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OPINION | Can Brahmins Spell Trouble for BJP in UP? The MP-MLA Shoe Spat Exposes 3-Decade-Old Upper Caste Rift

In the 2007 assembly elections, Brahmins helped create a favourable public opinion for the BSP as Mayawati fielded many candidates from the community who got the benefit of her Dalit support base.

Virendranath Bhatt |

Updated:March 9, 2019, 7:42 PM IST
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OPINION | Can Brahmins Spell Trouble for BJP in UP? The MP-MLA Shoe Spat Exposes 3-Decade-Old Upper Caste Rift
After a verbal duel, the Sant Kabir Nagar MP approached the MLA, who was seated with other party members around a round table, removed his shoe and started hitting him with it, much to the shock of everyone present there. (Image: Video Grab/ PTI)
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Lucknow: The unsavoury incident in Sant Kabir Nagar district — 40km from Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s bastion Gorakhpur — where BJP MP Sharad Tripathi thrashed party MLA Rakesh Singh Baghel with his shoe has unwittingly exposed the simmering upper-caste fault line involving the Brahmin-Rajput communities in eastern Uttar Pradesh, existing ever since Independence.

Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati, in her first term as UP’s chief minister in 1995, had culled out Sant Kabir Nagar as a new district from the existing Basti and Adityanath represented the Gorakhpur Lok Sabha constituency for five consecutive terms from 1998 to 2014. The attention of political analysts on this fault line was revived following Adityanath’s elevation in March 2017 — the second Rajput chief minister after Vir Bahadur Singh of the Congress, also from Gorakhpur — over three decades ago in 1985.

Though BJP leaders dismiss the incident as a “battle of one-upmanship” between the MP and the MLA who publicly attacked each other, the timing of the incident, just ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections, has left the party red-faced. A BJP leader said, “Both are non-political persons and their soul lies in contract business. Otherwise, they would have known they cannot win the support of people just with their name on the foundation stone of a development project in the district.”

The Brahmin-Rajput fault line in eastern UP, with its epicentre at Gorakhpur, dates back to the 1950s. It has survived social upheavals caused by the upsurge of the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) and Dalit communities following the implementation of the Mandal commission report in 1990, providing quota in government jobs and educational institutions, and assertion of Dalits following the rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, both the Samajwadi Party — representing the consolidation of OBCs as a formidable vote bank — and BSP for the schedule castes helped this fault line to not only survive but flourish for their respective political ends.

On October 18, 1970, Tribhuvan Narain Singh was sworn in as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh as the head of a Samyukta Vidhayak Dal government put together by leaders of the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, Swatantra Party and Congress (O) — the anti-Indira Gandhi Congress old guard.

Singh was from Varanasi and had been a member of the first two Lok Sabhas between 1952 and 1962. To pave the way for him to enter the UP assembly, Adityanath’s guru, the late Mahant Avaidyanath, vacated the Maniram seat in Gorakhpur — the assembly constituency in which the Gorakhnath Math is located.

In the by-election that followed in March 1971, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi herself campaigned for Congress candidate Ram Krishna Dwivedi. Singh became the first chief minister to lose a bypoll and was forced to resign. Dwivedi got 33,230 votes; nearly double that of Singh’s 17,137. In 1969, Mahant Avaidyanath had won the seat by 19,644 votes, defeating Dwivedi who polled 16,663 votes. The 1971 Maniram by-election result remains a bitter memory for the Gorakhnath Math. This history was almost repeated as the BJP lost the bypoll to Gorakhpur Lok Sabha seat to the joint candidate of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in March 2018 where the saffron party’s Upendra Shukla was defeated by Praveen Nishad of the SP. Sitting MP Adityanath had vacated this seat, which necessitated the by-election.

The Brahmin community in Uttar Pradesh makes up 10 per cent of the electorate compared to the Rajputs, who account for 8 per cent and hold sway in 20 of 80 constituencies in the state. In the years after Independence, the community was with the Congress but in the 1990s, it shifted its allegiance to the BJP after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.

In the 2007 assembly elections, Brahmins helped create a favourable public opinion for the BSP as Mayawati fielded many candidates from the community who got the benefit of her Dalit support base. In fact, the BSP won a majority in the UP assembly election that year thanks to the success of Mayawati's Brahmin project. The promotion of Thakurs by the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha polls had upset the Brahmins who felt that they had no party to call their own.

The “Modi wave” resulted in Brahmins wholeheartedly rushing back to the BJP but the pre-eminence in the state of Rajnath Singh has made the community less than enthusiastic for the party; a slogan repeated privately in Brahmin circles was: “Modi ko jitana hain toh Rajnath ko harana hain. (If Modi is to win, Rajnath has to be defeated).”

Sharad Tripathi is the first-term MP from Sant Kabir Nagar district and his sole claim to fame is that he is the son of former UP BJP president Ramapati Tripathi. Rakesh Singh Baghel is also the first-term MLA from Menhdawl. A new entrant in politics, he owns brick kilns and is a big contractor in the district. He is a disciple of Adityanath, also the Mahant of revered Guru Gorakshnath Peeth in Gorakhpur. Baghel is said to have got a BJP ticket for the March 2017 UP state assembly elections with the blessings of Adityanath, who was the star campaigner for the BJP during the elections.

“Sant Kabir Nagar is a small district with only three assembly constituencies and both the MP, a Brahmin, and MLA from Rajput community have stakes in the contract business in the district. This incident was waiting to happen,” a minister in the Adityanath government said.

The seeds of the fault line were sown in May 1950 with the laying of the foundation stone of the Gorakhpur University by then UP chief minister Pandit Govind Ballabh Pant. The two dominant communities vied with each other for the control of the university and to get their community members appointed in the faculties. The university was the result of strenuous efforts of then Mahant of the Gorakhnath Peeth, Mahant Digvijay Nath. Pant had then laid the condition before Mahant Digvijay Nath to arrange Rs 25 lakh for the university. The Mahant had donated the two degree colleges set up by the Peeth — Maharana Pratap Degree College and Maharana Pratap Women’s Degree College — and all his assets for the university. In 1997, the then Kalyan Singh-led BJP government amended the Gorakhpur University Act, 1956, and renamed it after party ideologue Deen Dayal Upadhyaya, a Brahmin and president of the Bhartiya Jan Sangh.

In the 80s, this battle spilled over to electoral politics and later to organised crime. Don-turned-MLA Hari Shankar Tewari won consecutive seven assembly elections from Chillupar assembly seat in Gorakhpur district. He had patronage from octogenarian Brahmin Congress leader Kamlapati Tripathi. Kushal Tewari, son of Hari Shankar Tewari, is now an MLA from Chillupar. The then UP chief minister Vir Bahadur Singh brought a new preventive detention law called ‘UP gangsters Act’ in 1987 to checkmate Tewari and his gang.

The dons from the Rajput community in Gorakhpur were Ravindra Singh and Virendra Shahi, both of whom were murdered. To this day, the Gorakhnath temple and ‘Hata’ — the palatial residential premises of Hari Shankar Tewari in Gorakhpur city — are the two power centres in Gorakhpur.

The physical duel between the BJP’s MP and MLA could not have come at a worse time than this. With the SP-BSP alliance having created the perception that it has the political wherewithal to checkmate the BJP in a state that sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, coupled with the entry of Priyanka Gandhi as Congress general secretary, eastern odds are high for the BJP. The saffron party needs to get its act together and fill the fault line otherwise the Brahmins will find them at political crossroads again.

(Author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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