Adityanath’s UP takes dystopian turn, spawns multiple fault lines
While the government seeks to create a new normal by trying to curb all dissent, the Adityanath regime is now beginning to alienate multiple communities in the state.
In the run-up to October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, the world’s non-violent protestor par excellence, India’s most populous state Uttar Pradesh saw itself grappling with its deepest moments of shame under the Chief Ministership of Ajay Bisht, also called Adityanath.
At Hathras in the Braj region of west Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit girl was brutalized and died of injuries, and the police were slow to react and quick to hush up the matter once she died. Her body was quietly set to flames late at night after shutting her family out – a cultural insult to the dead – and keeping the media away. Rape was also denied by claiming that semen was not found in the forensic report.
It seems that the “truth” has been brought out and imposed by the executive rather than a court of law.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi was shoved by policemen when he tried to go to UP to protest. All-India Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien also faced the same treatment at the hands of policemen. This is a sign that the police are emboldened enough to treat public figures with impunity, making one wonder what treatment the vulnerable may be facing.
However, one sees a ray of hope amid a dystopian fall for the northern state mired by caste, communalism and lawlessness for long – the revival of active field journalism talking truth to power, as it were.
Images purportedly of the body of the girl burning in the field in the dead of night were brought to us by field reporters. We also have videos where they aggressive question everyone from the DM to the SDM.
ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE - Right behind me is the body of #HathrasCase victim burning. Police barricaded the family inside their home and burnt the body without letting anybody know. When we questioned the police, this is what they did. pic.twitter.com/0VgfQGjjfb— Tanushree Pandey (@TanushreePande) September 29, 2020
UP’s Adityanath era
The Bisht regime has seen state high-handedness of the most deplorable kind in UP and has dug out multiple primordial fault lines. On the one hand, the government seems intent on bulldozing a new normal and, on the other, this high-handedness is making visible multiple societal fault lines.
The state government went after the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protestors – almost entirely Muslim – with impunity, with the CM announcing that the properties of the vandals would be confiscated and the administration naming and shaming suspects of vandalism in public.
This was seen by many as an attempt to deepen the Hindu-Muslim fault lines in the state and polarise society completely to make it blind to the strong-arm tactics of the government.
But Adityanath is believed to now be digging up multiple fault lines.
There is already palpable chatter in the state’s public sphere that the administration is trying to bolster the social might of the Thakurs, the caste of the CM that had considerable land-holdings in the past and accounts for 7.9-percent of the population of the state, as per the 1931 census that last offered caste numbers.
There were media reports soon after the encounter killing of gangster Vikas Dubey that his encounter after his surrender was meant to be a message. Brahmins from the BJP and outside went on record to say that it was a message that state power would be used to target Brahmin rather than Thakur gangsters. The claim: the targeting is tantamount to using state power to alter power balances in society.
The Brahmins and Thakurs form the bulk of the upper caste population of 20-pc or more of the state and have had a past of mutual cooperation as also competitive claims to higher social status. Thakurs had more lands – the two castes taken together held half the lands of the state around the time of Zamindari abolition in 1952 – but the Brahmins took a clear lead in education, the higher bureaucracy, the academia, the media and politics. In the world of the mafia, the two had a delicate balance, with Adityanath’s Gorakhpur once having been a hub of mafia rivalry between Hari Shankar Tiwari and Virendra Pratap Shahi, which led to many killings, including the murder of Shahi.
Brahmins are now beginning to feel that the might of the administration is being used to alter the balance of power. This is a nascent contest and one doesn’t know which way the wind will blow. For, both Brahmins and Thakurs are Hindutva and BJP supporters. They agree on their support to Narendra Modi but Brahmins are gradually getting alienated from Adityanath. After Dubey’s encounter, his family also had to face state high-handedness, his aide Amar Dubey was killed and then gangster Rakesh Pandey of the Mukhtar Ansari gang also fell to police bullets. Many Brahmins in the state wonder why no strict action is being taken against Thakur mafia lords.
The message has begun to flow across the state. The Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have both talked about Parshuram statues. This is being seen as their trying to break the BJP’s core support base by reaching out to Brahmins, who constitute 9-10 percent of the state’s population. The Congress had earlier deputed Jitin Prasada, son of the late Jitendra Prasada, a Brahmin, to start a Brahmin outreach in UP.
However, these are just early glimmers of dissatisfaction. Another Hindu-Muslim issue or a direct attempt by Modi to calm the community may yet make Brahmins, who see themselves as the fulcrum of Hindutva, fall in line.
Attacks on Dalits
There is a perception that hints of government support for Thakurs have begun to embolden elements within the community who do not respect the law. The attempt, it is being believed, is to become the prime dominant caste of a state that has, in various regional pockets and across the decades, seen competing claims to dominance from a range of castes, like Thakur, Brahmin, Jat, Yadav and Gujjar.
Observers notice a pattern of Thakur attacks on Dalits in villages, the Hathras attack being the latest. What has intrigued many is that the full-names of the attackers were not given out to the media for days, till some news reports from the ground made it clear that they were Thakurs. This was perhaps the first case where all the attackers were mentioned only by their first names. Aware that the event may be read this way, the UP police has said that the “fake news” of rape has been spread to spread caste tensions.
In 2019, Chinmayanand, a Thakur leader, was accused of sexual assault by a law student. The girl herself was accused of blackmail and got bail from the court later. Opposition parties had accused the CM of a caste bias at that time, claiming this had made the police go slow on the allegations.
Before this, BJP MLA Kuldeep Singh Sengar was accused of rape by a Dalit girl. The girl threatened self-immolation if the police did not act on her complaint. Her father was beaten to death allegedly by goons close to Sengar and the Allahabad High Court ordered arrest of the MLA. Months later, the girl was severely injured in a road accident when a truck collided with her car. It was only after embarrassment and pressure that the BJP suspended Sengar.
In all this, BSP leader Mayawati has failed to rise to the defence of Dalits facing attack. The only voice on the ground is the Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad, who is holding protests. And, for once, there is palpable Muslim support for Dalits, making political convergence of the communities a possibility. But under the umbrella of which party is the unsettled question, as Dalits have preferred the BSP while Muslims have preferred the SP.
How Dalits vote is not known yet, given Mayawati’s inertia -- perhaps because she has pending cases against her. However, the turn of events may end up making Dalits angry and scared, and they may vote for any party or alliance that can challenge the BJP.
All these factors are opening up multiple fault lines in the state. Muslims feel they are under attack, Brahmins are beginning to feel alienated and Dalits are bearing the brunt of attacks, with Thakurs sometimes being the accused, across the state.
Ironically, political parties are seeing the Brahmin vote as the make-or-break factor for the Yogi regime, given the demographic strength and the media and administrative clout of the community. Also, while Muslims or Dalits were never a core vote of the BJP, Brahmins are its largest single vote-bank in the state. If they vote for the BJP on Hindutva, it still sails and the state possibly descends into greater chaos.
If they split, Muslims and Dalits, and perhaps even sections of Yadavs, may instinctively vote for the party or alliance to which the Brahmins get favourably disposed.
Adityanth’s UP is looking increasingly dystopian, but the question is whether his is a sustainable model. And, if it isn’t, which party or alliance can rise to challenge him on the ground, if at all?
Will the BJP under Adityanath ride roughshod over the state? Or will the regime implode? These are questions whose answers will be known gradually.