PM’s switch hit has reverse-Mandalised Indian politics: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to allocate 10 percent quota in jobs and education to the general category on the basis of economic criteria underlines the art and craft of a genius who has mastered the political equivalent of cricket’s reverse sweep, or its more evolved cousin, the switch hit.
Modi is an OBC, only the second from the disadvantaged castes to rise to be the Prime Minister of India after the Mandalisation of Indian polity and society. The rise of Deve Gowda, the only other backward prime minister since 1992, was coincidental, not central, to Mandal politics. It is a measure of the empowerment of the backward castes for Modi, the embodiment of that movement, to now offer ten percent quota for the forward castes, a numerical minority. As close to a switch hit in politics as you can get.
In a masterly display of his skills, he has not just reversed the direction of the political narrative, swinging it away from the Opposition, but also changed his stance to hit the prevailing Mandal logic out of the park. His game, it was evident in the Parliament on Tuesday, has caught the opponents off-guard and left them with just one choice: applaud his masterstroke with a tinge of envy.
Now, look at the narrative that the Congress and other Opposition parties have been building all these years. They have been assiduously creating a political climate which stoked rebellion primarily among upper castes. The manner in which the Patel agitation in Gujarat and the Maratha agitation in Maharashtra were engineered was clearly intended to build an anti-government mood. As recently as last December, the Congress reaped the benefits of upper caste resentment in the Assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The government’s decision to overturn the Supreme Court decision that diluted the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act rubbed the upper castes the wrong way.
Of course, what appeared to have further exacerbated the BJP’s woes is the raking up of the Ram Mandir issue in Ayodhya by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP). The Congress has been gleefully leveraging the discomfiture of the Modi government on the Ayodhya issue to alienate upper caste Hindus.
In essence, the constituency which is considered to be the core voters of the BJP has been showing signs of alienation towards the fag end of the government’s tenure. But Modi has again proved that the aphorism “a day is too long in politics” is literally correct. Contrast his latest move with the implementation of the Mandal commission report, and you will realise the difference. VP Singh introduced the OBC reservation when he found himself politically vulnerable. Chaudhary Devi Lal had risen in revolt to mobilise the Jats and OBCs against the government. Singh’s move too was a political masterstroke — except for the fact that it provoked a cynical reaction from upper caste youth and triggered caste clashes across north India.
The fact that OBC reservation found acceptance across the political spectrum was a measure of political genius of Singh. Still, he emerged as the most hated figure among politicians of those times. The apparent reason for this hatred emanated from the assumption that his move to implement the recommendations of the Mandal commission was aimed at consolidating his support base among the OBCs (a numerically strong social support base) at the expense of numerically lesser but politically vocal upper castes.