India’s Left, liberals and the secular analysts have been worried over the past three weeks: why would the non-Yadavs and the non-Jatav Dalits vote for the BJP and bring Narendra Modi back to power? Much of the socio-political analysis of the Lok Sabha election results since 23 May has focused on the backward castes, the underclass, and the Dalit voters and how they shifted towards the Bharatiya Janata Party. The analysts appear to have deliberately sidestepped the fact that it’s the upper castes that predominantly voted for the BJP. But for liberals like Satish K. Jha and Sudha Pai, the burden of defeating the BJP is only on the shoulders of the marginalised groups; the upper castes are free from all scrutiny.
But upper caste Hindus have always been kept away from assessment of all kinds. There are tonnes of literature and research papers analysing and studying Dalits, Tribals, Other Backward Classes and the minorities. But there is none that tells us when and how the upper caste Hindus became comfortable voting for candidates like Pragya Singh Thakur, Giriraj Singh, and Sakshi Maharaj. There are no sociological studies that explain to us how the upper castes are able to support an ideology that instigates the lynching of poor Muslims or the violent treatment of Dalits in Dadri and Una. Isn’t it time the upper caste Hindus are made the subject of academic scrutiny?
Analysts and their 2019 ‘coverage’
Beyond analysing the voting preference of Dalit and backward caste voters, political analysts and the media cheered over the communities’ shift towards the BJP, calling it the victory of development politics, and the end of Mandal and caste politics, especially in north India. Analysts have been unable to hide their glee while writing obituaries of the silent revolution, which shaped the landscape of Hindi heartland politics for three decades.
Take for instance Professor Sudha Pai’s deep dive into the 2019 election results. While exploring the reasons for BJP’s victory in Uttar Pradesh, Pai came to the conclusion that the “Mahagathbandhan (of SP and BSP) remained anchored in the Mandal discourse of the past, which has lost relevance.” K.K. Kailash termed the results as the “fall of regional parties”, concluding that “the SP and the BSP have become one-caste dominated parties with the non-Yadav OBCs and the non-Jatav Dalit castes looking towards the BJP.” Ajay Gudavarthy and Satish K. Jha saw the result as one borne out of a political process in which “the BJP played the hard ball with minute caste calculations including the leaders of various non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.” There is a long list of authors who have written on similar lines.
The data on the shift of voters was readily available for anyone who asked. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) collated this information and disseminated it for writers to form their conclusions. The researchers of CSDS-Lokniti, India Today-Axis, Ashoka University’s Trivedi Centre for Political Data and many other organisations collected information on voters’ choices and their caste from polling booths on the days votes were cast in the 2019 elections.
Now whether the survey results are authentic or not, there is a wide consensus that support among Dalits and OBCs (especially the non-Yadav OBCs) for the BJP increased with the 2019 elections. But should the overwhelming support that the BJP got from the Hindu upper caste voters be glossed over, or, better yet, simply ignored?
According to Lokniti-CSDS survey in Uttar Pradesh, 82 per cent Brahmins, 89 per cent Thakurs and 70 per cent Vaishya voted for the BJP. As per India Today-My Axis’ post-poll survey, 77 per cent people from ‘general’ castes in Uttar Pradesh voted for the BJP; in Bihar, it was 73 per cent. Overall, 61 per cent general category castes in the country voted for Modi’s BJP.
There has been too much analysis declaring the demise of caste politics and of ethnic-regional political parties. But I have yet to find articles, other than one from Rohan Venkataramakrishnan, stating, let alone investigating, the widely known fact that the upper castes voted en masse for the BJP.
For that matter, I am yet to stumble upon any research paper on the topic of the voting preferences of the Hindu upper castes. Like A.K. Hangal famously said in Sholay – Itna sannata kyon hai bhai?
Upper castes out of glare
What explains this silence on why upper castes support the BJP, when voting behaviour of backward castes and Dalits, as well as Muslims, is analysed after each election to write commentaries about caste and communal politics in India? Shouldn’t the upper castes’ voting patterns be similarly looked at to determine where the caste politics is headed? Is it possible the community is kept out of glare because it is responsible for sending terror accused Pragya Thakur or people like Giriraj Singh and Sakshi Maharaj to Parliament?
The upper caste Hindus have better access to higher education than the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. It’s a puzzle then that despite being the most educated social group, the upper caste Hindus support communal politics. It also remains unknown why the upper castes turned vehemently communal during the late 1980s and the 1990s, and why that process of communalisation continues to this day.
There can be two possible reasons, and both linked to each other. It could be because the academia and the media is dominated by upper caste Hindus, and thus the upper caste analysts are uncomfortable to turn the gaze upon themselves.
Prof Vivek Kumar of JNU, in a research paper, has explained how sociology is conducted in India. He points to the domination of the twice-born castes at four levels – as members practising sociology in institutions; in the sphere of production of knowledge while writing chapters of books; producing knowledge with the help of scriptural sources; and at the level of producing data from the field and while teaching. He concludes that their domination works at the ontological and epistemological level and this impacts the choice of subject matters.
The same is true for the Departments of Gender Studies, where most of the research is done about the victims of patriarchy but very few on the perpetrators of patriarchy. Similarly, in the case of industrial sociology, studies look at the issues affecting the labour class but not the strategies and tactics used by the capitalist employers. It is an important indicator to look at who is conducting the study, on whom, and for whose benefit.
One can conclude that academicians and analysts don’t want the upper castes to be the subject matter of their studies – which explains why there are numerous studies on Dalits, Tribals, OBCs and the minorities, but dissertations and theses on upper castes are extremely hard to find. There are scores of centres for Dalit studies, but I am yet to learn about any centre for Brahmin or Bhumihar or Thakur studies.
American sociologist Martin Nicolaus had raised similar questions in the meeting of American Sociological Congress in 1968. He said that in the United States, sociology has no autonomy in deciding its subject matters. “The eyes of sociologists have been turned downward, and their palms upward. Eyes down, to study the activities of the lower classes of the subject population,” he had said.
There is little possibility of the upper caste sociologists studying their own brethren as envisaged by Nicolaus in his speech: “What if the habits, problems, secrets and unconscious motivations of the wealthy and powerful were daily scrutinized by a thousand systematic researchers… and published.”
At this point, this is not happening in Indian academia and the media.
The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal.