Even as he preferred to stay out of the BJP till he proved his "innocence" in a health scam, former UP minister Babu Singh Kushwaha has pledged support to the saffron party in UP to buttress the OBC quota. He said this was necessary to prevent the quota from being drained off to the minorities.
The BJP, seen as an upper-caste party, is planning to attract Hindu OBCs this time by opposing the carving out of a separate 4.5% backward minorities' quota from the 27% central OBC quota pie.
Kushwaha, who was family welfare minister in the Mayawati government, had been dropped on charges of involvement in the National Rural Health Mission scam and then expelled from the BSP.It is Hindutva wedded to social justice this time, with the BJP defending the "Hindu backwards" against the Congress's "Muslim appeasement" agenda.
It is in this sense that cosying up to Kushwaha as well as granting the party ticket to Lodh leaders Sakshi Maharaj and Chhatrapal Singh makes political sense to the BJP.
As the Yadavs are strongly with the Samajwadi Party, the BJP's prime electoral targets are three non-Yadav OBC castes: Lodh (Uma Bharti's caste), Kurmi (Vinay Katiyar's caste), and Kushwahas (the same as Koeris and Kachhis), an agrarian caste of east UP and Bundelkhand tracing its roots to Kush, the son of Lord Ram.
A rally of BJP president Nitin Gadkari near Jhansi on Thursday saw people in about 200 jeeps - each bearing the caste name Kushwaha - reaching the venue, and about 300 local Kushwaha leaders joining the party.
The BJP senses this as an opportunity to cash in on any latent feeling the community may have of being "wronged" over the "harassment" of Kushwaha by BSP chief Mayawati and a "Congress-controlled" CBI.
"We are specially focusing on the most backward castes and Ati-Dalits this time, and about 218 constituencies having these castes in good numbers have been identified for special attention," said BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
A BJP leader said a combination of upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs - which the BJP had when Lodh leader Kalyan Singh was the party's face here - could help the party beat a somewhat resurgent Congress, which is aiming at the Muslims and a section of the OBCs.
According to the last authoritative caste count, the 1931 census, non-Yadav Hindu OBCs form 31% of UP's population.