Par­ties eye caste tie-ups in UP for 2019

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Ht Nation - sunita aron se­nior res­i­dent ed­i­tor

Shiv­pal Singh Ya­dav, younger brother of Sa­ma­jwadi Party (SP) pa­tri­arch Mu­layam Singh Ya­dav, had been sulk­ing for about two years. Ear­lier this month, as the nation edged closer to the 2019 Lok Sabha elec­tions, he de­cided to vir­tu­ally split the party, which his brother formed in 1992 and placed at the cen­trestage of pol­i­tics in Ut­tar Pradesh, by an­nounc­ing the for­ma­tion of a plat­form he in­tends to use to bring like-minded po­lit­i­cal groups to­gether.

Ut­tar Pradesh’s rul­ing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen by ob­servers to have ex­tended tacit sup­port to Shiv­pal , 63, the es­tranged un­cle of Mualayam Singh’s son and for­mer chief min­is­ter Akhilesh Ya­dav. Shiv­pal’s for­ma­tion of the Sa­ma­jwadi Sec­u­lar Mor­cha is op­por­tune for the BJP, which has been try­ing to forge caste-based tie-ups ahead of the gen­eral elec­tion to counter a grand al­liance of op­po­si­tion par­ties, no­tably the SP and Mayawati’s Bahu­jan Sa­maj Party (BSP).

The party’s Ut­tar Pradesh lead­ers, headed by chief min­is­ter Yogi Adityanath, are play­ing up the fam­ily feud, at­tack­ing SP chief, Akhilesh Ya­dav, 45, whose el­e­va­tion to the party’s pres­i­dency in 2017 had trig­gered a gen­er­a­tional shift in the SP. He poses a big­ger chal­lenge to the BJP than Shiv­pal does.

Log­i­cally speak­ing, the vir­tual split in the SP weak­ens Akhilesh and his claim on seats dur­ing seat-shar­ing talks with po­ten­tial poll part­ners. The BJP is all smiles; even a slight dent in the Ya­dav vote bank can turn the ta­bles on the SP in Ya­dav-dom­i­nated con­stituen­cies. How?

Com­pletely marginalised in the BJP dis­pen­sa­tion, the Ya­davs, along with the Jatavs (BSP chief Mayawati’s com­mit­ted vot­ers) have been gear­ing up to avenge their hu­mil­i­a­tion in the 2019 gen­eral elec­tions.

Al­though there has been no love lost be­tween the Jatavs and Ya­davs since a mid-1990s po­lit­i­cal brawl, fear of get­ting marginalised in the state’s pol­i­tics by a resur­gent BJP has com­pelled the two com­mu­ni­ties to come to­gether. The suc­cess of their ex­per­i­ment in the Go­rakh­pur, Kairana and Phulpur Lok Sabha by­polls boosted their con­fi­dence.

Shiv­pal can play spoil­sport in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Ut­tar Pradesh, ex­pected to be closely con­tested, in which ev­ery vote will have a huge value. It would be ad­van­tage BJP.

Ac­cord­ing to a po­lit­i­cal ex­pert, the BJP’s strat­egy is clear: if it can­not win over the Ya­davs, it can break them (read vote bank). And if it can­not win over Mayawati, it can wean away her vot­ers by of­fer­ing them sops.

At the end of the day, it is caste that clinches seats in UP.

Both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2017 Vid­han Sabha elec­tions, the BJP was rid­ing an un­prece­dented wave in favour of Naren­dra Modi. Yet, the party high com­mand had to sew up elec­toral al­liances, es­pe­cially in back­ward caste dom­i­nated east­ern UP which, bar­ring a few dis­tricts like Aza­m­garh, Mau and Varanasi, has a smaller Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion than western UP. Thus caste and not com­mu­nal po­lar­i­sa­tion de­cides poll out­comes.

The BJP en­tered into an elec­toral al­liance with the Suheldev Bhar­tiya Sa­maj Party (SBSP) of Om Prakash Ra­jb­har and Apna Dal of Anupriya Pa­tel. To­gether, the Ra­jb­hars and Kur­mis, which the two par­ties rep­re­sent, form a for­mi­da­ble caste al­liance in a ma­jor­ity of the con­stituen­cies in east UP.

