UP polls: End booking or create a welfare state?
A key subtext of the Uttar Pradesh history of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is the debate over whether large-scale free ration distribution can be seen as a prototype welfare state on the model of what exists in Tamil Nadu. Uttar Pradesh’s rhetoric is, however, undermined by another persistent narrative: even though there is recognition on the ground that free rations are distributed, including among those who do not intend to vote for the party in power, there is also much chatter among the more vocal and ambitious sections of the OBCs and Dalits, about the BJP regime phasing out the reservations.
There are complaints that OBC and Dalit quotas among government teachers are not met and reservation criteria are not applied to teacher appointments at Gorakhpur University, for example. The government is accused of slowly “selling” services to private contractors, thus reducing the number of reserved jobs. The privatization of public sector units by the BJP is also repeatedly mentioned in Uttar Pradesh as evidence that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) believes that reservation must eventually end. The fact that the Chief Minister, Yogi Adityanath, is from the advanced Thakur caste, and has publicly stated that he is proud to be a Rajput and is known to promote his caste brethren, has contributed to this narrative. .
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During two-month trips to the electorally crucial state, a fascinating meeting took place with a group of Dalit professionals, doctors, writers and retired railway and government officials in the capital. of the State, Lucknow. It was a gathering of the part of society that benefited from the reserve and would seek to save it. This constituency is very familiar with BR Ambedkar’s views and admires Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) founder, Kanshi Ram, even though they consider party leader Mayawati as their natural leader. Most of the people gathered in the hall were Dalit Jatav (who make up 54% of the Dalit community, which comprises 21% of the state’s population). What was extraordinary was that almost all were of the view that in the current elections they intended to break with the past of blindly supporting the BSP in seats where Mayawati’s party was not not strong. In 2022, they believed, it was crucial for them to vote strategically to defeat the BJP. They claimed that the BJP regime was slowly but surely ending reserves by not filling quotas and selling out to the private sector.
Even if we assume that the poorer and less empowered Dalits Jatav will mostly stay with the BSP, a party they consider their own, it is significant that the middle class of the community sees things differently. For in the long term, even beyond an election, it gives an idea of the direction of thought in the Dalit community of Hindi heartland.
In the state, meanwhile, there is also a section among OBCs and Dalits who may not have reached the threshold of seeking rights and rights and who are just looking to survive. This section sees free rations as a lifeline, and the BJP thinks it is the formidable and silent voter base they call labharthi (beneficiaries). Ironically, in a state ruled by the BJP, the atmosphere in some seats is so anti-BJP that it is credible to say that some national party supporters from socially weak sections are silent and prefer not to reveal their choices of vote.
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Yet when we return to the constituency that yearns for more than survival, the “charity” ration is portrayed by OBCs and Dalits as kings throwing a few alms in their direction. The gathering in the Lucknow house, well-versed in Ambedkarite thought, certainly saw the sensitization ration as part of a structural attempt by a ruling class to throw crumbs at the poor while rulers spent millions of dollars for magnificent events where they presented themselves. The inauguration of large temples and corridors is part of this process, they said.
Beyond the Dalits, among the OBCs as well, including Gujjars in West UP and Kurmis in Awadh and Purvanchal regions, there has been sensitization of opposition party political workers to highlight the issue of reduction in reserves. OBC leaders who left the BJP fold to join the SP-led front, such as Swami Prasad Maurya and Om Prakash Rajbhar, are also vocal on this issue and speak a language reminiscent of the Mandal era. Leading his phalanx, Akhilesh Yadav has also said at public rallies over the past two phases that the BJP is completing the reservation by selling it to the private sector.
It is the desperation for jobs in Uttar Pradesh that makes it a volatile problem. The government tried to compensate for its inability to create jobs with social action. But when a comparison is made with more successful states such as Tamil Nadu, it should be noted that welfarism in the southern state goes hand in hand with private sector expansion and industrialization, in addition to well better performance in health and education by the government. And reserve is sacrosanct for all parties stemming from Dravidian ideology and politics. Conversely, the BJP is the political front of an ideology that does not actually believe in the reserve even though it knows it is political suicide to say so explicitly.
One of the interrelated reasons for the failure of private sector job creation in Uttar Pradesh is that investments are not going where community disruptions need to be addressed. represent 20% of the population, does not make the state an attractive prospect for investors, even when manufacturing jobs have only declined. Consequently, the state’s growing population sees a government job as the only guarantee of security; a tally is kept of reserved jobs and thousands of applicants line up for each opening. Regardless of the election results, of the many problems facing the state, the most important is unemployment.
(Saba Naqvi is a journalist and author.)
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