Caste plays a key role in politics in India, more so in the Hindi heartland states. A survey by The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Azim Premji Institute shows that 55% of Indians are likely to prefer the candidate of their caste in elections
Mayawati and Akhilesh have announced an alliance for the key state of Uttar Pradesh. The BJP won 71 out of 80 seats from the state in 2014 which propelled it to cross the halfway mark in the same year. Data shows that the split of votes between the SP and BSP helped the party. Though two plus two is not always four in politics, and there are several challenges ahead for mahagathbandhan in UP, which has made the contest interesting.
Caste is cast in stone in UP
Caste plays a key role in politics in India, more so in the Hindi heartland states. A survey by The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) and Azim Premji Institute shows that 55% of Indians are likely to prefer the candidate of their caste in elections. The ‘agadey versus pichadey’ contest has been intensified in UP since the Mandal issue.
The Ram mandir issue did unify the Hindu voters in 1990s but it reversed back to caste based politics in the 20th century. In 2014, Modi’s development agenda trumped caste politics and the BJP swept the state. Upper caste account for 18%, Yadavs 10%, Non-Yadav OBCs 29%, SCs 21% (Jatavs 14%, Non Jatavs 7%) and Muslims 20% of population of the state. The upper caste has been traditional supporters of the BJP, Dalits of BSP and Yadavs and Muslims of SP.
Dalits consist of Jatavs (Chamars) and non-Jatavs. The Jatavs account for 12% of the population. Mayawati belongs to this caste group. The balance 9%, include Dom, Dhobi, Pasi, Kori, Valmiki etc are collectively called the non-Jatavs. Both these groups have historically supported the BSP. But the level of BSP support has been lower among non-Jatavs (half) than Jatavs (three-fourth).
The non-Yadav OBCs consist of 200 plus sub-caste groups like Kurmi, Koeri, Lodh, Gujjar, Rajbhar, Nishad etc and account for 29% of the population. These groups have different dynamics and do not vote en-block like Yadavs. These other sub-groups have not exhibited rigid caste loyalties.
BJP successfully created 2 niche caste blocks in 2014
The BJP effectively exploited the disillusionment among the NYOBC and non-Jatavs. These voters previously used to back the SP and BSP respectively. Non-Yadavs were unhappy with reservation benefits and party positions in the SP hijacked by Yadavs. Similarly, non-Jatavs were unhappy with Jatavs getting government jobs out of quota and plum positions in the BSP.
The SP is effectively controlled by Jatavs while the BSP by Mayawati, who hails from the Jatav community. Sixty percent of NYOBC and 45% of non-Jatavs supported the BJP in 2014 and accounted for 20.6% vote share almost half of NDA support of 42.3%. This effectively reduced the SP to just five seats and the BSP couldn’t even open its account.
Support of all other caste blocks almost fixed
The support of all other caste blocks in UP is fixed. These voters have already made up their mind as they are traditional supporters. The upper caste is likely to go with the BJP. The damage by ordinance on SC-ST Atrocities Act has been controlled by the recent 10% reservation for the economically weaker sections in government jobs and educational institutions. The party suffered badly in Madhya Pradesh, where a section of upper caste and in Chhattisgarh, where a section of OBCs deserted the party in recent elections.
The minority vote is likely to go with the mahagathbandhan. Now there is no confusion among these voters as to who is in the best position to defeat the BJP. The Yadavs are likely to stick with the SP. The Jatavs are likely to vote for Mayawati as they want to see her as the Prime Minister. The Jats are likely to back Ajit Singh’s RLD. They can’t go with mahagathbandhan as they share an acrimonious relationship with minorities.
NYOBCs and non-Jatavs to play role of kingmaker in 2019
Over the years, Uttar Pradesh has witnessed many small parties springing up, catering to the demands of such sub-groups like Apna Dal (Kurmis), SBSP (Rajbhar), Nishad Party (Nishads), Mahan Dal (Shakyas / Mauryas). Apna Dal was part of the NDA and has influence in east UP. The SBSP allied with the BJP for the state elections in 2017. Mahan Dal was part of the UPA in 2014. The Nishad Party, whose candidate defeated the BJP in Gorakhpur by-poll contesting on SP ticket, is likely to be with mahagathbandhan and get two seats.
The BJP is facing pressure from allies in seat distribution and has lost some influence over Nishads (4% of the population). Non-Jatavs may not wholeheartedly support the decision of Mayawati to seal alliance with Akhilesh. How come they will vote for perpetrators of decades of violence on them? These blocks account for about 40% of population and will play the role of kingmaker again.
BJP needs to increase support among NYOBCs, non-Jatavs
Mere maintenance of the previous support will not be enough for the BJP in the wake of the mahagathbandhan. It needs to increase its penetration among these communities to guarantee a good performance in Uttar Pradesh.
In my opinion, it could take the following steps:
- Continue working on the smaller groups of most backward and extremely backward OBCs.
- Identify key influencers/community leaders and initiate dialogue with them.
- Give 40% tickets to NYOBCs like in Assembly polls.
- Give max tickets to non-Jatavs in SC reserved seats.
- Keep allies happy, either give more tickets than 2014 or accommodate in the state ministry.
- Exploit inherent contradictions between SP-BSP in mahagathbandhan.
- Keep highlighting fact that the PM belongs to the backward community (Asmita factor).
To sum up, the BJP needs to increase its support among NYOBCs and non-Jatavs to thwart competition from the mahagathbandhan, as they could well again play the role of kingmakers.
Last Updated 2:19 PM IST