‘Focus on Caste’- Deputy Editor of Huffpost India advises Left Liberals on how to counter Right Wing

May 2014 was the wake-up call for Left Liberals in India. In a polarised election, a controversial state leader who had been branded as “anti-minorities” by the leftists in Indian media, had done the impossible. He had managed to unite a hitherto fragmented Hindu vote to get the largest mandate in recent times, and certainly the largest for a Right of Centre party. Of course, his election rhetoric was also based on issues like corruption, his development record, his will to shake up the system, but one cannot deny the Hindu consolidation.

The key to this unprecedented victory was of course Uttar Pradesh where the BJP swept 71 seats out of a possible 80. This, when the party’s strength in the state assembly was a mere 47 seats out of a possible 400 odd. The reason for the party’s horrible performance in the past was the fact that elections in UP were always fought on caste lines, with SP and BSP at the forefront. In 2014 BJP defied the caste arithmetic, achieved an across the board consolidation and won comfortably.

In Bihar too BJP did reasonable well in 2014, getting 22 out of the 40 seats. Most just 18 months later, BJP was decimated in Bihar in the face of the Mahagathbandhan: BJP on its own could win just 53 seats out of the 240 odd seats up for grabs in the state assembly elections. The combined voteshare of RJD and JDU was too much for the BJP to fight against, but there was one more factor: In the run up to the elections, we saw many instances of fake news being run by the media where Dalits were shown to be victims of upper caste atrocities.

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Come 2017, we saw the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. BJP was pitted against a gathbandhan, not a “maha”-gathbandhan and the media had all but given the elections to the SP Congress combine. But this time, the chatter in left liberal media was not about caste, but more about nationalism vs anti-nationalism, ABVP vs Leftists organisations etc. The result was clear, BJP once again waded through the caste chakravyuha with ease. Compared to Bihar, UP did not see a truly formidable Mahagathbandhan, nor did it see any caste-based polarisation.

The second part of the above is key. A few days before the UP results, one person in the left-liberal sphere had identified this weakness. Shivam Vij, formerly associate editor with left leaning site Scroll. in and now Deputy Editor on HuffPost India, wrote a Facebook post coaching left liberals. In the post titled “Change the conversation. Set the agenda”, Vij advised fellow left liberals to avoid getting into the debates set by the right, instead he asked them to do this:

To counter Hindutva, left-liberals need to focus on caste. Nationalism, secularism, Kashmir, Pakistan are only going to help saffron grow bigger. By putting Hindutva on a backfoot, left-liberals would be able to create space to raise all their issues.

Yes, the deputy editor of a mainstream site, which claims to be progressive, wanted his fellow mates to use caste to divide Hindus, and thus thwart the Right Wing surge, which he branded as Hindutva. The same people who curse caste as a regressive and divisive force, felt it fit to advocate caste as a means of achieving petty political gains.

He did not stop at a Facebook post. A few days back during the issue regarding Sonu Nigam’s tweets, Vij wrote a post titled “When Will Indian Liberals Stop Falling Into The Right-Wing Trap?” on Huffington Post itself. He repeated his casteist strategy here, by saying that in response to issues like the one raised by Sonu Nigam, left liberals should talk about caste atrocities.

 

We know that when Hindutva polarised India along Hindu-Muslim, communal-secular lines, what stopped it in its tracks was Mandal. Is caste no longer an issue in India?

Why do liberals see Hindu-Muslim as the only narrative worth fighting for? Hindu-Muslim polarisation seeks to unite Hindus against Muslims. The politics of Mandal served to fragment the Hindutva cause. We have known this since the ’90s, but our liberals never learn.

Great that liberals spoke up for Pehlu Khan, but if only they had raised their hashtags for Jaysukh Madhad, a Dalit who was recently killed in Gujarat for the crime of winning a panchayat election.

Shockingly, this outright sectarian, bigoted and divisive post was shared by some “respected” individuals:

Change the sections of society targeted in this blog. Let someone write about breaking another religious group based on their inherent fissures. And watch how the left-liberals cry in agony over the “Idea of India” breaking apart. In fact, Prime Minister Modi had hinted at this sinister game played by the media, albeit via a joke. He stated that in the current scenario, media brings in the caste angle even in vehicular accidents, even when it is obvious that the person driving the car did not the caste of the victim.

But to be fair to Vij, this idea of using caste fissures is not his own invention. The Pakistani senate, in a policy paper drafted by a 13 man committee, advocated exactly this: India’s own fault-lines in their alienated groups such as Dalits, must be highlighted. And this is not merely a policy document, it appears Pakistan is implementing it too. Only last month, Pakistan declared Dalits as different religion from Hinduism in their census.

In short, people in the media, in the Congress party, from the “civic society”, are endorsing the bigoted, divisive strategies of a columnist, who seems to be parroting the lines of Pakistan! Fears of Pakistan infiltrating Indian discourse may not be far-fetched.

Having said all this, one cannot deny that a section of dalits in India are still facing atrocities. One cannot wish away a social evil. PM Modi himself has spoken on this issue many times. But the difference is that instead of being genuinely concerned about the plight of dalits, left liberals are planning to use dalits as a tool to further their political agenda. Their motive of raising such issues is just one: Break the Hindu vote-bank in order to defeat a political party. A sinister game is at play.


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