Vikas Dubey killing: Brahmin anger against Thakur CM Yogi on the rise?
All signs point to the killing of Vikas Dubey gradually acquiring a caste dimension in UP, bringing forth old Brahmin-Thakur rivalries.
The killing of Kanpur gangster Vikas Dubey may bring to the fore a traditional faultline in the state: the Brahmin-Thakur rivalry.
There are early indications – largely visible on the social media and in personal conversations now – that the Brahmins, an influential community in Uttar Pradesh, are split down the middle on the encounter.
While quite a few are still enamoured of a Modi-led BJP, a significant section is seeing the encounter as an attempt by Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, or Ajay Singh Bisht, a Thakur by caste, of turning the police against a Brahmin criminal who had surrendered and should have been allowed to face the law of the land.
“This is the tipping point. The Chief Minister comes from the Gorakhnath-peeth tradition that has had an anti-Brahmin past. He tried to scuttle the careers of Brahmin leaders in the local BJP there and is known to dislike the community,” a Brahmin leader in eastern UP told me. “He has tried to disproportionately recruit Thakurs in government positions. When Kamlesh Tiwari was killed for speaking against the Prophet, he did not take swift action. The anger has been simmering but Vikas Dubey is the tipping point. Many feel that this was done to humiliate Brahmins, though the community does not have sympathy for criminals.”
Another BJP worker who is a Brahmin said Adityanath gets visibly upset if Brahmins don’t touch his feet, as he thinks he as a mahant has a right to expect it.
“It isn’t easy to suppress UP Brahmins as a community but no other party is at this moment in a position to take advantage of it,” he said. “SP and Brahmins haven’t got along well traditionally. The Congress is non-existent and the BSP is unable to speak against the BJP at the moment.”
ThePrint, in a story, listed several tweets purportedly by people with Brahmin surnames extolling Dubey as a “Brahmin tiger” and expressing anger over the action of the Yogi administration.
This early churning is something the Congress has noticed – and is trying to take advantage of – and is most likely being keenly watched by the rank and file of the BJP.
The upper castes – particularly Brahmins – have been fulcrums of the Hindutva project. Moreover, the very project aims at a wider Hindu unity with the Muslim as the other. If caste fissures appear in India’s most populous state, these may damage Hindutva symbolically or even electorally. These are, however, early days to predict whether this simmering tension will grow or die out soon.
What is particularly significant is that Adityanath comes from Gorakhpur, a city in eastern UP close to the Nepal border that saw a running feud between Brahmin and Thakur strongmen since the 1970s. Hari Shankar Tiwari, once a dreaded name in Gorakhpur and a Brahmin, was pitted against Virendra Pratap Shahi, a Thakur strongman. The rivalry led to several murders till Shri Prakash Shukla, a dreaded criminal and a Brahmin from Gorakhpur, killed Shahi in 1997.
Both communities have had their share of strongmen who were seen to be on the wrong side of the law. Names like Tiwari, Shukla and Vikas Dubey were Brahmin strongmen, while those like Raghuraj Pratap Singh (Raja Bhaiyya) and Brajesh Singh are Thakurs.
In a state where law and order have been wanting and social security is not up to the mark, sections of communities sometimes look up to “their” mafia dons. This is perhaps the reason that the encounter killing at a time when Adityanath is Chief Minister has miffed many Brahmins.
Both castes are numerically significant. Brahmins constituted 9.1 per cent of the population of UP in the 1931 census – the last caste census in India – and Thakurs 7.9 per cent. About 80 per cent of the upper caste population in UP is believed to be either Brahmin or Thakur.
Brahmins had a political edge over the Thakurs in the days of Congress dominance in the state. Later, both shifted to the BJP around the Ram temple movement. However, as the politics of Mandal and Kanshi Ram’s efforts to build the BSP deepened caste fissures and led to a subaltern assertion around a strong numerical base, both the “upper castes” gradually drifted away from the BJP but joined opposite camps. The Brahmins veered towards the BSP in enough numbers to make it a formidable force, particularly in 2007, and the Thakurs shifted their allegiance to the SP in considerable numbers, thanks to the centrality of Amar Singh in the party at one time.
The rise of Narendra Modi saw their political preferences converge, and a large section of the upper castes – as also non-Yadav OBCs – shifted to the BJP. In the last UP polls, the rivalry was subdued. My travels through eastern UP suggested that Brahmins and Thakurs seemed entirely on the same page, with Yadavs and Muslims emerging as the main critics of the BJP and Modi.
However, the surprising ascent to power of Adityanath gradually created conditions for a latent Brahmin unease, though they continued to support the BJP under Modi, seeing the latter as the Hindutva leader par excellence.
The killing of Dubey, however, threatens to unsettle equations, though the BJP can take heart from the fact that elections are still two years away.
The two communities’ turfs of influence often abut in UP. East UP and central UP have powerful zones of influence of both. Bundelkhand and the Braj region in west UP also has pockets of influence of the two castes, though the Jat factor in the Braj region introduces a powerful presence. In the sugarcane belt of west UP around Meerut and Muzaffarnagar, the influence of both Jats and Gujjars makes the Brahmins and Thakurs shed much influence.
The subtle turf war has traditionally been fought on multiple fronts. The prestigious Banaras Hindu University, for instance, has had a history of competing Brahmin and Thakur lobbies, sometimes vitiating the academic atmosphere, if professors from other communities are to be believed.
The challenge before Modi now would be to ensure that the early signs of Brahmin unease do not lead to political realignments. Brahmin votes – seen as a single group -- are arguably the most powerful in UP, if one adds numbers and influence. Any realignment towards SP can damage the BJP seriously, while any move towards the Congress – which may be unlikely given the organisational weakness of the party – can give the latter a lease of life even if the BJP manages to scrape through.
The Congress is already seeing opportunity in the crisis, with Jitin Prasada – son of the Congress’ late Brahmin face Jitendra Prasada – being tasked with uniting Brahmins through Brahmin Chetna (consciousness) meetings. Congress spokesperson Rajiv Tyagi accused Modi and Adityanath of being the opponents of Brahmins in a tweet some days back, and also extolled Brahmanism as ‘Raj Dharma’.
The grand old party ruled UP for decades after independence based on a Brahmin-Dalit-Muslim political alliance called the coalition of extremes or a rainbow coalition in its heyday.
However, it has no base in UP as of now, and it is an uphill task to turn its fortunes around quickly. However, with people in UP having a sense of the resurfacing of a Brahmin-Thakur rivalry, Muslims may keenly watch which way the Brahmins will turn.
But these may well be early days to say what may happen in the future.