Parties weigh in caste as tickets are allotted in MP
OFFICIALLY, THE BHARATIYA JANATA PARTY AND CONGRESS MAINTAIN THAT CASTE IS NOT A FACTOR IN SELECTING CANDIDATES. THEY SAY WINNABILITY IS THE ONLY CRITERION THEY FOLLOW
BHOPAL: Brajendra Pratap Singh jumped headlong into campaigning after he was named the Bharatiya Janata Party’s candidate from Madhya Pradesh’s Pawai, a seat he won in 2008 but lost in the 2013 polls, in the party’s first list on November 2.
But the minister of state for agriculture was in for a surprise just a week later when the party decided to shift him to Panna, roughly 50 kilometre away. BJP leaders said on condition of anonymity that the decision was driven by reports of adverse caste equations in the area – a section of the workers were unhappy that a Brahmin candidate had not been given the ticket to fight the Congress nominee, also a Brahmin. The party finally replaced Singh with Prahlad Lodhi, a member of the other backward class (OBC) community that makes up a sizeable chunk of the constituency’s population.
Similar considerations sway decisions at the opposite end of the political spectrum. The Congress, for example, fielded an OBC face, Arun Yadav, to take on chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Budhni, moving away from its past practice of fielding candidates from the same caste as Chouhan (Kirar). Party leaders say they are hoping to unite all the non-kirar votes. Both major parties have carefully weighed caste considerations while allotting tickets for the 148 non-reserved seats among the 230 assembly seats in the state. In the Maoist-affected Balaghat district, for example, both parties have nominated OBC leaders for an overwhelming majority of all unreserved seats because the community holds sway in the region. Among the 148 non-reserved seats, Congress leaders say the party gave about 40% tickets to OBCS followed by about 27% to Thakurs and about 23% to Brahmins. The remaining has gone to other upper castes and minorities candidates. BJP leaders say the party has given about 39% tickets to OBCS, 24% to Thakurs and 23% to Brahmins. Thirty-four seats are reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) and 41 for Scheduled Tribe (ST). Official data on candidate selection is not available because no census counting OBC numbers has been made public.
Political analyst Girijashankar said, “Castes do exist in society. None of the political parties can ignore it. Parties have been doing the caste politics to strengthen their vote banks. Hence, they cannot annoy upper castes while trying to keep in good humour the SC/ST.”
“Winnability is the sole criterion in selection of candidates for any of the political parties. None of the parties can ignore the caste composition of the particular constituencies in deciding the candidates for the same. For instance, in selecting the candidates for Vindhya region one cannot ignore the dominance of Brahmins and Thakurs in particular pockets. Different regions have different caste equations and dominance”, said a senior Congress leader on the condition of anonymity.
Officially, both parties dismiss caste as a factor in the selection of candidates. State BJP vice-president Vijesh Lunawat said, “BJP is a cadre-based party where a worker’s personality grows not as per his caste or community but as per his work and service to the society while adhering to the party’s ideology and principles. Once a worker mingles with society he ceases to be a member of any particular caste.”
State Congress spokesperson Bhupendra Gupta said, “Winnability is certainly a factor for any political party but it doesn’t mean compromising with the party’s principles. Congress’ history is it never believes in any caste or creed unlike the BJP.”