It’s 11am. Dappled slats of daylight filtered by way of flecks of mud and soot heat Kunti Devi’s humble tea store on the kachha crossroads outdoors Tundri village. Balancing on her haunches because the winter solar bakes her mottled pores and skin, Devi struggles with the perimeters of the smudged sheet of yellow tarpaulin that protects her store from the weather earlier than poring over a woodfire. It’s previous work time on a weekday however small clots of younger males mill about, sitting on wood planks propped up by bricks – makeshift benches for each day discussions on chunavi mahaul (election buzz) in Chhattisgarh. As milky tea go palms in mottled glasses, the discussionmeanders from one matter to a different – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the report of chief minister Bhupesh Baghel, the competing paddy sops introduced by each main events, the money switch pledges for girls and the prospect of presidency jobs for younger males within the space.
Then one man mentions the Congress’s repeated chorus on the marketing campaign path of a nationwide caste census and the tempo abruptly dips. “What’s that,” Devi asks, placing down the dregs of her tea on the desk, her villagemen out of the blue quiet. “Is it associated to getting a brand new ration card?”
Across the desk, a ripple of uncertainty programs by way of the lads who have been confidently holding forth on which occasion’s paddy promise was higher a minute in the past. Madan Sahu thinks counting castes can be divisive, however modifications tack when his pals say the Congress is promising the transfer. “I don’t know a lot however I’ll vote for Congress,” he says. To his left, Murli Sahu is extra strident . “There isn’t any advantage of the caste census. It’s merely a instrument of Congress to win elections,” he says. However why – Manish counters him. Shocked at his buddy’s response, Murli’s confidence ebbs. “I don’t know a lot about it,” he admits.
On this confusion enjoying out within the flatlands of Chhattisgarh days earlier than a vital spherical of polls lie the probabilities and pitfalls of the Congress’s rising technique round projecting a nationwide caste census as a significant election problem. The five-state meeting polls that started earlier this month are the primary electoral take a look at for the Opposition’s gambit to make use of bodily headcounts of castes to attempt to pry away chunks of the opposite backward lessons (OBC) vote that has grow to be instrumental to the success of the BJP’s electoral machine. Making official the numerical superiority loved by backward communities might, the pondering goes, destabilise the BJP’s rainbow Hindu coalition. Cant it? Over the subsequent week, HT will profile 4 distinguished backward caste teams from every of the 4 main poll-bound states to discover how this problem is shaping up on the bottom,
In Chhattisgarh, the place the Congress has repeatedly promised a caste survey if it retains energy, the Sahus are the largest OBC group. They’re unfold throughout the fertile plains of the state that maintain the majority of the state’s inhabitants and meeting seats. Comprising 14% of the state’s inhabitants, the Sahus have the power to affect round 25 of the 90 seats within the state and are a landowning, largely agrarian neighborhood.
Capturing the assist of this dominant neighborhood can be a key narrative this elections. After backing the BJP for 15 years, the Sahus moved to the Congress in 2018, contributing to its landslide victory. This time, the BJP has doubled down on its Sahu outreach in an try and fracture this assist, prompting the Congress to additionally sharpen its marketing campaign round welfare, ballot ensures and neighborhood satisfaction. Chandrapur – the meeting constituency Tundri village falls in – displays this dynamic. The BJP received it in 2008 and 2013, just for the Congress to seize it for the primary time in 2018. This time, the BJP’s Sanyogita Judev, the daughter-in-law of the late Dilip Singh Judev, is preventing in opposition to Ramkumar Yadav, the sitting Congress legislator.
Regardless of dominating nationwide headlines, conversations across the caste survey have solely began to permeate by way of the countryside in Chhattisgarh. In Tundri, village chief Kanahiya Lal Sahu says he believes that the elders locally are slowly coming round to understanding the advantages such an train can maintain. “Every advantage of the central and state authorities can be distributed in line with the inhabitants of the caste. We’ll get extra illustration in politics, employment and different sectors,” he says.
Up to now decade, as agrarian incomes have dipped and cropping patterns grow to be extra unsure, extra younger males from the neighborhood have moved to cities in an try and buoy their disposable incomes and prepared their youngsters for jobs which can be alien to the village financial system.
Pradeep Sahu is a kind of 1000’s, residing in Bilaspur and working a building supplies enterprise. He’s extra conscious of the talk across the caste survey however believes its impression in these elections can be restricted. “The Congress just isn’t speaking about the advantages of caste survey in a easy method . There needs to be a correct marketing campaign to offer a message to the OBCs that caste survey is essential for them… Mere announcement won’t assist,” he says.
Group leaders level out that regardless of the concentrate on the OBC id this election season, Chhattisgarh has by no means been a state with an lively backward lessons motion – not like, say, Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. In consequence, communities have voted based mostly on considerations associated to livelihoods and economics — Rakesh Sahu in Manendragarh district is backing whoever has a greater pledge for city youth and Ramesh Sahu in Chandrapur is focussed on paddy bonuses.
“There isn’t any historical past of motion in Chhattisgarh over caste, significantly amongst OBCs. However some Sahu leaders now perceive the profit and assist the caste survey… In all probability within the subsequent few years, issues can change,” stated Chandrasekhar Sahu, former parliamentarian and now a member of the Sahu Mahasabha, an umbrella group.
Regardless of the confusion obvious on the bottom, the Congress is for certain the caste survey has pan-national enchantment and can develop roots. “The OBC understands that Congress is for them,” stated senior chief and spokesperson RP singh.
The BJP hit again. “The foremost problem is corruption right here..The caste survey will solely divide the society and folks perceive this,” stated BJP spokesperson Sachchidanand Upasane.
Again in Tundri, the winter solar has given solution to darkness and a nip within the air. Devi’s ramshackle stall is now abandoned, leaving her to dismantle the bricks, drag the planks again inside and pull the dirty yellow sheet over her wares. But, the embers of the heated dialogue linger within the air. Seva Sahu, a school scholar, just isn’t daunted that essentially the most tangible advantage of the caste census is a authorities job. “My father runs a tea stall and my elder brother works as a labourer Nobody in my household has ever dreamt of a authorities job,” he stated. “I would like one…”