Ideology without grievance is mere talk; grievance without ideology is taken as a tantrum. It’s when an ideology finds a grievance or a grievance an ideology, that both prosper. I don't remember where I read this or something like this but the truism has stayed with me.
Vikas Dubey of Kanpur Dehat is dead. When alive, he was lionised by misguided youth on TikTok. In death, he finds praise from unexpected quarters: politicians. Politics and crime are intertwined in Uttar Pradesh. Both the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party recognised his worth when alive. The Congress joined the Dubey Appreciation Club late but realised even a dead dada is worth his weight in gold.
Even as Vikas Dubey was on the run after murdering 8 policemen in an ambush in Bikru, Jitin Prasada launched the Brahmin Chetna Parishad, to raise the community’s voice against the marginalisation of his caste men in the state. Acharya Pramod Krishnam of Congress called Vikas Dubey and his henchmen “Garib brahman ke bachche”, invoking the textbook image of a poor Brahmin while describing how they are being bumped off by a regime led by a Yogi of Thakur origin. Since TikTok has been banned, Brahmin youth have flooded Facebook with Jai Parshuram slogans. Parshuram is a mythical Brahmin sage who apparently cleared this earth off Rajputs/Thakurs 21 times, alluding to how Yogi needs to be removed if Brahmins have to survive in Uttar Pradesh.
Politics would surely exploit the growing Brahmin-Thakur fissure in Uttar Pradesh but the fissure is not new. These two dominating forward castes were pushed out of the centre with the Congress party since the rise of backward caste-led Samajwadi Party and Dalit-led Bahujan Samajwadi Party. Brahmins gravitated towards BSP after Mayawati made her Man Friday and lawyer Satish Chandra Mishra, a Brahmin, the virtual no. 2 in her party. The Brahmin-Dalit coalition bore fruit. Mayawati became the chief minister. A drowning man clutches at straws. Thakurs swerved towards the Samajwadi Party for a while because that party has had Rajput stalwarts in the leadership's Layer 2.
Vikas Dubey's (L) encounter reopens an old wound. The image of a Brahmin eliminated after surrender feels like a repeat of the Shri Prakash Shukla (R) encounter. (Photo: India Today, India Today/ Facebook)
BJP, once famous as the Brahmin-Bania party, stitched together a broad coalition in the last elections and got nearly all the non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Dalits in its fold. Brahmins and Rajputs came in as natural Hindu voters in this grand Hindu consolidation. The BJP swept the election.
Brahmins were hoping their achchhe din were back but then the BJP sprung a surprise by installing Yogi Adityanath as the chief minister. Being the mahant of the Gorakhnath sect, the Thakur-born Yogi had adopted the ‘caste profession’ of a Brahmin. For the average Brahmin, Yogi is the double usurper of sorts and does not have the natural right to either, the priesthood or chief ministership.
Since then, Brahmins have been interpreting every action of the government with that jaundiced eye. The anti-Brahmin perception has not come about because of Vikas Dubey’s encounter. This has been building up.
Since Yogi gave a free-hand to the police to eliminate criminals who did not surrender, over 120 have been killed in encounters. Murders are dime a dozen in UP. But Jitin Prasada has made a list of only Brahmin victims of police and criminals.
Like Brahmins have a natural claim to the seat of power in UP, the only state in the Gangetic north where Brahmins are more than 10 per cent of the population, the Congress thinks it has a natural claim over Brahmin votes and that everyone else, including the BJP, have stolen its traditional vote.
Brahmins have traditionally voted for the Congress before it was dwarfed in the post-Mandal-Mandir political arena. The Gandhi family has made UP their home state and they have carefully retained their Brahmin credentials though any other Brahmin family mixed with non-Brahmin genes would have been outcast to oblivion by now.
The Brahmin-Thakur rivalry goes a long way back, to the medieval times. During the rule of the Nawabs and then the Raj, these two of the upper layer of the society have claimed the cream as, barring Kayasthas in some jagirs, castes below them in the hierarchy, rarely got to taste the fruits of power. Even in free India, these two castes had the lion's share of the flesh as all other castes had to make do with the bones. The Congress had the monopoly, to begin with, and the Brahmins, owing to their influence in a nascent democracy, grabbed a share disproportionate to their size. The rivalry for the power pie continued until the Mandal movement brought new claimants to the table. That's when both Thakurs and Brahmins grudgingly agreed to play second fiddle to the new power centres while ensuring one stayed afloat by pushing the other down.
The rivalry today runs in all walks of the government structure. From the bureaucracy to academia, from business contracts to sports positions, the two upper castes quarrel for supremacy and do not leave any opportunity to show the other its pecking in the order of the day.
UP has not seen a Brahmin on top for over three decades. The Brahmin dominance at the seat of power owes it to Congress. No other party has put up a Brahmin in the driver's seat since. In a deeply casteist and hierarchical society, this itself is perceived as an injustice. The so-called Brahmin-Bania party that replaced the dominant Congress, picked up its leadership from the subaltern classes in its experiments in social engineering and not from its Brahmin stock.
Vikas Dubey's encounter reopens an old wound. The image of a Brahmin eliminated after surrender feels like a repeat of the Shri Prakash Shukla encounter. BJP was at the helm when that 'encounter' took place in 1998.
Anand Pal Singh was a Ravna Rajput, an OBC in Rajasthan that Rajputs do not consider Rajputs. The lore suggests they are sons of Rajputs born out of the royal palaces, of royal lineage but little legitimacy. Ravna Rajputs claim Rajput status, Rajputs deny them the same. But when Anand Pal Singh was gunned down in an encounter in 2017, Rajputs galvanised against the state. Rajputs who would not let him ride a horse on his wedding day were up in arms because the state overpowered the most-wanted gangster and ended his story.
Till Anand Pal Singh’s writ ran only in Nagaur and neighbouring areas, the dreaded gangster was only a Ravna Rajput icon, if he was one. When the dread spread across Rajasthan, he became a Rajput Robinhood and the Ravna line blurred. When he died, the line vanished as Rajputs owned him like never and vowed to defeat Vasundhara Raje Scindia for the ‘injustice’. She lost the next election.
The anti-Scindia ideology was not new. Since Vasundhara Raje Scindia took charge, Rajputs began grudging the marginalisation of their caste in the state's scheme. The perception held ground but it was still on the ideology plain. It needed a grievance and Anand Pal Singh’s encounter, also presumed fake, provided that.
Brahmins of UP have been nursing a perceived wound since 2017. Again, on an ideological plain. Vikas Dubey’s encounter that looked like a murder by the state, has given that ideology a grievance. Vikas Dubey, Amar Dubey, Baua Dubey... vested interests can take out names of all Brahmins and run with it. The smart ones will not openly empathise with a criminal but one can always generalise Brahmin persecution and cement the perception enough for it to become truth.
Politics is a play of perceptions. Elections, of cash and card. The victim card. Criticised for inventing and executing oppression for centuries in this unfair land, a twist of fate has dealt in their hands this card for the first time. And this time, it looks like they will use it.