The Return Of Upper-Caste Politics
The Modern Rationalist|March 2021
Rise of Hindutva has enabled a counter-revolution against Mandal’s gains
Christophe Jaffrelot

Hindu nationalism is generally defined as an ethno-religious movement. But it may have as much to do with social factors as with identity markers, as its last phase of expansion has been primarily a reaction to Mandal. Soon after the then prime minister, V P Singh, announced the implementation of the Mandal Commission report, Organiser wrote of “an urgent need to build up moral and spiritual forces to counter any fallout from an expected Shudra revolution”. And when Mandal II happened, the same newspaper argued that the “Congress-led-UPA government at the Centre is bent upon destroying the last bastion of merit…”. After the BJP was defeated in 2004, and again in 2009, it became urgent to hone a strategy that would enable it to come to power and prevent the deepening of policies that went against its Hindu nationalist ideology and the interests of its base.

The brand of national-populism that Narendra Modi had initiated in Gujarat was the perfect alternative. It could transcend caste barriers in the name of an existential defence of Hindus against threatening Others (by resorting to polarisation techniques) and attract OBCs and even Dalits, not only because of the polarisation but also because of the plebeianisation of the BJP, which used to be identified with the upper castes until then. Modi himself came from a backward caste, had developed the chaiwala narrative and pretended that he had been victimised by the English-speaking establishment of Delhi — a feeling many OBCs shared. After all, many of them had started to emancipate themselves after Mandal, but they had not succeeded in joining the middle class. Modi could exploit their frustration — all the more so as he promised to apply the “Gujarat model” for creating jobs.

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