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Uttar Pradesh: Not yet a done deal

Despite claims of a no-contest, the BJP and Congress-SP alliance are actively vying for the OBC vote while also courting the Scheduled Castes.

Published : Mar 18, 2024 16:37 IST - 7 MINS READ

Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and Samajwadi party national president Akhilesh Yadav meet supporters during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, in Agra, on February 25.

Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, and Samajwadi party national president Akhilesh Yadav meet supporters during the Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra, in Agra, on February 25. | Photo Credit: Sandeep Saxena

In electorally significant Uttar Pradesh, there is widespread expectation of a BJP sweep in the general election despite the pressing issues of unemployment, inflation, and stagnant incomes of the agrarian community. The confidence is attributed to the personal clout of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, and the massive capital and election machinery at their disposal.

The opposition INDIA bloc, which has the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress as principal constituents, is raising the pitch for a caste census, a gamble they are hopeful will fragment the non-Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) consolidation for the ruling party, but experts say that is unlikely to happen in time for the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

Some political experts also say that unlike in 2019, the BJP will have to put in considerable legwork to retain its brute majority in the State’s 80 Lok Sabha seats as the planks of national security and Hindu nationalism “can now only help in environment building” rather than act as sole triggers for voter mobilisation. This view is supported by the BJP’s multifaceted election strategy, including its rush to assemble a coalition with smaller parties such as the Jayant Chaudhary-led Rashtriya Lok Dal, its carpet-bombing with economic incentives, and its last-minute implementation of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, which some say is a ploy to communally polarise the electoral landscape. 

Also Read | Daring dozen: 12 crucial States where BJP is likely to face a stiff challenge

The OBCs make up 52 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population, and it is by consolidating the non-Yadav castes within the OBCs that the BJP scripted its meteoric rise in the State with the 2014 general election, when it won 71 of Uttar Pradesh’s 80 seats. In 2019, this tally reduced to 62, as the SP and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) formed an alliance. With the Congress and the SP together this time, the BJP is leaving no stone unturned to reach out to the community.

Among the OBCs, the Kurmis are the second largest caste after the Yadavs. The Mauryas, the Kushwahas, and the Lodhs are the other significant castes in the OBC matrix. The BJP’s pick of Nayab Singh Saini as Haryana Chief Minister is aimed at wooing the Saini, the Sharkya, the Lodh, and the Kushwaha castes in the State’s western frontier.

A blitzkrieg of sops

The caste permutations and combinations are supported by a blitzkrieg of sops before the model code of conduct came into effect on March 16, when the Election Commission announced the election dates. Voting will take place in seven phases between April 19 and June 1. Voting in Uttar Pradesh will be spread across all seven phases.

On March 12, Adityanath laid foundation stones for projects worth more than Rs.11,000 crore in Lucknow. His government announced a 100 per cent rebate on electricity bills on tube wells that farmers use, a concession that is estimated to provide relief to 14.73 lakh beneficiaries in rural areas and 5,188 in urban areas. The BJP is also highlighting its incentive politics and wide networks of labharthis, or beneficiaries who gain from its schemes.

Also Read | BJP’s strategic relaunch of CAA unveils a relentless pursuit of majoritarian agenda  

On March 12, at a public meeting in Lucknow, Adityanath said: “More than Rs.3,500 crore has been distributed to 15 lakh poor in the State, 56 lakh people have received free houses under the PM Awaas scheme, and 15 crore people have benefited from the free ration facility.”

The opposition, on the other hand, is determined to fragment the BJP’s rainbow Hindu consolidation by mobilising OBC voters around the caste census gambit. When Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Nyay Yatra entered Uttar Pradesh in February, he called upon people to “fight for a caste census”. In Raebareli, he said that until the caste census was held, “justice will elude 73 per cent of the population”. 

