Here is the latest edition of the Political Line newsletter curated by Varghese K. George
(The Political Line newsletter is India’s political landscape explained every week by Varghese K. George, senior editor at The Hindu. You can subscribe here to get the newsletter in your inbox every Friday.)
The violence at Lakhimpur Kheri in Uttar Pradesh has brought to the fore the intense churn that is underway in the State and beyond. The BJP is on the defensive evidently but one should not rush to conclusions in the midst of the turmoil. The protestors and victims in UP were Sikh farmers.
Through the farmers’ agitation that is going on for more than a year, a convergence of interests between the Jat and Sikh communities has led to a social coalition. Both communities are landowning farmers, benefitting from the procurement policies of the Centre that the Narendra Modi government wants to remake. The electoral implications of this formation are untested.
A policeman pastes a notice outside the residence of Union MoS for Home Affairs Ajay Kumar Mishra summoning the main accused Ashish Mishra, in Lakhimpur Kheri. | Photo Credit: PTI
In the past, I have written on the interplay between religious and caste mobilisations in India. In this piece, I discuss the use of secularism as an instrument of social justice politics, and how Muslims become inadvertent participants in caste rivalries in India. The Muslim -Yadav compact stopped the BJP in its tracks in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar in the 1990s, and the saffron party’s subsequent rise had to wait until it managed to mobilise non-Yadav OBCs alongside its upper caste core base. Till date, the Muslim-Yadav combination remains the most viable resistance group against Hindutva.
The Sikh-Jat combination may not be electorally as potent as their respective concentration of population is in separate geographical areas, and not united in a particular electoral theatre. Sikhs are largely in Punjab and Jats mostly in Haryana and western UP. Meanwhile, there is an unmistakable attempt by BJP supporters to portray protesters as Khalistani separatists. Last week, we discussed UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s reminder to Jats in UP of the history of communal tensions between Muslims and them. The BJP will call upon Jats to be part of Hindu society and not ally with Muslims and Sikhs. This could turn out to be a nasty campaign in the coming days.
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Rakesh Tikait — friend of Sikhs, and the BJP
In the Lakhimpur Kheri stand-off between farmers and the Uttar Pradesh government, the role of Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait has come under the scanner. While a section is praising his practical approach in preventing a tricky situation from spiralling out of control and keeping the farmers’ movement on track, others feel he agreed for too little, too soon and appeared to be a BJP agent after the incident that resulted in eight deaths, including that of four Sikh farmers.
Priyanka Gandhi in the spotlight: a BJP strategy?
Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s detention by the UP police, which was termed illegal by experts, put her in the spotlight as the central character in opposition politics following the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.
Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, who has been detained in Uttar Pradesh’s Sitapur while speaks to the media virtually. | Photo Credit: PTI
Samajwadi Party leader Akhilesh Yadav and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati were eclipsed by the spotlight on Ms. Vadra and then her brother Rahul Gandhi. Was Chief Minister Adityanath being foolish in creating a face-off between the Gandhi siblings and the UP administration?
Not quite, according to a theory that I am inclined to believe. At the moment, all resentment in UP against the BJP government appears to aggregate as support for the SP. This polarisation is worrying for the BJP. A fragmentation of the opposition votes is what the BJP needs in UP. The Congress is far too distant in the race to be of any consequence right now. It is in the BJP’s interest to let the Congress occupy some space in UP. By creating a series of totally unnecessary spectacles around the Gandhis, the Yogi administration has done a huge favour to the Congress, and itself.
Prashant Kishor on Congress’ weaknesses
The revival of the Congress party is a more complicated question. Election strategist Prashant Kishor’s public comments that those who were hoping for a quick revival of the GOP [grand old party] on the basis of the Lakhimpur Kheri incident would be disappointed irked the party so much that it dismissed him as a “consultant.” “Unfortunately there are no quick fix solutions to the deep-rooted problems and structural weakness of GOP,” Mr. Kishor had tweeted.
Mr. Kishor and the Gandhi siblings were in talks to develop a revival strategy for the party, but all that is now in the past. While Ms. Vadra was eager to rope in Mr. Kishor, Mr. Gandhi was unsure. Mr. Kishor also made radical suggestions that would have unsettled the entrenched players in the Congress. All told, the move is no longer viable.
That said, PK, as he is known, could be looking for an active role ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. His idea is clear: there is a vast amount of disenchantment against the BJP that is swelling up in various corners of the country. What is missing is a mechanism to aggregate it all into a working political platform. His personal equations with several regional leaders is a good starting point for such an initiative, but the task is onerous.
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