How caste engages voters in Vindhya

DB Post 17 Nov 18


The scion of Rewa princely family, Pushpraj Singh, is sitting in a room of his ancestral fort, flanked by century old photographs of Rajas and Maharajas. He belongs to the 36th generation of the Baghel clan of rulers whose erstwhile empire, one of the biggest princely states in Madhya Pradesh, was spread over 34,000 sq km.

He is also a Congress leader, having won Rewa assembly seat thrice for the party and occupying a ministerial post in Digvijay Singh government. He is trying to convince me why the Congress enjoys an upper hand in the Vindhya region: “All the diseases of the Congress have been transmitted to the BJP.”

He is not contesting the election this time. His son is, but from the opposite camp. Divyraj Singh, who belongs to the 37th generation of Baghel rulers, is a sitting BJP MLA from neighbouring Sirmaur and his party has decided to field him again this time.

Rewa is one of those former princely families that decided to charter a political course for themselves in Independent India. Pushpraj’s father, the late Maharaja Martand Singh was elected to the Lok Sabha thrice from Rewa constituency. His mother also tried her luck in politics. Reports say the going is getting tough for his son this time.

Young Divyaraj Singh, a Thakur, fell victim to the infamous caste politics of Vindhya Pradesh. His opponent in the electoral battlefield is Aruna Tiwari from the Congress. She belongs to the family of the famous Brahmin leader of the region, Shrinivas Tiwari.

The Congress is projecting her as the inheritor of the Tiwari clan’s political legacy in the constituency where Brahmins outnumber Rajputs by almost four times. Brahmins and Thakurs are traditional political rivals in Vindhya region.

But Divyaraj’s actual problem is Samajwadi candidate Pradeep Singh, a fellow Thakur as well as a former BJP leader. He will cut into the young prince’s vote share. 

During my tour of Vindhya region for election coverage, I could come across visible signs of caste politics at work. I attended the inauguration of the BJP’s election officer at Rampur Naikin, a small town in Churahat assembly constituency.

It was no coincidence that all the three chairs in the room were occupied by three Brahmin leaders, including Sidhi district BJP chief Rajesh Mishra. The in-charge of the election office was also a Brahmin.

And, you guessed it right, the BJP candidate Shardendu Tiwari is also a Brahmin. He is facing the leader of the opposition, Ajay Singh, who is a Thakur in a classic re-play of Brahmin versus Rajput political battle. 

In Vindhya region of Madhya Pradesh caste is the most important factor, not only for the voters but also for the political parties. Caste equation in a constituency is the biggest consideration for selection of candidates by various parties. Apart from the classic battle of one caste against another rival caste, it works in various other ways.

Sometimes same caste candidates are fielded so that the rival party is not able to take advantage of the numerical dominance of a particular caste in that constituency. In the present line-up in Sirmaur constituency, for example, almost one dozen Brahmin candidates are contesting election and the BJP hopes that some of them may cut into the Congress candidate’s votes. 

The BJP candidate from Gurh, Nagendra Singh, is facing the same problem as a strongman from the area, Kapidhwaj Singh is in the fray from the same constituency on a Samajwadi Party ticket. Both Singhs belongs to the same caste.

It has made the task easier of the Congress candidate, Sunderlal Tiwari, a Brahmin. In 2013 also Kapidhwaj Singh had cut into Nagendra Singh’s votes, finally paving the way for the victory of the Congress candidate. There are dozens of such triangular caste-contests in Vindhya.

Some have opted for buying peace with the rival caste. Former chief minister Arjun Singh, a Thakur, was known to give more importance to Brahmin leaders not only in his constituency but also in his district, promoting them to senior positions and help them get ticket and win elections, thereby earning their goodwill.

In return he could make Churhat his citadel despite Thakurs being outnumbered by Brahmins in the constituency. Churhat has only 15,000 Thakur voters and 45,000 Brahmin voters.

His son Ajay Singh has continued that policy, making himself well-entrenched in the area despite the BJP always fielding a Brahmin candidate against him. May be, others can learn from this political family!

Powers That Be, my column in DB Post, 17 November 2018 

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