New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh with 80 seats in Lok Sabha is set to witness a triangular contest between the ruling alliance (BJP, Apna Dal and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party), opposition alliance (the Samajwadi Party or SP, the Bahujan Samaj Party or BSP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal or RLD), and the Congress in the upcoming general elections, to be held in seven phases in the state, from April 11 to May 6.
Besides the development rhetoric, a critical element of each party’s poll strategy is to make its caste equation stronger and expand its social support base.
The SP aligned with the BSP primarily to send out a signal that it is for the OBC, Dalits and Muslims who constitute roughly around 45 per cent, 21 per cent, 19 per cent of the state’s population. Among OBCs, the Yadavs, who comprise of the core base of the SP’s social support, comprise about nine per cent and form the biggest chunk of UP’s OBC population. The other OBC castes include Kurmis, Koeris, Lodhs, Telis, Kumhars, Kahars and others.
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The BSP has its strongest base among Dalits. The largest caste among them are the Jatavs, around 56 per cent of the Dalit population. BSP Chief Mayawati belongs to this community. Other Dalit communities include Pasis (about 16 per cent), followed by Dhobi, Valmiki, Dhanuk, Khatik, etc.
On the other hand, the BJP’s caste strategy comprised of mobilising the minor castes against the dominant caste within both SC and OBC categories, apart from getting support from ‘upper castes’ such as Brahmins, Rajputs, Baniyas, etc. Therefore, the saffron party is trying to woo the non-Yadav OBC castes such as Kahars, Kumhars, Telis, Lodhs, Koeris and Kurmis against the Yadavs – who make up the landed middle peasantry in the state. BJP’s alliance with Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party representing the Rajbhars and the Apna Dal representing Kurmis is part of this strategy.
A study conducted by the Centre for Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) says 18 per cent among the non-Yadav OBCs had voted for BJP between 2002 and 2012 and that went up to an overwhelming 60 per cent in the 2014 general elections. It also said that 45 per cent of non-Jatav Dalits voted for BJP in 2014.
Will opposition alliance be able to breach Modi Fortress?
Professor Badri Narayan, director of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Institute, confidently says that the opposition alliance will be successful in UP, as it is not merely an alliance of three political parties, but merging two important social bases – the OBCs and the Dalits.
“The Yadavs and Jatavs together form around 25.6 per cent of state’s population and if an upper caste community gets added, it will be an additional advantage. If the alliance manages to get even 15 per cent of the Muslim votes, the vote share adds up to 40 per cent. Congress too is expected to get 10-15 per cent votes. It is enough to put the BJP into difficulty,” he told Newsclick.
He explained, “The Yadavs constitute a large chunk of the OBC population and are likely to attract other OBCs and Most Backward Classes (MBCs) through social networking. Similarly, the BSP’s influence among the Jatavs, who form the largest Dalit community, is likely to attract a few smaller Dalit groups. Many MBC communities, such as the Nishads and Pals, who voted for the SP in the last election, have an easy interaction with the Dalits in their everyday life. So, both these parties also successfully transfer votes to each other, which may hold the key to the success of the alliance.”
On the SP-BSP strategy of going all out to rope in upper castes too, and the danger of alienating their own social base as a result, he accepted that it may impact both SP-BSP adversely but not fatally. “SP-BSP-RLD may rely on upper caste votes and may get it through candidates that will be an additional advantage for them. But the alliance must not give out an impression that they are inclined towards the upper caste as it may impact their core voters’ base, which has always remained opposed to that section of the society because of multiple reasons,” Narayan said.
Narayan did not feel that the SP-BSP alliance’s failure to clinch an alliance with the Apna Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party would damage its prospects.
Asked about the Shivpal Yadav’s factor, he added, “Some Yadavs votes can go in favour of Shivpal Yadav – who parted ways with the SP and floated his own political outfit – but that will not make his candidates winnable and I don’t think that Muslims will support him. Muslims usually vote after assessing the winnability of non-BJP political parties.”
