This article was originally published in Merinews.
Uttar Pradesh (UP) elections which are being considered as semi-finals to the Lok Sabha elections in 2019 are slated to take place next year. BJP which swept the state bagging 71/80 seats in 2014 Lok Sabha polls is itching to return to power in the state after 1.5 decades.
It is a prestige election for Amit Shah and a must win after having lost Bihar. It was the Ram Mandir movement in UP which propelled BJP to national stage and PM Narendra Modi is an MP from Varanasi. Recently in a rally celebrating two years of Modi Sarkar, he flaunted that he is a “UP wallah”, leaving his “Gujarati chora” image behind, signalling the significance of these polls for the party.
Caste has always been a key factor in Uttar Pradesh polls
The Mandal movement (OBC reservation led by VP Singh) and kamandal (Ram Mandir led by Advani) in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s changed the landscape of the electoral politics in the state forever. During the same period Kanshiram led BSP positioned itself as a radical Dalit party opposed to manuvadi forces.
After Rajiv’s death in 1991, Congress literally got wiped out from the state. The majority of OBC votes of Congress were lapped up by Janata Dal and later Samajwadi Party, Upper caste votes by BJP and Dalit votes by BSP.
From 1989 to 2007, the state gave fractured mandates witnessing 10 chief ministerial and 3 President’s Rule terms. In 2007 and 2012 the people fed up with instability gave clear mandates to BSP and SP which were able to form social combination of castes beyond their traditional vote segments.
Caste Groups in UP
There is no official caste wise population available for Uttar Pradesh as last caste census was carried out in 1931 and latest numbers have not been revealed by government yet. Based on my own research, CSDS data and other sources, I have calculated the caste wise break-up of the state as shown below.
Hindus account for 81% and Muslims 19% of population. Amongst Hindus, OBCs account for 44%, Dalits 21% and Upper Castes 16%. Amongst OBCs Yadavs account for 9%, Kurmis / Koeris 7% and Jats 2% of population. Other OBC caste groups include Lodhs (2%), Sunar, Patel, Dhobi, Mochi etc. amongst total of 234 caste groups.
Support Base of Various Parties
Majority of the various castes have backed different parties historically – Dalits (Mayawati’s BSP), Yadavs (Mulayam’s SP), Upper Castes & OBCs (BJP). While the Vaish community has backed BJP, Jats of Western Uttar Pradesh have backed Ajit Singh led Rashtriya Lok Dal.
2/3rd of BJP voters are OBCs, Brahmins and Rajputs. 85% of BSP voters are Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. 75% of SP voters are Muslims, Yadavs and OBCs. 2/3rd of Congress voters are Muslims, Yadavs and Brahmins. (based on last three assembly polls)
These caste / religions groups have also shifted allegiance to suit their needs. For e.g., upper castes voted in large numbers for BSP in 2007 to defeat SP as BJP their traditional party was not in a position to dislodge Mulayam. In 2012, many Dalits shifted their allegiance from BSP to SP to protest against the Brahminization of the party and their side-lining. Dalits and OBCs voted for Modi in 2014 attracted by his development agenda.
Many castes don’t go along well with each other
Not only are there many groups, also there is antagonism amongst some groups. Brahmins and Rajputs have been at war with each other in Bihar as well as UP to claiming supremacy over upper castes. That’s why while Brahmins have generally supported BJP and Congress, section of Rajputs have also supported SP.
There is also simmering tension between Yadavs and Other OBCs who accuse SP of passing on all benefits to their caste and ignoring others. Dalits and Yadavs can never come together to vote for the same political party as their economic interests clash – the Yadavs were predominantly landowners while Dalits were landless and in many places Yadavs were seen as exploiting dalit labour.1
Forming a social combination beyond anchor vote segments key to victory
For the past many years since 1993 the state has witnessed hung assembly and khicdi governments. However in 2007 and 2012 people gave clear mandate to BSP and SP. This was made possible as both these parties ushered a new era of inclusionary politics trying to forge a rainbow coalition of caste groups beyond their traditional vote banks.
Resultantly upper castes backed BSP attracted by their “sarvjan” rather than “bahujan” philosophy. In 2012, SP was able to attract a section of Jatavs disillusioned by BSP. BSP’s vote share from Dalits, SP’s vote share from Yadavs and BJP’s vote share from Upper castes have peaked. Hence the urgency to look outside.
Development and governance trumped caste identities in LS Polls
In Lok Sabha 2014, for the first time since the advent of mandal (OBC reservation) and kamandal (Ram mandir) politics, people voted for development as it trump caste dynamics amid Modi wave. 50%+ Hindus across caste groups (except Jatavs – Mayawati and Yadavs – Mulayam) backed BJP. “This victory signalled a paradigm shift in voter behaviour, with a preference for good governance and development pushing out the identity politics of caste and community.”2
Does this signal the end of caste based politics in UP?
Modi was the unifying factor among caste groups in the name of development in 2014. With Modi factor increasingly absent in state polls and assembly polls focussed on local issues, caste factor is expected to come back to the fore in UP. Parties are vying to retain their traditional vote bank while at the same time trying to increase their social reach through alliances and distributing tickets to target caste groups.
In line with this approach BJP has appointed an OBC to head the state unit but is still confused on whether to go ahead with announcing a CM candidate or not. And if it decides to go ahead, which caste he / she should belong to. SP has inducted back Amar Singh (Rajput) and Beni Prasad Verma (Kurmi). Congress strategist has openly advocated naming a Brahmin as its CM candidate and is trying to revive its traditional Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim vote bank.
The elections are expected to be another cracker after Bihar. While BSP is ahead as per polls currently things will heat up as poll dates near. Each seat will be fought hard and caste combinations on that seat plus choice of candidates will determine which party will win. The alliance which is able to create the best caste combination on each seat would win in the end.