Will the caste arithmetic add up as planned?

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on January 13, 2018 Published on March 07, 2017

Which way will the vote go? Varanasi residents on the bank of the Ganga, on Tuesday   -  Rajeev Bhatt


Tense moments for BJP, SP and BSP as curtains fall today on UP elections

The hard-fought, triangular contest in Uttar Pradesh is reaching its grand finale on Wednesday, sealing the fate of Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav’s experiment with an alliance with the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s outreach to the Muslims and the BJP’s new caste arithmetic.

Votes will be polled across seven districts and 40 constituencies in the Poorvanchal region, which saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself camping in his constituency Varanasi, to take on the challenge mounted by provincial rivals Akhilesh and Mayawati.

Besides the development rhetoric where Akhilesh emulated the PM’s Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas plank to chant ‘ Kam bolta hai’ (‘my work speaks’), the most critical element of each contestant’s poll strategy was caste arithmetic.

In a triangular contest where the winner will need to cross 30 per cent vote share to form the government, the effort was to combine the extra caste to the original social support base.

The SP aligned with the Congress primarily to contain a division in the Muslims who comprise roughly about 19 per cent of the State’s population.

Along with the Yadavs, who are about 9 per cent, this constitutes the core base of the SP’s social support. The Yadavs form the biggest chunk of the OBC population of UP. The total OBC population is 45 per cent, which includes Kurmis, Koeris, Lodhs, Telis, Kumahars, Kahars et al.

The BSP stakes a claim on the Dalits, who account for 21.1 per cent of the State’s population. Among them, the Jatavs/Chamars, the caste to which BSP chief Mayawati belongs, is the largest chunk i.e. about 56.3 per cent of the Dalit population. The second are the Pasis, about 15.9 per cent, followed by Dhobi, Valmiki, Dhanuk, Khatik et al.

The additional vote in the BSP’s calculation this time will come from the Muslims. Keeping this in mind, the BSP chief has made peace with powerful clans such as the Ansaris led by Mukhtar Ansari of the Quomi Ekta Dal in eastern UP.

Seat allocation

The BSP has given the highest number of seats to Muslims, 100, in the state. The BJP has not fielded a single Muslim in all the 403 seats.

The BJP’s caste arithmetic comprised an aggressive strategy to pit the minor castes against the dominant caste in both SC and OBC categories. So, against the Yadavs, who symbolise the middle peasantry empowerment in UP, the BJP wooed the Kurmis, Koeris, Lodhs, Telis, Kumhars and Kahars.

In the present election, 35-40 per cent of the BJP’s candidates are from non-Yadav OBC castes with a preference for Koeris (Shakya, Kushwaha, Maurya surnames), Kurmis (who go by surnames such as Patel, Chaudhary, Verma et al), Lodhs and Nishads. The BJP’s State unit president Keshav Prasad Maurya is a Koeri and the party has weaned away an influential leader like Swami Prasad Maurya from the BSP.

Furthermore, the BJP has tied up with two small parties representing minor sub-castes among the OBCs. It allocated eight seats to the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, led by Om Prakash Rajbhar, in eastern UP to attract the Rajbhars. Apna Dal, representing Kurmis, has also aligned with the BJP. This shows a recognition of the non-Yadav OBC voting patterns. According to the Centre for Study of Developing Societies, as opposed to 18 per cent among the non-Yadav OBCs who voted for the BJP between 2002 and 2012, an overwhelming 60 per cent voted for the BJP in the 2014 general elections.

The same trend follows among non-Jatav SC voters. Prior to 2014, as many as 53 per cent of the non-Jatav SCs voted for the BSP. However, in 2014, 45 per cent of non-Jatav SCs voted for the BJP. So, the BJP’s caste formula includes its core support base of Brahmins (about 10-13 per cent), Thakurs (about 6-7 per cent) plus non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav SCs.

Star power

Coupled with the star power and popularity of Modi, communal polarisation which was stepped up after the first two phases and aggressive poll and media management, the BJP hopes its combative caste formula will pay dividends this time as well.

The communal rhetoric — scaled up with none other than the PM talking about cremation grounds and burial grounds — was stepped up after the second phase. In the first two phases, there are districts where Muslim population goes up to 50 per cent and communal polarisation can damage the BJP. But the moment the Muslim percentage drops below 15 per cent, a consolidation of Hindu votes helps the BJP. The rhetoric was thus stepped up as elections moved from western to central and eastern UP, where the Muslim population drops, except in districts such as Azamgarh, Mau and Ghazipur.

The stage is now set for a final test of the strategies adopted by the three keen contestants.

Published on March 07, 2017

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