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The decline of captive voters

Tune into a conversation between a Brahmin, a Yadav, a Muslim and a Nai (barber) in a village in Handia constituency near Allahabad. Varghese K George reports.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2012 01:18 IST
Varghese K George
Voters-display-their-identity-cards-as-they-wait-to-cast-their-votes-at-a-polling-station-during-the-3rd-phase-of-UP-assembly-polls-in-Allahabad-PTI-Photo
Voters-display-their-identity-cards-as-they-wait-to-cast-their-votes-at-a-polling-station-during-the-3rd-phase-of-UP-assembly-polls-in-Allahabad-PTI-Photo

Tune into a conversation between a Brahmin, a Yadav, a Muslim and a Nai (barber) in a village in Handia constituency near Allahabad. The Brahmin is not voting for the Brahmin candidates of either the BSP or the Congress; the Yadav is not voting for the Yadav candidate of the BSP. Both are voting for the Rajput candidate of Samajwadi Party (SP) and so is the Muslim. “I too,” says Ranjit Kumar — the Dalit Nai — but there is a high chance that he is not speaking his mind in the presence of higher caste men.

The fundamental arithmetic of exclusive caste politics practiced by the SP and the BSP — add up the ‘base vote’ to that of the candidate’s caste and ignore the rest — is under challenge. In 2007, the base for the BSP was Dalits and Brahmins; for the SP, it was Yadavs and Muslims — both are shaky this time. One is likely to hear conversations similar to that in Handia in many parts of the states as all parties have fielded candidates more evenly than ever, including more and more communities.

Not only are the BSP and the SP targeting each other’s bases, the Congress for the first time has entered the Mandal scramble — by cutting down on Brahmins to accommodate backwards and extremely backwards. The SP has reduced backwards, particularly the Yadavs, to increase Muslims and Brahmins, 84 and 45 respectively, the highest ever. The BSP’s focus on Brahmins continues, but it has the maximum Muslim candidates among all — 85. The BJP has always been focussed on backwards and has this time reached out to the most backward among them, such as Kushwahas.

“Only the Yadavs for SP and Chamars (Jatavs) for BSP could be counted as more or less firm bases,” points out SP Singh of Christ Church College in Kanpur. All others are for all parties to woo, forcing all parties to wear a cosmopolitan streak.

What is maturing now is a process that started as early as 2004, when both the SP and the BSP first gave up their fierce slogans against the upper caste and then reached out to them — the SP to Rajputs and the BSP to Brahmins. In 2007, the BSP crossed the threshold with an alliance of most backwards, Dalits and Brahmins, and captured power — demonstrating the power of inclusive politics.

This process is self-perpetuating — as seeking out new voters is both a cause and effect of erosion among the original base. “Even a section of non-Jatav Dalits could desert Mayawati. Even a section of Yadavs may vote, for instance, a Yadav candidate of the BSP or BJP or Congress,” points out Kamran Siddiqui, a teacher in Azamgarh.

“When everyone is seeking the vote of everyone, parties with a proper base vote will have the advantage,” says Akhilesh Yadav, SP leader. He’s not necessarily correct. The ‘catch-all’, strategy by all has fractured the preferences of most communities — captive voting could be sliding and flexible voting could be going up in UP.