Leaked phone conversations are a breach of privacy, and as such their contents should not be part of public discourse. Yet, the leaked phone call audios of a BJP lawmaker in Uttar Pradesh has gone viral on WhatsApp — so viral that the ruling party couldn’t look the other way and served him a showcause notice.
Who leaked these calls is a deep mystery. Since they are all him talking to different people, they have all been leaked either from his phone’s recording app or by someone tapping his phone. The showcause notice to him suggests he is suspected of leaking them himself — or was it some trigger-happy aide?
The calls have been reported in the media for their shock value of a BJP MLA allegedly criticising and ridiculing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s idea of making people clang pots and pans and clap during the coronavirus crisis. But that’s not the most interesting thing in these calls.
What stands out is the helplessness of a BJP MLA in a system that has centralised all power in the hands of Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath. And behind this angst is caste: Rakesh Rathore is from a lower OBC community and feels the BJP system in UP is concentrating power in the hands of Brahmins and Thakurs.
Just like Ram Rajya
It’s not as if the chief minister doesn’t reach out to the MLA to hear what he has to say. He does. But he does so in such a mechanical, apolitical way that it has no meaning.
In one of the leaked audios, Rathore, who is a BJP MLA from Sitapur (sadar), allegedly gets a call from a junior official in Lucknow. The official says the CM wants to know if ration and essential supplies are in order in the MLA’s area. The MLA replies to this with sarcasm, but the official does not get the sarcasm, or can’t show he does.
“Very good, bhai sahab, very good, very good, very good, very good, very… just like Ram Rajya,” Rathore is heard saying. He doesn’t let the official speak much, just keeps saying ‘very good’ and ‘Ram Rajya’. He tells the official to write, “Things are so good it is as if the rule of Lord Ram has come”.
“The public is so happy, god, god, god. The supplies are much in excess, zabardast! No shortage. It is the rule of Ram. Just like what we have read about the rule of Ram, it is just like that! Ram Rajya has come! Everything is great, at its best. There’s nothing more I can say to praise,” Rathore goes on.
‘The lie of Manuwad’
But what is the reason for such angst? We get the answer in the next call. This is a call Rathore receives allegedly from Delhi, from a Pandit Braj Mohan, who says he is a senior official of the Delhi BJP. Mohan greets Rathore with “Jai Shri Ram”, to which Rathore replies with a curt “Namaste”.
‘Panditji’ wants ‘Rathore sahab’ to help an uncle of his in a neighbouring district get a travel pass amid the lockdown.
MLA Rathore: “You think anyone listens to us MLAs here?”
‘Panditji’: “They will.”
MLA Rathore: “You make them listen to me.”
Funnily, ‘Panditji’ says he first called a BJP MP to get the pass for his uncle. The MP said, speak to MLA Rathore. MLA Rathore points out the absurdity of it all: if the MP can’t get you a travel pass, how can the MLA?
MLA Rathore proceeds to explain that he’s been locked at home for 20 days now, since the police won’t even let his driver reach his house so that he can visit his constituency and see how his constituents are doing amid a pandemic and a lockdown.
The police couldn’t care less when the driver told them he works for the MLA and has been summoned by Rathore.
This is not a surprising or unheard of story. The centralisation of power in the chief minister’s office is more extreme in UP than perhaps in any other state. It’s so bad that some months ago, a BJP MLA publicly protested against his own government. He was also OBC.
MLA Rathore then berates the Delhi BJP official on losing the Delhi state assembly election. ‘Panditji’ says it was poor ticket distribution. MLA Rathore disagrees. He says there were two reasons: “Panditapa ka ghamand aur Bhajapa ka jhoot (Brahminical arrogance and the BJP’s lies)”.
This is where the penny drops: MLA Rathore is full of caste angst. His surname Rathore might suggest he is Rajput/Thakur but he is actually Teli, an OBC community — incidentally, the same as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s caste.
MLA Rathore is heard saying the BJP’s big lie is that it wants to establish Manuwadi Brahmin Raj, and for this, it keeps lying to others. The “lies” make Dalits and OBCs vote for the BJP, he alleges. When this lie becomes apparent, the BJP loses. This, according to him, is what happened in Delhi and Jharkhand assembly elections recently.
“I may be a Teli but I was born in this country, that’s why I belong here,” he says. “It’s your fault,” he says to ‘Panditji’. “You didn’t urge Lord Brahma to stop the birth of Telis. Only Brahmins should be born.”
‘Panditiji’ says reassuringly, “You are a Rathore.”
The MLA clarifies, “Teli, Teli. Haven’t you heard of Telis? In the Ramayana?”
‘My people are trapped in darkness’
In a third call, someone wants MLA Rathore to write a recommendation for a gun licence. The MLA says he will write the letter but it won’t be of any use, since the administration does not value his words. Since the person asking for the recommendation is also from an OBC community, MLA Rathore says he won’t get the licence. “If you were a Pandit or Thakur your work would be done,” he purportedly says.
That’s when MLA Rathore proceeds to make fun of the clanging of pots and pans. His point to the fellow OBC caller is that the lower castes are being fooled by the BJP, merely being used for propaganda and not getting anything out of it themselves.
A fourth call is with another Teli politician of the BJP, whom MLA Rathore berates for not thinking of the poor Telis whose suffering won’t be alleviated by banging thalis. “My people are trapped in the darkness without knowledge. What’s happening with us has been happening for thousands of years in this country. Thanks to the mindset of people like you, our daughters used to be made Devdasis….”
The anguish of Rakesh Rathore is not merely the anguish of lockdown or someone being sidelined by the party leadership. It is the growing discomfort of OBCs in the BJP at the perceived upper-caste domination of the party and the government.
The BJP has created a dominance in UP politics that seems invincible. The elections of 2014, 2017, and 2019 showed that the numerical strength of the BJP’s social engineering of bringing upper castes and the OBCs together is formidable. But like all caste coalitions, it is more political than social. Hindutva and Modi may not be enough to keep it going forever. At some point, in 2022 or 2042, the anguish of Rakesh Rathore will create a new politics.
The author is contributing editor to ThePrint. Views are personal.