As BJP’s UP president Keshav Prasad Maurya gets off his chopper in a small kasba in Saharanpur to campaign for party candidate Pradeep Chaudhary, a crowd rushes towards him. And he is taken to a rally venue.
In the next car, Om Pal Singh Saini, who introduces himself as the president of the All India Saini Seva Sangh, says, “This time, BJP has shown us respect: the entire Saini-Maurya-Kushwaha-Kashyap samaj (caste groups) is with BJP because Maurya will be CM.”
If one element of the BJP electoral strategy in west UP rests on religious polarisation, the other more central element across the state rests on consolidation of non-Yadav OBC castes. Except announcing an OBC face as CM candidate, the party has done all that is possible to woo the constituency. And it is paying dividends as these caste groups consolidate behind the party.
The first hint of this strategy had come in the Lok Sabha polls - 26 of 28 BJP OBC candidates won.
It then appeared when Maurya, an otherwise unknown first time MP from Phulpur, was handpicked by Amit Shah to become the state party president. He had been close to the VHP supremo Ashok Singhal and but the more obvious qualification was caste. Maurya represented the non-Yadav OBC castes, small and scattered across the state but around 30% when taken together.
It then got reflected in the appointment of district presidents — in Saharanpur, for instance, the head belongs to the Kashyap caste. Over 30 district chiefs are from OBC or SCs .
And most crucially, it got reflected in ticket distribution. Back in his chopper, Maurya says, “Over 125 OBCs have got tickets. This is the first time BJP has given so many tickets to these groups.”
But when asked why it has not announced an OBC CM face, maybe Maurya himself, he replies, with a smile, “Every BJP worker is a CM face.”
But he adds that so many tickets being given means they will have substantial participation in state’s power structure . The BJP believes this constituency feels unrepresented. “They voted for SP but only one group benefited. Mayawati also privileges only one group. People are angry,” explains Maurya. Unlike Bihar, where Nitish Kumar channeled the aspirations of non-Yadav OBC groups, seething at Yadav domination, there is no such leader in UP. The BJP hopes to fill that gap.
There is history too. Chandra Mohan, a BJP state spokesperson says that in the early 90s, BJP had combined Hindutva with Kalyan Singh as the face— Singh came from the Lodh community, another non Yadav OBC group. This was the period when the party was most successful.
But then OBCs began shifting to SP and BSP. “These castes also are pro- Hindu castes in orientation. We have brought them back this time.”