Lucknow: The past weekend saw a battle of statue announcements in Uttar Pradesh, and at the heart of it was an all-out war to woo Brahmins in the state.
It all began Saturday when former chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav met three important Brahmin leaders of his party — Abhishek Mishra, Manoj Pandey and Mata Prasad Pandey.
Soon after the meeting, Abhishek Mishra announced that the SP would install a 108-foot statue of Lord Parashuram in Lucknow.
By noon the next day, BSP supremo Mayawati had a better offer. At a press conference Sunday, Mayawati said if elected to power in 2022, she would install an even higher statue of Parashuram. She also announced that she would build a park and a hospital in his name.
The SP soon retorted, insisting that Mayawati’s promises were mere rhetoric. “Behenji (Mayawati) has been the chief minister of UP on four occasions. Why did she not install the idol of Parashuram then?” Abhishek Mishra, a former cabinet minister, asked. “The decision about observing Lord Parashuram’s birth anniversary (Parashuram Jayanti) as holiday was also announced during the tenure of the SP government, which was later cancelled by the BJP government.”
Another senior SP leader, Pawan Pandey, alleged that the BSP had once raised provocative slogans such as ‘Tilak, taraju aur talwar, inko maro jute chaar’, while she “is now claiming to miss Brahmins”.
“She is talking about the honor of Brahmins, but the descendants of Parashuram (Brahmins) have made up their mind to stick with the descendants of Lord Krishna (Yadavs),” he said.
The entire discourse is aimed at seeking the support of the Brahmin community, which has of late, been disgruntled with the Yogi Adityanath government in the state.
Brahmins have always been a dominant factor in Uttar Pradesh’s political and social fabric. But there had been a growing chorus within the community that it is losing its clout and is being sidelined by the Yogi Adityanath government, which took over in the state in 2017.
That chorus has now gotten shriller with the police ‘encounter’ of gangster Vikas Dubey.
We are a step ahead: Congress
The other main opposition party in the state, the Congress, accuses both the SP and the BSP of tokenism on the issue.
In an exclusive conversation with ThePrint, former Union Minister Jitin Prasad said, “The SP-BSP have become overly concerned with the plight of Brahmins only since I announced about launching an initiative termed as Brahmin Chetna Samvad. Before this, both these parties were silent when the Brahmins were constantly being tormented.”
Prasada, a Brahmin himself, launched the ‘Brahmin Chetna Samvad’ in the first week of July, even before the Dubey encounter, Fighting for the real issues related to Brahmins is far better than installing a statue or an idol,” he said. “Brahmins have been prosecuted a lot under this government. Reports of Brahmins being murdered are pouring in on a daily basis. So, this is the opportune time to unite the society.”
On Monday, Prasada demanded that the Yogi government restore Parashuram Jayanti as a state holiday.
In a letter to Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Prasada wrote, “Parashuram is held in high esteem by the Brahmins, but your government cancelled the holiday on his Jayanti. I request you to restore the holiday in keeping with the sentiments of the Brahmins.”
Prasada said he has also been interacting with the Brahmins at the district-level through video conferencing while former Congress MP Rajesh Mishra is also constantly meeting Brahmin families with grievances.
Acharya Pramod Krishnam, who contested Lok Sabha elections from Lucknow on a Congress ticket, and the media panelist of UP Congress, Anshu Awasthi, are leading the charge on social media.
‘Unabated spree of Brahmins being murdered’
A prime grievance of Brahmin organisations in the state is what they perceive as unabated murders targetting the community.
Rajendra Nath Tripathi, president of All India Brahmin Mahasabha (R), told ThePrint that over 500 Brahmins have been killed in UP during the last two years.
ThePrint could not independently verify these numbers.
But according to Tripathi, the present BJP government is anti-Brahmin. “I have no qualms in saying that Brahmins are being oppressed under this government. CM Yogi is not taking any action,” he said.
Brahmins constitute around 12 per cent of UP’s population and in several assembly segments, Brahmins make up more than 20 per cent of the vote share.
The community voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP in the 2017 assembly elections but now that they are disgruntled, every party is looking at taking a piece of the pie.
For the opposition parties, there is a handy template to follow.
In 2007, the BSP contested the assembly elections on the Brahmin, Dalit and Muslim equation — a combination that propelled Mayawati straight to the chief minister’s chair.
In those elections, the BSP had given as many as 86 tickets to Brahmin candidates.
The SP is now eyeing the Yadav, Kurmi, Muslim and Brahmin votes while the Congress is looking to stitch together a social alliance of Brahmin, Dalits, Muslims and a section of the OBCs who back the BJP and will not side with the SP.
BJP keen to course correct
The BJP, sources in the party said, is keen to address the grievances of the community that steadfastly backs it.
The sources said this is the reason the organisational changes, which were to take place in July 2020, have been put on hold. It is believed that Brahmins will be given more attention in the organisation.
BJP state spokesperson Manoj Mishra told ThePrint that opposition parties are trying to gain political mileage using Brahmins.
“It would be completely wrong to term the Yogi government as being anti-Brahmin,” Mishra said. “Almost all the important posts in the UP administration, be it that of chief secretary or home secretary or DGP are in the hands of Brahmins. In such a situation, those who are making myriad allegations are lying in plain sight. Under the BJP government there has been no discrimination on the basis of caste.”
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