The BJP’s ambitious plan of marshalling the support of Dalits, upper castes and backwards in Uttar Pradesh in the run up to the Assembly elections appears to be in tatters.
The party has been forced on to the back foot following the outrageous remarks by one of its leaders - now expelled from the party - against Bahujan Samaj Party’s chief Mayawati, the most dominant leader from the Scheduled Caste community in country’s most populous state.
Union ministers have tried to reach out to Mayawati, with condemnation of the comment against her and disciplinary action against BJP vice president Dayashankar Singh.
But Mayawati hasn’t bought the BJP’s platitudes and has been quick to make capital at the expense of the saffron party to get back in the reckoning in UP.
Dalits account for a little over 22% of UP’s population and have traditionally voted for Mayawati, before the BJP breached that bastion in 2014 under Narendra Modi. The BJP has maximum number of SC MPs from UP - 18 to be precise.
The BJP has since then tried to appropriate the legacy of Dalit icon BR Ambedkar and tried to reach out to the weaker section through economic welfare measure.
But Mayawati is trying to scuttle the BJP’s march through identity politics. She took the lead in the Rajya Sabha to target BJP government in Gujarat over flogging of Dalit men on suspicion of cow slaughter. And the massive street protest in Lucknow following Dayashankar’a remarks against her was another clear signal that she is trying hard to make up lost ground.
The BSP, though, is not the BJP’s only problem. The Congress’ move to appoint former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit as its CM face in UP has upset BJP’s game plan. The BJP doesn’t expect the upper caste, particularly Brahmins, to vote for the Congress because it has a CM face from the community. But its leaders concede that this will put more pressure on the BJP to woo Brahmins more overtly than it has been doing so far.
But there is a risk that wooing Brahmins will have a negative bearing on the party’s plan for Dalits and OBCs. “If we give more tickets to Brahmins, it will be at the cost of some other community,” a BJP office bearer said.
For now, the BJP is the only party without a chief ministerial candidate. The party leadership has been deliberating on this issue but hasn’t reached a conclusion.
The BJP fears that projecting a Brahmin as chief minister might alienate the backward communities, particularly when the party has to contend with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav who comes from an OBC background. The OBCs are the single largest social group in UP and the BJP has tried to leverage the demographic equation by appointing Keshav Prasad Maurya, a backward caste leader, as its state chief.
Ironically, what is restraining the BJP from announcing an OBC candidate as chief minister is the fear that the upper castes, particularly Brahmins, may go with the BSP, which is trying to recover from desertion by a few senior leaders by mobilising its cadre over the insult to Mayawati.
Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs - who are largely known for voting non-BJP parties - account for nearly 40% of UP’s population which leaves the BJP with a target vote base of just 60% that could back it.
But this 60% includes Brahmins and Thakurs for which the BJP faces stiff competition from all three rivals - the SP, BSP and Congress.