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Why did Narendra Modi suddenly turn to caste?

Thursday, 8 May 2014 - 2:10pm IST | Place: Lucknow | Agency: dna

As the election moves towards its last front, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi has played a master stroke which could boost the party's electoral prospects to a great extent. All through his campaign hitherto, Modi focused on development and good governance, never once getting drawn into the dire straits of caste, community or religion.

But, suddenly, the entire spiel has taken on a new dimension. Even an amateur political watcher would not have missed the way Modi has latched on to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra's 'neech rajneeti' (low level politics) comment to present himself as the victim, persecuted just because he is born in a "neech jaati" (low caste).

"You can abuse me as much as you want. But don't insult my caste," he said at a rally in Domariyaganj in east UP. "Is it a crime to be born in a lower caste?" he asked, tugging at the emotional chords. (Modi is of the Ghanchi caste equivalent to a 'teli' in UP.)

Modi has used the proverbial stone to kill two birds. While he gains instant sympathy among the backward (OBCs) and most backward castes (MBCs), as also Dalits, he puts his opponents (read: the Gandhis) on the backfoot.

"Modi has very smartly used the opportunity virtually handed to him on a platter (by Priyanka) at a time when east UP was preparing to vote. He knows full well that in this region, OBCs, MBCs and Dalits are the decisive votebank," says senior political analyst Pradeep Kapoor.

Besides, political watchers say the consolidation of the Muslim vote behind Lalu Yadav in Bihar and Mulayam Singh Yadav in Uttar Pradesh may have forced Modi to spin Priyanka Gandhi's "neech rajneeti" statement as an insult to his OBC status. In east UP, the word 'neech' denotes one's lower caste, though it has other meanings, too.

Mayawati is already worried. In a statement issued in reaction to Modi's "neech jaati" rant, she said: "Modi is telling the people he is from a backward caste. If that is indeed so, then he should reveal his caste."

The BSP supremo is worried lest her Dalit voters should get confused about Modi being a Dalit as the Gujarat CM is strategically not making it clear what he means by "neech jaati". It could be OBC, MBC or Dalit.

BJP insiders say the Modi gambit would surely have impacted the voting on Wednesday. The crescendo is set to grow shriller as the last day of polling (May 12) approaches with Modi targeting OBCs, MBCs and Dalits in a well calculated move. Added to the caste card is the religious fervor which Modi is likely to add as he reaches Varanasi on Thursday, say BJP sources.

Modi knows the OBC population in Bihar is around 54% while it is 39% in UP. He is clearly targeting the non-Yadav OBCs, mainly Kurmis, MBCs like Kachhi, Gond, Rajbhar, Kushwaha and Lonia-Chauhan, who dominate in the 33 east UP seats. Also on his radar are the Dalits who number over one lakh in each constituency.

OBC candidates put up by parties in UP and Bihar:
UP (Total seats 80)

SP — 30
BJP — 27
BSP — 15
Cong — 09

Bihar (Total seats 40)
JD (U) — 19
RJD — 16
BJP — 14

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