The legacy of Yadava infighting

Although said in anger, the open support given by Mayawati to Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on 28 October is no news. She is a partner in the current Uttar Pradesh government; and had twice before allied with BJP, who were willing to make her Chief Minister both times. But what is more notable in Mayawati’s press conference was another point – the accusation that Yadavs carried out (caste) violence against Jatavs, who claim Yadava-hood. Here lies the true contradiction in the emerging New Yadava Empire, already collapsing by infighting as did the Vrishni-led Yadava empire of the Mahabharata. Just like the first Yadava Empire, this one too seems doomed to be short-lived.

Like the many other outcaste communities which entered politics in the twentieth century, Jatavs too recognized that colonial modernity did not touch them because of a simple reason – untouchability. In the United Provinces, Jatavs were around one-third of the Chamar population – a heavily oppressed, leather industry-based, largely artisanal, and working-class community. They were already the better-off section among Chamars due to historical reasons, and they were now buoyed again by market forces, benefiting greatly from expansions in the leather trade. The opinion leaders and organic intellectuals – most notably Sunderlal Sagar and Ramnarayan Yadvendu – who emerged from among them retrieved a hereditary link to Yadu and made the case for styling themselves as a respectable community, smarting under the continued un-recognition. Whether or not this claim to Yadava-hood was factually true is unimportant; and in any case, Chamars were reported to have adopted the Jatav identity. One becomes a Yadava based on their claim to the social lineage of Yadu, not necessarily due to a positively proven sexual lineage. In any case, the Jatavs emerged as a strong reformist group among Chamars and soon joined the Scheduled Caste movement, which demanded special recognition for communities that suffered untouchability. Alongside, they campaigned for an identity separate from Chamars. Through a series of negotiations, they made sure they were given more than a fair share of representation from that afforded to the Depressed Classes by the British Raj, and recognition as Jatavs.

It was Mayawati who, after initial hiccups, consolidated the Jatav community behind her in the Bahujan Samaj Party. Behenji was to become synonymous with the new, egalitarian Yaduvian rule, as opposed to the Manuvian rulers who had oppressed them. Along their rise in her leadership, even though they allied with many castes, they shared power mainly with three groups – landed Muslims, Brahmins, and Yadavs. Among these, the only group whom they are unwilling to challenge are the Brahmins, coming from a probably justified view that Brahmins are currently un-dethroneable. A section of Uttar Pradesh Brahmins supported Bahujan Samaj Party and benefited from it – in return, the donations to BSP were made to soar by Brahmanic capital. These alliances came at a cost of stalling the growth of other Jatav political figures, and even other Dalit elite.

The consequence of these alliances was an increasing realization among other Dalit castes that the Jatav cause may not be universal. Chamar disagreement with BSP has led to the formation and rapid growth of Bhim Army, which can boast of proletarian Dalits as its main base. Another large caste, Valmikis, are said to be disunitedly voting across the spectrum, although the Hathras incident could well set them against BJP. Nevertheless, BSP retains a significant vote base in Uttar Pradesh, enough to make it a junior partner in the Thakur-led government.

That both the Yadav and Jatav chieftains of UP openly proclaimed allegiance to Parashurama, supposedly the one who massacred their Kshatriya kin, should be seen in this context. Kshatriya-hood comes with great benefits, but it carries with it a subservience to Brahmins and an acceptance of all Brahmin attacks on Kshatriyas as being punishments for Kshatriya disobedience. One of the sources of Yadav discontent in UP last year was said to be the denial of Kshatriya-hood, which was being increasingly cornered by Thakurs. Acceptance of Parashurama is the New Yadava manner of contesting Thakur Khastriya-hood. What happened to the original Yadavas, who slighted the Brahmins and quickly lost their power, is hoped to be repeated against the Thakurs, following the growing accusations of Thakurvaad ousting Brahmanism. The Thakurs, despite being numerically smaller than Brahmins, is believed to have started standing up against the Brahmins, even though the UP Brahmins can boast of capital and muscle, unlike many other places.

The simmer in Brahmin camps has been picked by the main Hindu political players of UP, and was displayed in the unflattering coverage of the Hathras rape case by the Brahmin factions in the media. The attempt to accelerate and milk Brahmin discontent towards the revived Thakur-Kshatriyas is also an attempt to reinvigorate bourgeois sensibility by AAP, restore Secular Brahmin rule by Congress, recapture Kshatriya-hood by Jatavs, and relegitimize the New Yadava Empire by the Yadavs.

What then of the gulf between Jatavs and Yadavs? Since their revival, Jatav political aspiration had been to become the prime Kshatriya player. So, naturally, there was discontent among BSP leadership at being the junior partner of the BSP-SP Jatav-Yadav United Empire of 1993-95, the first attempt at Yadava Unity. The infamous Guest House incident of 1995, when Mayawati and her closest aides were attacked by Yadavs and their musclemen for withdrawing support to the Yadavs after months of tension, is referred to by her in the recent press conference. The United Yadav-Jatav Empire had lasted for two years. “The Samajwadi Party (read Yadavas) is anti-Dalit”, Mayawati says. Another faction of Yadavs would continue to rule the adjacent territory of Bihar for some more years. Jatavs would later come to power in UP in alliance with Brahmins in 2007, and would be dislodged in 2012 by the Yadavs with the support of Muslims and OBCs. The United Empire had split, but they nonetheless held on to power on and off till 2017. The resounding Thakur victory in UP in 2017 brought a reality check to the Jatav-Yadavs. And so, another attempt at Yadava unity was attempted in 2019. This SP-BSP alliance was short-lived, and Mayawati joined hands with the Thakurs this time and ditched the Yadavs yet again.

Even after this re-attempt, Mayawati’s discontent with Yadav politics harks back to 1995. She says she should not have withdrawn the case related to the ’95 (caste-based) violence, and reiterates her accusation about the contempt of Yadavs towards Dalits. It was the fair, respectable Yadavas against the dark, “Asura” Yadavas – a contradiction that was visible in the Vrishni-led Yadava empire, in which Asura clans shared power but ultimately came into conflict with the Deva-styled Yadavas. In Yadava lore, the Devas quelled the Asura factions very early on, and were undone by a civil war, fuelled by some form of Brahmin discontent, in the years of decadence which followed the Mahabharata war.

Except, this time, it is the Asura faction that looks like it will win Brahmin support and the right to survival. The original Yadavas survived, much weakened, only by entering into marriage and political alliances with Brahmin-backed empires. The New Yadava Empire could neither bring the Asuras onboard nor quell them, and have started their infighting much earlier. Two political parties have been formed by dissenters in the ruling Yadav family. After losing much support from other OBC and Dalit castes, the New Yadava Empire must be having its last hopes pinned on the 2020 Bihar election and the 2022 UP election, losses in which will surely mark an end to the two current Yadav dynasties, neither of which have yet completed two generations in power. If such a fall is to happen, it will not be recorded in any way akin to how the collapse of various socialist states have been recorded in history. Yet, a Socialist Empire is what it was, for the Yadavs and the Jatavs have been committed socialists. The Jatav rise, meanwhile, seems set to continue, as their economic, political and cultural capital continue building; whether it will culminate in an independent empire or be content as a vassal state remains to be seen.



Duncan, Ian. Dalits and the Raj: The Persistence of Jatavs in the United Provinces. The Indian Economic and Social History Review, 56, 2 (2019): 119–145

Arjun is a student of Mass Communication in AJK MCRC, Jamia Millia Islamia