The UP election is turning out to be a war to grab the support of major castes.
Playing the caste card again, the BSP has been desperately trying to retain its Dalit base, which, along with other castes, had brought it to power in 2007.
A move is also afoot to ward off
anti-incumbency by utilising caste combinations in next month's election.
That caste dynamics is the key to CM and BSP head Mayawati's electoral gameplan has been evidenced in the manner tickets had been distributed.
Even before the announcement of the elections, the party had been carrying out its Dalit agenda by repeatedly directing officials to complete projects meant for scheduled castes and scheduled tribes.
However, the Dalits, around 18% of the population, alone are not the key to power. Mayawati earned the support of other castes, which increased the BSP's voting percentage from 23.19 in 2002 to 30.43 in 2007.
"Our social engineering formula is intact, the party will win (easily)," said BSP state president Swami Prasad Maurya.
But there is a general feeling that it is not so. This was reflected in the 2009 Lok Sabha election, when the party's poll percentage had come down to 227.42.
An expert on Dalit issues, Badri Narain of the GB Pant Institute, Allahabad, said caste-based politics had adversely affected development. While it had helped Dalit empowerment, only one or two of the 62 Dalit castes could benefit from it.
"Caste should now transform into class consciousness so that radical changes can take place in society," he said.
"Even these groups (the ones dominant among the Dalits) have become feudal within their own sections," Narain added.
Legislative Council member and teachers' group leader Om Prakash Sharma said: "Anti-incumbency is now heavier than social engineering."
In the absence of authentic data, a rough breakup of the population caste-wise is: Backward classes 52% (according to the Mandal report), Dalits 18%, Brahmins and Thakurs 5% each, Muslims 17% and remaining 3%.
Sharma said in successive parliamentary and assembly elections after the implementation of the Mandal commission report, the caste aspect had emerged a dominant factor in electoral combinations.