From all accounts Mr. Narendra Modi’s inaugural campaign rally in Rewari after being anointed Prime Ministerial candidate of the BJP was the largest ever seen in the district. In some of his earlier rallies also common people had flocked to his meetings with great enthusiasm. Obviously, in addition to the formidable publicity and mobilization organized by the RSS and powerful business interests supporting Mr. Modi, certain qualities of his persona too have caught the imagination of the masses. This has been seized by political analysts and his party’s leaders to describe Mr. Modi as the first great national Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader who might become Prime Minister. Media analysts may be forgiven for their ignorance of political ground realities to describe Mr. Modi as a national OBC leader. But surely the poll managers of the BJP ought to have known better?
It is a grievous flaw to describe Mr. Modi as a national OBC icon. Not only are BJP leaders assiduously promoting this image, even Mr. Modi himself seems to have become victim of this flawed propaganda. Mr. Modi belongs to the Ghanchi caste found only in the state of Gujarat. It is a sub-caste in the OBC category. People belonging to the Teli caste in other states may empathize with the Ghanchi caste because of a shared occupational history related to extraction of oil. Otherwise the Ghanchi caste will have little relevance outside Gujarat. Belonging to the Ghanchi caste makes Mr. Modi an OBC leader. It does not make him a national icon of OBC voters. There is no national OBC icon. There cannot be a national OBC icon. There can only be a national icon who is an OBC. The distinction should be appreciated.
The very logic of caste identity runs counter to a nationwide OBC identity. Caste mobilization becomes easy precisely because the approach is tribal. Caste leaders often unite to make common cause. That makes it easy and convenient for the big business corporate sector to use money power to split or align political forces to suit their interest. But when have castes en block voted for a leader belonging to another caste because of his OBC status? Why do not the Kurmis in Bihar vote for Mr. Laloo Yadav, or the Yadavs vote for Mr. Nitish Kumar? Before Mr. Modi became his party’s election campaign chief the BJP had already laid the ground for positive poll results in UP after Mr. Rajnath Singh brought back Mr. Kalyan Singh into his party’s fold. The revived Thakur-Kurmi alliance had earlier brought the BJP its largest ever parliamentry tally of 57 MPs. With Miss Uma Bharati entering UP politics, in addition to her oratory expected to consolidate the Hindutva vote bank, she will also undoubtedly attract Lodh voters belonging to her caste.
Yet media analysts and BJP poll managers are busy trying to exploit Mr. Modi’s OBC status to project him as the first great OBC national leader who might become Prime Minister. Unfortunately, Mr. Modi has bought this flawed approach. Celebrating his birthday recently in Gujarat Mr. Modi reached out and invited many OBC leaders of the organized and unorganized sectors to his function. National thinking has become so corrupted and distorted by the caste reservation policy and mobilization of quick vote banks that an obvious truth escaped media analysts as well as the poll campaign managers of the BJP. If enthusiastic masses have flocked to Mr. Modi’s rallies it is not because he is a national OBC icon. It is because people have recognized that Mr. Modi has risen from very humble origins like themselves to acquire a national political status. If the masses empathize with Mr. Modi it is not because he is an OBC but because he was poor and is now powerful.
The flawed approach adopted by Mr. Modi and the BJP regarding the importance of his OBC status can have very far reaching consequences. It will determine what kind of Indian will emerge tomorrow if Mr. Modi does become Prime Minister. On his birthday Mr. Modi invited OBC leaders belonging to the organized and unorganized sectors of labour. OBC leaders can mobilize votes. That is an understandably attractive attribute. But so can union leaders of organized and unorganized labour mobilize voters. Why could not Mr. Modi have focused on them instead? Does Mr. Modi seek an India of his dreams symbolized by his proposed Statue of Unity to consolidate on the prevalent national divisive culture based upon over 4000 contending castes battling for economic crumbs? Or does he seek to create a new Indian with a national identity above caste and community ready to confront the 21st century world? Will he support caste-based reservation or economic criteria for job and educational reservation? Will he promote universal compulsory primary education to lift all castes from poverty? These are some questions that Mr. Modi and the leaders of the BJP need to ponder if they seek a genuine political change. They have to decide whether they want victory in the present or a victory for the future. Do they want to cater to India of the present or to India of the future that will belong to the young?
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