ONE OF THE FREQUENT TROPES in the analysis of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s electoral successes offered by mainstream upper-caste journalists, especially in the English-language media, is the idea of the “consolidation of OBC votes.” In this view, the Other Backward Classes, wooed by enterprising social engineering and the lure of a common spiritual identity and purpose offered by Hindutva, have been animated en masse to vote for the BJP. It centres the belief that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has successfully framed Muslims as common historical antagonists and that the OBCs are ready to align with the Sangh at any cost, even though it is a deeply Brahmanical order that has not made space for OBCs in intellectual or social leadership. This implies that the OBCs are easily manipulated to work against their own interests. Given that OBCs are estimated to form 52 percent of the Indian population, such an analysis has wide-ranging implications and could neatly explain the political hegemony of the BJP under Narendra Modi.
The only problem with this analysis, however, is that it is comically reductive in assuming a collective homogeneity in both the material and political interests of OBCs. Over the last few years, there has been some attempt to complicate this understanding, with media commentary now increasingly referring to “upper OBCs” and “lower OBCs” as behaving with divergent agendas and the two groups requiring differing strategies from the political parties pursuing them. However, this binary formulation also blurs the social and cultural experience of caste within the OBCs, and reduces it to the perspectives offered by the few dominant OBC caste groups observable to English-media journalists in urban newsrooms.
Much has already been written about the overwhelming dominance of urban, especially Delhi-centric, English-language media organisations in mainstreaming political narratives, and of their structural inability to respond intelligently to caste issues owing to a chronic under-representation of Bahujan journalists. Reductive commentary on OBC politics is unfortunately, by now, to be expected from those quarters. What is surprising, however, is to encounter similar reductive generalisations offered by OBC academics and intellectuals. The Shudras: Vision for a New Path, a volume edited by Kancha Ilaiah Shepherd and Karthik Raja Karuppusamy, repeats a similarly narrow framing of OBC identity and oversimplified political analysis, without laying out any concrete agenda for a future path for the OBCs.