Is Uttar Pradesh ready to cast aside caste?

Caste politics endures in UP - if only in reverse. But perhaps its space is shrinking. This time round, the space is taken up by demands - for education, for development, for bijli, sadak, paani.

If nothing else, two consecutive sweeps - in 2007 for Mayawati and in 2012 for Mulayam Singh Yadav - shows people across all sections in agreement.

In the post-counting press conference, the architect of Samajwadi Party's victory, Akhilesh Yadav, was quick to point it out: "Without a doubt, the people have voted for the SP rising above caste and religion factors." 

In 2007, what worked for Mayawati was broadening the BSP base to include Brahmins, Muslims and traders. What undid her was doling the goodies only to Dalits, thereby alienating the rest.

In Ayodhya, BJP's loss made the temple officially a non-issue and in Amethi and Rae Bareli, the people punished the Congress, whose legislators did not even lend an ear to their grievances.

"Apart from the Muslim-Yadav combine, the Brahmin-Thakur community also voted for the SP," said a senior RLD leader.

"The caste factor had no doubt defined the performance of the parties," said Prof Badri Narayan of GB Pant Institute, Allahabad. But developmental issues, especially regional disparities, also played significant role in tilting the balance, he added. "Even women in rural areas talked about bijli, sadak, paani during campaigning."

In fact, Mulayam's social engineering has worked better in numbers than Mayawati's in 2007, said a senior IAS officer. And the reason was the 52.55 lakh young voters, who took up Akhilesh Yadav on his promise of development.

"Akhilesh worked tirelessly to reach out to the people," said SP spokesman Rajendra Chaudhury. "The people have accepted his leadership."

So what of the statehood demand? Even though Mayawati tried to whip up regional sentiments with the plan for division of the state - Poorvanchal, Bundelkhand, Awadh and West UP - the overwhelming support for SP indicated that the gamble had failed.

"Trifurcation was not an issue during campaigning," said senior SP leader Ambika Chaudhury. "People want development, not division."


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