Sim­i­larly, be­fore the 2017 polls, the party had propped up Ke­shav Prashad Mau­rya as its state pres­i­dent and adopted Dara Singh Chauhan and Deena Nath Bhasker from the BSP. The Op­po­si­tion was di­vided, fight­ing each other more than the BJP.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­pert Badri Narain said: “Some of th­ese castes are nu­mer­i­cally small, but have a huge im­pact in elec­tions as they hold the veto power and vote to­gether.”

Ac­cord­ing to him, as many as 40 Sched­uled Castes (SCs) and Most Back­ward Castes (MBCs) don’t have a leader in a state known for its iden­tity pol­i­tics. By giv­ing them rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the party in var­i­ous fo­rums, the BJP is try­ing to win them over. The Mal­lahs, the Kumhars, the Binds, the Nishads and the Lo­hars are a case in point.

CASTE IDEN­TITY

SBSP gen­eral sec­re­tary, Sha­shipratap Singh, claims the credit for the BJP’s spec­tac­u­lar per­for­mance in 27 dis­tricts of east UP.

“Its al­liance with the Apna Dal and the SBSP cre­ated an at­mos­phere in favour of the BJP. Even Modi’s vic­tory mar­gin would have gone down dras­ti­cally in Varanasi [with­out the al­liance] as Ra­jb­hars alone ac­count for 2.5 lakh votes,” Singh said.

Al­though the BJP has a com­mit­ted Hindu sup­port base, it is fol­low­ing BSP founder Kan­shi Ram’s dictum of “pro­tect the base vote and chase the core vote” and con­struct­ing a win­ning caste com­bi­na­tion in each con­stituency.

The grow­ing prospect of the SP and BSP, the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal form­ing a grand al­liance for the 2019 elec­tions has rat­tled the BJP lead­er­ship. It has al­ready had a bit­ter taste of the Op­po­si­tion’s com­bined strength in the re­cent Lok Sabha by­polls.

Tak­ing a leaf out of the BJP’s suc­cess book, the SP cor­rected the caste cal­cu­lus and turned the ta­bles on the rul­ing party in the Go­rakh­pur, Phulpur and the Kairana by­polls.

“Caste al­liances al­ways play a cru­cial role in win­ning polls in a state where iden­tity, though frac­tured at the caste level, is thriv­ing in pol­i­tics. Their mo­bil­i­sa­tion, de­spite their min­i­mal pop­u­la­tion, and the re­stricted pock­ets of in­flu­ence, make a huge elec­toral dif­fer­ence to main­line par­ties,” Narain said. Ev­ery party is work­ing on the caste cal­cu­lus be­cause the charisma of their lead­ers is not quite enough for the BJP to win 71 seats in the Lok Sabha, match­ing its 2014 tally, and for the Op­po­si­tion to in­crease its 2014 tally of seven seats.

If the BJP is tol­er­at­ing the out­bursts of Om Prakash Ra­jb­har, cab­i­net min­is­ter and pres­i­dent of SBSP , the SP-BSP are try­ing to come to­gether, for­get­ting years of mu­tual hos­til­ity.

The SBSP gen­eral sec­re­tary said his leader is only re­mind­ing the BJP high com­mand of its poll prom­ise of end­ing cor­rup­tion and dis­crim­i­na­tion against lower castes. “We are not break­ing away from the al­liance,” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to Dalit ac­tivist Satish Prakash, the grand al­liance has changed the pol­i­tics of the coun­try and it is in the in­ter­est of the non-BJP par­ties to join hands to take on the saf­fron power. How­ever, there can’t be any grand al­liance with­out the SP and the BSP join­ing it.

Po­lit­i­cal ex­perts say that while the BJP can de­pend fully on the Ba­nia, Ra­jput, Ra­jb­har and Kurmi vot­ers, it is not easy to pre­dict which way the Brah­min vote will go. Sim­i­larly, op­po­si­tion par­ties, who are prospec­tive mem­bers of the grand al­liance, will try and con­struct a coali­tion of Ya­davs, Mus­lims, Jatavs and, partly, the Jats, to take on the rul­ing party.

The rest of the castes will be up for grabs. That is where the par­ties are con­cen­trat­ing now.

HT FILE

■ Ut­tar Pradesh is known for its iden­tity pol­i­tics, and caste arith­metic con­tin­ues to dic­tate the poll man­date in the state, say po­lit­i­cal ob­servers.

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