Twice in his lifetime, Lalu Prasad Yadav has made history by taking on, and vanquishing the Bharatiya Janata Party, from its juggernaut roll. In 1990, he arrested L.K. Advani leading the so-called Rath Yatra meant to liberate the Ayodhya temple. In 2015, he has stopped the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah combine from winning in the state of Bihar. Much decried by the secular liberals, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s one year has been marred by increasing intolerance and institutionalized mediocrity — whether it be in the quality of its central ministers, its appointees to educational institutions or in administration and governance. Its threat has been magnified by its continued successes in the states even after the 2014 general elections that brought it to power at the Center.
As in 1990, when the Rath Yatra seemed to know no fear and advanced across the country as few mass movements have in recent decades, the communal onslaught was stopped not by the ‘secular left’ or the the Congress — a party that swears by secularism but has followed a policy of balanced communalism for as long as one can remember. Though they were much relieved, as they are now, the same set of secular liberals deride the caste politics, as they perceive the politics of Lalu Yadav, and Mulayam Singh Yadav or Kanshiram and Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party, to be. Ironic as it is, the reason for this is not far to seek.
Secularism as practiced by those who proclaim to be its upholders see the BJP and its parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, as seeking to establish a Hindu state. They fail to see that this is essentially a caste project with the objective of maintaining and increasing the hegemony of the upper castes. They fail to see it because they themselves come from the same caste groups, primarily Brahmins but also other dominant castes. Their voice is, however, muffled as they find themselves in a minority (as liberals and secular) within a numerical minority (of upper castes, outnumbered as they are by the group that has come to be known as Bahujans). They cannot take on the Hindutva party when it comes to mobilizing numbers during elections.
Lalu Prasad, and Mulayam Singh in the 1990s, took on the BJP on the ground, mobilizing foot soldiers who countered the BJP. The communalism of the BJP has been countered, again and again, by “caste” and again, not by the self- proclaimed secular forces. To expand their reach, the cause of liberalism and secularism must include caste justice as well. Those who seek to equate the Brahmanical project of the BJP with the balanced communalism of the Congress and the non-caste approach of the Left are as mistaken as those secular liberals who ignore caste altogether.
It goes to Lalu Yadav’s credit that he has neither equated nor rejected Indian secularism with Hindutva, since both are led by Brahmins and associated castes. Instead, he has collaborated with them and sought to expand the idea and base for secularism and liberalism without compromising on his caste position.