Modi’s move for 2019: Kamandal plus reverse Mandal

Updated: 11 January, 2019 7:36 pm IST
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In the latest episode of News ka Juice, Barkha Dutt breaks down the BJP’s thought process behind the 10 per cent quota for upper castes.

The Modi government’s contentious legislation to have quotas for the economically weak…

Has had a smooth sailing in Parliament.

Now you and I may think it’s an election jumla…

That will not withstand the scrutiny of the judiciary…

Because it adds to the court-capped 50% limit for reservation.

We may argue that this is a band-aid strip that seeks to cloak the deep wounds of India’s jobs crisis.

After all, the Modi government had promised to create 10 million jobs…

Instead 11 million jobs were lost in 2018 alone.

We can also debate the Rs 8 lakh threshold set by the government.

Bloomberg points out this being roughly six times higher than India’s per capita income.

So, are we really talking about the poor?

——————

All of these are valid arguments and there is no doubt that the move betrays the first real signs of nervousness within the BJP about 2019.

BJP leaders privately admit the party’s internal surveys showed serious anger in its core constituency of so-called upper caste voters…

Especially after the government support for the stringent rules of the SC ST Act…

And this dramatic new quota law was clearly triggered with both eyes on the Hindi heartland.

All true.

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Yet, we must also step back and look at the larger politics…

The audacious new social engineering proposal tells you…

That Narendra Modi still has the capacity to surprise and outmanuouvre his rivals…

For several weeks now, the opposition was setting the agenda and the BJP was reacting or defending…

With the quotas move, the Modi camp reclaimed control of the narrative, at least for now.

Caught unawares, most major opposition parties did not want to be seen opposing the legislation…

And the government was able to have its way.

The opposition is now wondering what could be next…

A new social security programme…?

Direct cash transfers or input subsidies to farmers…?

Income tax exemption…?

The quotas legislation has temporarily returned the Modi-Shah duo to the steering wheel of the election juggernaut.

And it is the opposition that will need to regroup and react.

Quotas for the economically weak also reverses the ’90s faultline of mandir vs Mandal.

Back then, V.P. Singh used caste politics to counter the Ram mandir campaign of the BJP…

When he announced the implementation of affirmative action for OBCs.

But if we thought 2019 was going to be a contest between Hindutva and caste arithmetic…

The BJP’s courting of upper castes through reservations tells you that they can’t bank on Hindu consolidation anymore…

That Narendra Modi and Amit Shah have understood that Hindutva alone won’t cut it…

And that the only way the BJP can try and dent the daunting alliance of Mayawati and Akhilesh Yadav is by playing the caste pawn on the election chessboard.

In other words, instead of mandir vs Mandal…

The BJP is back to new-age version of both Kamandal and Mandal.

Kamandal, the water pot often carried by saints, is now a metaphor for political Hindutva.

And the upper caste quotas reimagine the Mandal politics of the ’90s.

Now all eyes are on the supreme Court as it begins its hearings on Ayodhya.

Could a verdict on the Ram mandir be delivered by the bench before the elections?

This is the hope within the Sangh Parivar.

So that Hindutva and caste engineering can be blended on the ground to create rainbow coalition of voters.

——————

Of course, this could still fail or backfire on the ground…

And lead to a backlash from Dalits and backward castes who will demand reservation proportional to population…

Hence Tejashwi Yadav’s tweet saying…

If 15 per cent of the population gets 10 per cent quotas then why not 90 per cent for the remaining people?

But as the debate rages on…

The opposition may do well to heed the words of one of Modi’s fiercest critics Yashwant Sinha…

Who told me this…

“It can be a very serious error of judgment to underestimate the BJP and Modi.”

Are there any more rabbits in Narendra Modi’s black hat?

We shall find out when we meet next week for more News Ka Juice.

Get the PrintEssential to make sense of the day's key developments.


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  1. People will fish out their calculators and figure how many government jobs will become available to the pool of “ upper castes “ each year. Something like Medicare for 50 crore Indians, which started out with a budgetary provision of 2,000 crores.

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