New Delhi -In the diverse tapestry of India's political landscape, the role of caste has always been a prominent thread. It's a nation where identities are as varied as the colours of the rainbow, and it's no surprise that political parties often invoke these identities, especially caste, to connect with voters. In this context, the leader of the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP), Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has repeatedly called for unity in the face of caste divisions. However, as we delve into the BJP's historical and contemporary actions, it raises a crucial question: does the party truly practice what it preaches on the issue of casteism in India?
During Dussehra, Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to attend a Ram Leela celebration in Dwarka, Delhi. There, the head took a dig at the opposition, mentioning that one should also go after forces questioning the integration of the nation. While, as a statement, there is nothing wrong with it, but it does make one question why the government does not practice what it preaches.
During Dussehra celebrations at DDA Ground in Dwarka, Delhi, Press Trust of India reported the Prime Minister remarking, “Today, 'Ravan Dahan' shouldn’t be only about the burning of an effigy but also about forces that try to divide 'Maa Bharati' in the name of casteism and regionalism.”
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader and former Karnataka Home Minister Araga Jnanendra took a casteist dig at Indian National Congress' President Mallikarjun Kharge. In August 2023, while trying to attack Karnataka’s Forest Minister Eshwar Khandre, who hails from the same Kalyana-Karnataka region as Kharge, the former minister said, “It is our misfortune that the forest minister is from that region (Kalyana-Karnataka), which doesn’t have a forest. They don’t know what a plant, tree, or its shade is. Under the scorching heat, people there turn black (dark). We will know it by looking at Kharge.”
In 2022, three BJP leaders of the elected Dabhoi Municipal Corporation in Vadodara - Biren Shah, Vishal, and Amit Solanki were booked under the SC/ST Atrocities Prevention Act. Vadodara Rural Deputy Superintendent of Police (ST/SC Cell) Aakash Patel said, “A tribal youth (Dharmesh Tadvi) in his complaint on Monday evening alleged that these leaders intentionally insulted, voluntarily caused hurt, and made casteist remarks against him.”
In 2020, while addressing a gathering of the Thakur community in Sehore, Bhopal's BJP MP Pragya Thakur cited religious scriptures, claiming “Shudras” have a lack of understanding.
On 12th December 2020, while addressing the foundation day function of Thakurs - of Kshatriya Mahasabha Sabha Rajput Samaj Akhad Bharat, the MP asked, “Kshatriya (the warrior caste) doesn't feel bad if we call them Kshatriya. Brahmin (the highest or upper caste) doesn't feel bad if we call them Brahmin. Vaishya doesn't feel bad if we call them Vaishya. But Shudra (the lowest caste) feels bad if we call them Shudra, what is the reason?" She then went on to answer her own question by saying, “Because they do not understand.”
In 2018, a video of BJP MLA from Rudrapur, Uttarakhand had gone viral in which he was seen beating a Dalit woman and passing casteist remarks. An FIR was lodged against him, which was later withdrawn.
While one might expect that a comprehensive survey revealing the distribution of different castes and sub-castes would be beneficial for a political party that claims to be dedicated to eradicating "casteism," the BJP has consistently taken a strong stance against such surveys when conducted by opposing parties.
In the Supreme Court in 2021, the BJP argued against a caste census, citing administrative and logistical concerns. More recently, in an effort to stop states like Bihar, Odisha, and Jharkhand from holding their own caste censuses, the Centre claimed before the Supreme Court that because it was a "Union subject," only the Centre itself could conduct one. It quickly retracted the document, claiming that the line of reasoning had been unintentionally inserted.
But after Bihar came out with its caste survey, making the opposition parties say “Jitna Haq Utna Adhikar,” the party took a stand against it. At a rally in Chhattisgarh, Modi said that his party stands with the minorities, and such a statement goes against them.
Thought to be an upper-caste party, the BJP began a strategy in the 1990s to elevate backward caste leaders within the party, including Kalyan Singh in Uttar Pradesh, Uma Bharti in Madhya Pradesh, and Narendra Modi in Gujarat, among others.
In 2019, the BJP's victory reimagined the caste politics of the Bharatiya Janata Party, under the leadership of Narendra Modi. The BJP's win must be credited to its social alliances and the political mobilization of less dominating castes and subcastes, in addition to Narendra Modi's strong leader image and the use of national security as the primary election topic. According to a study titled ‘BJP’s 2019 Victory: How Caste-Based Politics Has Been Redefined and Reinvented’ published by the London School of Economics, “The social churning set in motion with the idea of Samagra Hindutva defeated the strong Dalit-Bahujan alliance in Uttar Pradesh, which failed to transfer its core votes of Yadavs and Jatav Dalits to one another and punctured the UPA’s campaign centered around the issue of reservation and the welfare of the lower castes in Bihar.”