur is not entirely over what BJP spokespersons Nupur Sharma and Naveen Jindal said against the Prophet of Islam. It is also about exploiting the occasion to wipe out Haji Irfan Solanki from the political landscape of Kanpur, and to grab the Kanpur constituency from the Samajwadi party (SP).

The Solanki family has reigned supreme in the Sisamau constituency for a quarter of a century. This Muslim dominated area has remained the stronghold of the Solankis of the SP. While Irfan has been a legislator from this constituency for three consecutive terms, his father Mushtaq Solanki was a winner before him. Mushtaq was a popular SP leader and was welcomed by both Hindu and Muslim voters.

The purpose of the politics of the day is to split the 42 percent of Muslim votes in hope of benefitting the ruling party at the polls. Clashes had erupted early this month in Kanpur's Nai Sadak area after a call was made to close all shops in protest of objectionable remarks made against Prophet Mohammed and Islam. The violence that followed had included the pelting of stones, the firing of shots and the use of petrol bombs.

At least 40 people including 20 police personnel were injured. Police arrested 36 people including four masterminds Hayat Zafar Hashmi, Javed Ahmed Khan, Mohammad Rahil and Mohammad Sufian for disrupting social harmony. The hope is that similar incidents will split opinion amongst Muslim residents in the constituency with some supporting Solanki and others Hashmi to the utter delight of those who love to divide and rule.

Azamgarh By-polls

For a brief moment, it seemed that the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat vacated by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav would be contested by Sushil Kumar Anand, the Dalit face of the SP. Anand is the son of Bihari Babu a founding member of Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). He later joined the Congress, and a year before his death in 2021, Bihari Babu had joined the SP.

At the grassroots, Dalits and Yadavs do not get along. The Dalits feel bullied by influential Yadavs especially in the countryside. However without Dalit votes it is almost impossible for the SP to consolidate power in the state. The Yadavs dominate Azamgarh where its population is a little more than Muslims whose population is almost equal to Dalit voters.

With Dalit leader Mayawati having disappeared from the political arena, it is a golden moment for the SP to befriend Dalit communities. The SP workers told The Citizen that the party has a Dalit wing called the Baba Saheb Ambedkar Vahini that has been reactivated by Akhilesh.

The gesture has been appreciated by the Dalits. In the last state assembly elections a CSDS post-poll study found that the SP's non-Jatav Dalit base went up from 11 percent in 2017 to 23 percent in 2022.

Non-Jatav Dalits like Pasis and Valmikis are attracted to the SP in pockets like Allahabad and Azamgarh. However, it is not Anand but SP's Dharmendra Yadav who will now contest from Azamgarh as he is expected to give a fairer fight to the popular BJP candidate and Bhojpuri actor Dinesh Singh Yadav. In the last three decades most of the winners in Azamgarh have been Yadavs.

In 2019, Akhilesh Yadav won Azamgarh with a 60.4% vote share. After winning the last state assembly elections as well, Akhilesh chose to resign from the Azamgarh Lok Sabha seat to remain in the state assembly as leader of opposition. The result of the by polls in Azamgarh on 23 June will be declared on June 26.

The Congress's Corner

After having floated the name of actors like Shabana Azmi and Raj Babbar, the Congress has decided not to contest the Lok Sabha by polls from Azamgarh. Till 1977, Azamgarh was a Congress stronghold with winners like Algu Rai Shastri, Mohsina Kidwai and Chandrajit Yadav.

In 1977 Ram Naresh Yadav of Janata Party represented Azamgarh and became the first non-Congress Chief Minister of UP. This Yadav was also the first head of UP to implement the quota for backward castes.