It's a painful truth. UP has no state leaders. It has caste leaders. Choudhary Ajit Singh is union minister and a national president of Rashtriya Lok Dal. But he is just a Jat leader. Beni Prasad Verma is also union minister and senior Congress leader. But he is a Kurmi leader. Mulayam Singh Yadav is national president of the Samajwadi Party. But he is seen as a Yadav leader. Chief minister Mayawati despite her desperate 'sarva samaj' slogan is merely a Dalit leader.
The list is endless. Pick up any leader from Uttar Pradesh, they are leaders of a caste catapulted to state or national scene. Even the former national president of the Bhartiya Janata Party Rajnath Singh has not been able to shed Rajput tag. People wonder the caste of BJP national president Nitin Gadkari, who has projected political migrant from Madhya Pradesh as a backward leader to fill up the vacuum of Kalyan Singh.
A decade ago when Kanshi Ram had started building his Bahujan Samaj Party, he had started caste rallies. Then all the political parties used to condemn it. Today they are bitten by the same bug. Ironically the Congress has come in the race only after it jumped on the caste bandwagon.
Thus for the first time since early 1990’s that the state is heading for a four-cornered lacklustre contest without a major poll issue. Caste is the driving force, from ticket distribution to projection of star campaigners. No doubt the common perception is that the party with the right caste calculus would emerge the winner (read highest number of seats). Such is the all pervading obsession that all discussions revolve around castes and castes. Corruption is raised on the sidelines while development is merely a slogan.
The caste complexities in the state can be gauged from the fact that besides upper castes there are 66 SC groups and 79 OBC groups. Khatiks amongst Dalits are merely 6.36 lakh, while the population of Sonar in the OBC’s is 4.12 lakhs.
Questions in discussion are “Where is the upper caste going?, What about most backward castes like Kushwaha, Kahar, Kewat, Koeri, Kumhar, Gadaria? Do you think Kurmis will stay with Congress ( Beni Prasad Verma influence) or divide between all? What about non Yadav-non Kurmi backwards? Which side is the Muslim going? What about the anti incumbency vote? As it seems to be dividing in three ways, who would be the major gainer? In 2007 it was the BSP which had taken away a major chunk of anti incumbency. SP doesn’t seem to be doing so in 2012.
Prof Pushpesh Pant of JNU, currently on a tour of East UP is unhappy that Congress has also joined the caste bandwagon. “I don’t absolve Mulayam and Mayawati for pursing caste politics. But then they have a caste identity. Why should Rahul inject the caste and minority appeasement in his campaign? He could have walked the lonely furrow like his father without worrying about the prospects.”
According to Prof Pant Congress may do better than last time but still remain far behind SP-BSP.
Dr Badri Narain, Prof Dalit Resource Centre of GB Pant Social Science Institute, however noticed some undercurrent in favour of Congress during his tour of areas dominated by the most backward castes. “I can’t say whether this undercurrent would turn into votes but the MBC’s and the young are getting influenced by Rahul,” he added.
Apparently Congress has been able to shed its two-decade long ‘also ran’ status because of Rahul’s extensive tour of the state. While the alliance with RLD and induction of Rasheed Masood is helping it to improve its tally in the Meerut division, the Jats in Agra division may think otherwise. Chandrapal Singh, farmer leader from Aligarh says, ‘We are not supporting political opportunist like Ajit Singh. We will support the BJP.”
However Congress fortunes depends on its ability to take away Muslim votes from BSP-SP. Both the regional forces have given tickets to Muslims in abundance as they knew the resurgence of the Congress and also the fact that Muslims will only vote for a non BJP winning candidate.
Samajawadi Party has used Akhilesh Yadav as its trump card while banking on Yadav-Muslim combination. While consolidating its Yadav vote bank, SP is confident that Muslims would not desert them. But they have the problem. The party cannot openly support the quota for Muslims as it upsets its core constituency of Yadavs.
Bhartiya Janata Party: The party has always banked on Brahmin-backward support base and they have rebuilt it again. However the upper caste- Brahmins (in the absence of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee from the campaign) and Rajputs (as Rajnath is not in the CM's race) is still indecisive. As such no party is focusing on their issues except for the fact that BSP and BJP gave them tickets in abundance.
BSP is again banking on its old caste combination of dalits-brahmins-muslims. A senior leader said, “We start with the vote base of 18 %. The candidate gets rest of the vote.”
With such a sharp division is every caste and community one wonders whose caste calculus is correct?