The BJP faces a challenge

In Indian states in general, and Uttar Pradesh (UP) in particular, the political formation and the social coalition that wins an election and assumes power controls the thana, that lowest administrative police unit that has the maximum interface with citizens. If you are in power in Lucknow, you decide who will be the police officials in charge of these local police stations. If you come from a strong caste-based political stream or have loyalties to your caste group, it is likely that those in charge of basic policing will either be from the same caste group — or be more responsive to members of the politically dominant caste at a particular juncture. The logical corollary of this is that those who belong to castes outside the favoured coalition of ruling castes will find it harder to access justice.

The shocking Hathras episode is but a reflection of this corrosive linkage between political power, State functioning, and social dynamics. When it was the Samajwadi Party in power, Yadavs dominated the administrative structure — and the local thana was seen as primarily a Yadav bastion. When the Bahujan Samaj Party was in power, Dalits — traditionally excluded from power structures — had greater access to local police. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) wins elections on broad Hindu identity-based mobilisation — this means that Muslims have almost no representation politically, which limits their access to State institutions. But given the heterogeneity within the Hindu fold, a BJP-led administration is not just exclusivist vis-à-vis Muslims, but ends up shifting power in favour of some Hindu castes over others.

Indeed, this was the BJP’s perpetual stumbling block in creating its desired united Hindu vote. Over the past six years, the party has attempted to become a more inclusive Hindu formation, which embraces all castes, and moves beyond its traditional upper-caste orientation. Not only have Dalits voted for the party in large numbers, it also has the highest number of Dalit public representatives and has sought to give them space in the party structure. But as its rule in UP has consistently shown, the attempt to expand constantly collides with its traditional upper-caste orientation. The Yogi administration is seen as partial to Thakurs; there appears to be a clear bias in police functioning; and other social groups get marginalised. Hathras is not just a human tragedy and an administrative failure of the UP government. It is also a political failure of the BJP. It must recognise that harmony among castes isn’t possible without justice.

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