The BJP chose mostly upper-caste leaders to speak in both Houses, while relying on its allies in govt to represent the backward communities.
New Delhi: The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) largely put forward its upper-caste faces to convince Parliament about its hastily-brought-in bill for reservation to the ‘poor’ in the general category.
The debate lasted for a day each in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha — Tuesday and Wednesday respectively — and the bill was passed by both Houses. While most leaders who spoke on the bill on behalf of the BJP hailed from the upper castes, its allies in the government represented the backward communities.
The BJP’s choice of speakers to defend the bill could be part of its message to the upper-caste voter – traditionally its area of strength – that it continues to remain important to the party. An angry upper-caste voter has been a cause of concern for the BJP ever since it expanded its political approach to cater to the Dalit and backward communities.
Of the six BJP leaders who spoke in the Lok Sabha, four belong to upper or forward castes, while of the six of its leaders who participated in the debate in the Rajya Sabha, five are from the upper castes. This count excludes nominated members — Anglo-Indian representative Richard Hay in the Lok Sabha and Dalit scholar Narendra Jadhav in the Rajya Sabha.
The move is being seen as part of the party’s strategy to mollify the upper-caste vote base.
BJP’s foot soldiers
In the Lok Sabha, the six to represent the BJP included Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, Social Justice and Empowerment Minister Thaawarchand Gehlot, UP MP Mahendra Nath Pandey, Jharkhand MP Nishikant Dubey, Madhya Pradesh MP Nand Kumar Singh Chauhan and Bihar MP Hukmdev Narayan Yadav.
Of these, Gehlot — who moved the motion in both Houses because the bill fell under his ministry — is from the Dalit community, while Yadav belongs to the Other Backward Classes (OBC). All others are from the general category, for whom the new quota is intended.
In the Upper House, those speaking from the BJP included Gehlot, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, Prabhat Jha, Rakesh Sinha, G.V.L. Narasimha Rao and Ajay Pratap Singh. Except Gehlot, all are from upper or forward castes.
BJP sources, however, claim that with cabinet minister Gehlot and MoS Ramdas Athawale both belonging to the Scheduled Castes, besides some other key allies from the backward communities, the party wanted a “healthy mix” of representatives from different castes.
In August last year, ThePrint had analysed nearly 1,000 leaders part of the BJP organisation structure and found that the party remains dominated by upper castes.
Over the last five years, the party leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and national president Amit Shah has been attempting to expand its social and electoral footprint by reaching out to the Dalit and backward communities in a big way. As part of this, the Modi government had, in fact, restored provisions of the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe (Prevention of Atrocities) Act that had been diluted by the Supreme Court.
This led to resentment among the upper castes — traditionally the BJP’s core area of strength — and the party has been at pains to try and pacify them.
The ally factor
The NDA government, however, had a greater representation of the backward castes than the BJP.
Junior minister for social justice and Republican Party of India president Athawale spoke in both Houses, as did Union Food Minister and Lok Janshakti Party leader Ram Vilas Paswan. Both Athawale and Paswan are from the Dalit community.
Yet another ally who participated in the Lok Sabha debate was Minister of State for Health and Apna Dal (Sonelal) leader Anupriya Patel, an OBC.
ThePrint’s YouTube channel is now active and buzzing. Please subscribe here.