Suhaib Ansari of the SP said that the BJP’s politics focusses on facilitating individual leaders from the OBC community. “The BJP has tied up with OBC leaders such as Anupriya Patel, Sanjay Nishad, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Keshav Maurya, among others. While these individual leaders have benefited by their association with the BJP, there is no tangible change in the socio-economic conditions of the OBCs, particularly the youths who are bearing the brunt of unemployment,” the legislator from Mohammadabad, told Frontline

  • In electorally significant Uttar Pradesh, there’s widespread anticipation of a BJP sweep despite critical issues like unemployment, inflation, and stagnant incomes.
  • The INDIA bloc, including Samajwadi Party and Congress, is advocating for a caste census, aiming to disrupt the non-Yadav OBC consolidation supporting the ruling party.
  • Analysts say Congress SP’s emphasis on OBC concerns, without addressing urgent economic needs, may not yield much, while both BJP and opposition focus on Dalits, seeking new leadership amid Mayawati’s diminishing influence.

Voter “defections” from the BJP unlikely

However, political analysts say that the Congress and the SP’s pro-OBC exhortations in the absence of concrete economic programmes catering to people’s immediate needs are unlikely to lead to voter “defections” from the BJP. Prof. Sudhir, a sociologist based in Shamli in western Uttar Pradesh, told Frontline: “There is no traction on the ground as far as the opposition’s OBC mobilisation is concerned. The top leadership of the Congress and the Samajwadi Party are talking about the caste census, but their cadre has not taken the message to the people.”

Central to both the BJP’s and the opposition’s game plan are Dalits, who are increasingly looking for new leadership and patronage networks as BSP supremo Mayawati’s clout diminishes by the day. The Scheduled Caste vote, nearly 21 per cent of the electorate, is broadly divided into Jatavs (11.7 per cent), Pasis (3.3 per cent), Valmikis (3.15 per cent), Gonds, Dhanuks and Khatiks (1.2 per cent), and others (1.6 per cent). In 2019, the BJP won 15 of the 17 reserved seats in the State, with the BSP clinching the other 2.

On March 8, BJP national president J.P. Nadda addressed the party’s Dalit Mahasammelan in Agra, with Dalit Ministers in the Modi and Yogi Cabinets in attendance. Adityanath helmed similar conventions across the State in October 2023. However, a spate of attacks on Dalits has cast a shadow over the BJP’s prospects. At Silai Baragaon village in Uttar Pradesh’s Rampur district, Somesh Kumar, a Jatav youth, was shot dead on February 27 during a row over the Ambedkar Park that the Jatav community had inaugurated there. Four police personnel are among the 25 accused named in a related FIR.

On March 6, Rakesh Nishad, the 50-year-old father of two gang rape victims, died in mysterious circumstances in Hamirpur. His minor girls, aged 14 and 16 years, were found hanging from a tree in a field a week earlier, after they were allegedly gang-raped at a brick kiln in Kanpur’s Ghatampur locality.

Opposition intensifies efforts to mobilise Dalits

The opposition is intensifying its efforts to mobilise Dalits who are integral to the PDA (Pichhada, Dalit, Adivasi) coalition it has envisaged. But political experts differ on the ultimate character of the churning that is expected to take place among Dalits. The SP regimes in the past were seen as hostile to Dalits, with Yadav musclemen concentrating power and ignoring their interests. Dalits are more likely to migrate to an independent, resurgent Congress than when it is piggybacking on the SP.

Also Read | Halting the juggernaut

Major Himanshu Singh, a political commentator from the State, agrees. According to him, the Congress-SP alliance is not an organic electoral alliance, and Dalits are largely averse to the SP. “The opposition’s proclivity for seeing the PDA as a monolith is a political misfire,” Singh told Frontline. “It is a layered and fragmented social bloc with competing identities and socio-economic interests. Those among the Dalits who will defect from the BSP are expected to move to the BJP or the Congress. The SP’s presence will only weaken the Congress’ prospects.” In his opinion, the current “advantage BJP” scenario is actually due to the opposition’s lack of consensus on election talking points, a lack of consistency, and inadequate ground visibility. 

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