Lucknow: Not long ago, Brahmins in Uttar Pradesh were complaining of neglect and oppression. Scores of Brahmins were killed during the BJP’s four-year rule in UP, community leaders had claimed. Even the encounter killing of gangster Vikas Dubey took on a caste colour.
But seven months before assembly elections in the state, Brahmins are suddenly the most sought-after community.
The Bahujan Samaj Party is holding Brahmin sammelans or conferences. The Samajwadi Party is preparing to organise prabuddha sammelans (‘intellectual meetings’, mainly focussed on Brahmins) in several districts.
The Congress is exploring the option of projecting a Brahmin chief ministerial candidate. And the BJP has already inducted Jitin Prasada, a prominent Brahmin leader who was mobilising the community to protest against alleged atrocities.
So, what has suddenly changed for the Brahmins? The reasons are obvious. They constitute around 12 per cent of the state’s population and in several assembly segments, make up more than 20 per cent of the vote-share.
A government under fire
Since 2017, there had been a growing chorus within the Brahmin community that it was losing its clout in Uttar Pradesh and was being sidelined by the Yogi Adityanath government.
That chorus grew shriller after the police ‘encounter’ of gangster Vikas Dubey in 2020.
Several Brahmin organisations condemned the encounter and appealed for a fair inquiry in the issue.
Rajendra Nath Tripathi, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Brahman Mahasabha (R), claims that over 500 Brahmins have been killed in the last four years of the Adityanath government.
Tripathi told ThePrint that violence against Brahmins has taken place under previous governments too but “the number of such incidents has increased rapidly under this government”.
“This is the main reason behind the anger of Brahmins,” he said.
The then Congress leader Jitin Prasada had even launched the Brahmin Chetna Parishad in July 2020 to fight for Brahmin rights. He had then in October 2020 announced his decision to form ‘T-20’ teams in every district under his ‘Brahmin Chetna Parishad’ to offer assistance to those in the community fighting legal battles.
Another major reason for the Brahmin disquiet is the community’s waning influence in politics under Yogi Adityanath.
In the 53-member cabinet in UP, nine are Brahmins but only Dinesh Sharma, Shrikant Sharma and Brajesh Pathak hold important portfolios — secondary and higher education, power, and law respectively.
The others are all ministers of state — Ram Naresh Agnihotri (excise), Neelkanth Tiwari (tourism and culture, independent charge), Satish Dwivedi (basic education), Anil Sharma (forest, environment), Chandrika Prasad Upadhyay (public works), and Anand Swaroop Shukla (rural development).
None of them is considered close to CM Yogi Adityanath.
“It is true that a section of Brahmins feels that they are ignored in this regime, particularly the section of Brahmins who understand politics well,” said a BJP MLA on the condition of anonymity.
“They are looking for better options; we have to try hard to stop them. I hope the party will make efforts for it and keep this in mind while doing ticket distribution. If Brahmin votes split, it would not be easy to win with such a big majority again.”
The opposition moves
The opposition is looking to exploit the Brahmin anger at the ruling BJP. The parties have continuously attempted to portray the Yogi government as being ‘anti-Brahmin’.
BSP chief Mayawati recently attacked the ruling BJP on the issue, accusing it of “harassing and exploiting the community” after winning the 2017 assembly polls with the help of their votes.
“The BJP formed the government with the support of the Brahmins but instead of working for the welfare of the community, it has committed atrocities on them,” she said. “They are being harassed and exploited and are repenting their support to the BJP. That’s why the BSP is now going to do sammelans to awaken the Brahmin community once again.”
Samajwadi Party MLA Manoj Pandey told ThePrint that under the Yogi government, Brahmins have also not had adequate representation.
“In this regime, Brahmins have faced a lot of atrocities. No major political representation, murders and encounters. A larger section of Brahmins will vote for the Samajwadi Party,” he claimed.
“We are going to hold prabudh jan sammelans, starting with Ballia on 23 August. We will organise this in other districts also. This is not the first time that we are doing such sammelans. I myself have been organising them since 1997.”
Senior Congress senior Pramod Tiwari accused the other parties of mere tokenism towards Brahmins.
“What did the BJP do for Brahmins? What has even the BSP done? Have they appointed a Brahmin CM until now?” he asked. “It is the only the Congress party that has given six Brahmin chief ministers, including Kamalapati Tripathi and N.D. Tiwari.”
Sources in the UP Congress told ThePrint that the party may soon announce a Brahmin face as the head of its campaign committee for the assembly polls.
Countering the opposition’s narrative, UP BJP spokesperson Rakesh Tripathi told ThePrint that the SP and BSP are both caste-based parties.
“They always do caste and appeasement politics. BJP does politics of development,” he said. “The people of Uttar Pradesh, especially the Brahmin community, which is an enlightened one, is not going to fall for the politics of caste and will go with the development and future of the state. No community will not fall into the trap of opposition this time.”
Importance of the Brahmin vote
In UP, Brahmins constitute between 10-12 per cent of the state’s population and in several assembly segments, make up more than 20 per cent of the vote share.
Several UP-based Brahmin organisations claim that if one adds Tyagis and Bhumihars, then the Brahmin population in the state rises even further.
Aseem Pandey, president of the Akhil Bhartiya Brahmin Sangathan Mahasangh, told ThePrint that Brahmins are above 13 per cent in the state and are the most influential single caste.
“Brahmins satta banata hai, giraata hai UP mein. Ye chunavi ithihas raha hai UP ka (Brahmins bring people to power in UP. They also take that power away. This has been the political history of the state),” he said.
Various studies conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) suggest that in the 2017 assembly polls, it was the Brahmin vote that played a key role in BJP’s victory.
According to CSDS, in the previous assembly elections of 2007 and 2012, 40 and 38 per cent Brahmins voted for the BJP respectively. But in 2017, 80 per cent of the community’s votes went to the party.
These studies also suggest that when the SP and BSP joined hands in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it was the Brahmin vote-bank that worked for the BJP. The party had won 62 of the 70 seats.
Despite the disquiet, Prof. Ashutosh Mishra (retd) said the opposition will find it difficult to wean away Brahmins from the BJP.
“Brahmins are an important vote-bank in the state but for them, Hindutva factors matter most in this Modi-Yogi era,” Mishra said. “In fact, not only Brahmins but all upper castes are still with the BJP. Yes, there is anger regarding Covid mismanagement but they have not got any other political alternatives.”
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)