Balakot strike – How much impact?
By registering two decisive victories, first in 2014 (Lok Sabha elections) with 71 of 80 seats and then in 2017 (State Assembly elections) with 312 of 403 seats, the BJP seemed to have made UP into an impenetrable citadel. This was helped by the communally polarized atmosphere after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots in western Uttar Pradesh and high anti-incumbency against the UPA government in the Centre. The split opposition made the BJP’s fight easier.
But this year, the party does not have the same fertile ground. There is a formidable SP-BSP-RLD alliance and an upbeat Congress, which has recently won elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. The SP-BSP alliance defeated the ruling BJP in all four by-elections, including in seats of Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and Deputy Chief Minister Keshav Prasad Maurya last year.
And perhaps, this is the reason the rhetoric of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ (together with all, development for all) has now been taken over by hyper nationalism.
Lucknow-based veteran journalist Ram Dutt Tripathi, who has served the BBC World Service for 21 years, says that with an aim to counter the opposition’s alliance caste equations, the BJP that usually goes to polls with the agenda of “aggressive Hindutva and religious polarisation” is also using the Balakot air strikes as a tool.
“The party is now trying to divert people’s attention from caste to aggressive nationalism. Since it is not clear that who will be the opposition’s prime ministerial candidate, the BJP is once again trying to capitalise on Modi’s face. Thus, the BJP this is using Modi’s face and hyper nationalism as their trump card to win the election. Only time will suggest how much success they get in their strategy,” he told Newsclick.
He also reiterated the fact that BJP is trying to align non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits in their fold. But this was not sufficient to challenge the SP-BSP. “BJP’s caste combination was weaker this time and the opposition alliance had an upper hand. The BJP sensed it, and was finding it difficult to tackle it. So, it started using nationalism card to push the alliance on back foot. They have so far got some success in their strategy to an extent,” he explained.
With an aim to counter BJP’s agenda of Hindutva and aggressive nationalism, he said, the SP-BSP alliance too is trying hard to consolidate Yadav-Dalit and Muslim votes. They are also trying to give tickets to Brahmins and Thakur so that the candidates can also add up some upper caste votes to the alliance kitty using their influence. It will be a bonus for them. The two parties extended their alliance and joined hands with the RLD so that Jat and Gujjar votes can be tapped.
Opposition not dealing with hyper nationalism effectively
Senior journalist Sharat Pradhan agreed with Tripathi and there was quite an unease in the BJP camp with the SP and the BSP had joining hands and formation of a new social combination. “This is why the BJP is politicising the Pakistan conflict and taking undue advantage. It has created a public perception that if anyone raises question on the air strike and the government’s foreign policy is anti-national. It has been done just to overshadow the caste factor that will benefit the BJP. Unfortunately, the strike has become a dominant factor in the state these days,” he said.
“But it would be interesting to see how long it continues as public mood and perception change rapidly. The problem is that the opposition is also confused how to tackle the strategy. I don’t understand why no body is raising the questions on failure on our part that led to the attack in Pulwama. The opposition also does not want to say much on this issue because it might be detrimental for them given the public perception. They have misguided people in the name of national security,” he said.
Asked does not he think that the social combination of Muslim-Dalits-OBCs will work, he replied, “It should be but the major problem is Muslim votes – which are likely to split and the BJP wants the same.”
Muslim votes – according to him – will get split between the Congress and SP-BSP-RLD as the community is inclined towards Congress these days. “But there is again a problem. The party (Congress) was sleeping for a long time and did not made any effort. Now, Priyanka Gandhi was brought into picture causing a rejuvenation in the party workers. She vanished again. She has appeared once again. The way she is performing is quite disillusioning. She comes and vanishes. This is not the way to contest elections,” he said adding that there is a section of Brahmins which is disillusioned with the BJP but is not going to vote for the SP-BSP-RLD alliance. “The Congress should project itself as a contender in the game. They will do for sure but they extremely slow,” he added.
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