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Parties eye caste tie-ups in Uttar Pradesh for 2019 elections

Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party is seen by observers to have extended tacit support to Shivpal Yadav, the estranged uncle of Mualayam Singh’s son and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav.

india Updated: Sep 16, 2018 07:55 IST
Sunita Aron
Sunita Aron
Hindustan Times, Lucknow
2019 polls,2019 elections,Samajwadi Party
Samajwadi Party patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav (right) and his brother younger brother Shivpal Yadav (left) with Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav at a function in Unnao. (PTI File Photo)

Shivpal Singh Yadav, younger brother of Samajwadi Party (SP) patriarch Mulayam Singh Yadav, had been sulking for about two years. Earlier this month, as the nation edged closer to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he decided to virtually split the party, which his brother formed in 1992 and placed at the centrestage of politics in Uttar Pradesh, by announcing the formation of a platform he intends to use to bring like-minded political groups together.

Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is seen by observers to have extended tacit support to Shivpal, 63, the estranged uncle of Mualayam Singh’s son and former chief minister Akhilesh Yadav. Shivpal’s formation of the Samajwadi Secular Morcha is opportune for the BJP, which has been trying to forge caste-based tie-ups ahead of the general election to counter a grand alliance of opposition parties, notably the SP and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

The party’s Uttar Pradesh leaders, headed by chief minister Yogi Adityanath, are playing up the family feud, attacking SP chief, Akhilesh Yadav, 45, whose elevation to the party’s presidency in 2017 had triggered a generational shift in the SP. He poses a bigger challenge to the BJP than Shivpal does.

Logically speaking, the virtual split in the SP weakens Akhilesh and his claim on seats during seat-sharing talks with potential poll partners. The BJP is all smiles; even a slight dent in the Yadav vote bank can turn the tables on the SP in Yadav-dominated constituencies. How?

Completely marginalised in the BJP dispensation, the Yadavs, along with the Jatavs (BSP chief Mayawati’s committed voters) have been gearing up to avenge their humiliation in the 2019 general elections.

Although there has been no love lost between the Jatavs and Yadavs since a mid-1990s political brawl, fear of getting marginalised in the state’s politics by a resurgent BJP has compelled the two communities to come together. The success of their experiment in the Gorakhpur, Kairana and Phulpur Lok Sabha bypolls boosted their confidence.

Shivpal can play spoilsport in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls in Uttar Pradesh, expected to be closely contested, in which every vote will have a huge value. It would be advantage BJP.

According to a political expert, the BJP’s strategy is clear: if it cannot win over the Yadavs, it can break them (read vote bank). And if it cannot win over Mayawati, it can wean away her voters by offering them sops.

At the end of the day, it is caste that clinches seats in UP.

Both in the 2014 Lok Sabha and the 2017 Vidhan Sabha elections, the BJP was riding an unprecedented wave in favour of Narendra Modi. Yet, the party high command had to sew up electoral alliances, especially in backward caste dominated eastern UP which, barring a few districts like Azamgarh, Mau and Varanasi, has a smaller Muslim population than western UP. Thus caste and not communal polarisation decides poll outcomes.

The BJP entered into an electoral alliance with the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Om Prakash Rajbhar and Apna Dal of Anupriya Patel. Together, the Rajbhars and Kurmis, which the two parties represent, form a formidable caste alliance in a majority of the constituencies in east UP.

Similarly, before the 2017 polls, the party had propped up Keshav Prashad Maurya as its state president and adopted Dara Singh Chauhan and Deena Nath Bhasker from the BSP. The Opposition was divided, fighting each other more than the BJP.

Political expert Badri Narain said: “Some of these castes are numerically small, but have a huge impact in elections as they hold the veto power and vote together.”

According to him, as many as 40 Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Most Backward Castes (MBCs) don’t have a leader in a state known for its identity politics. By giving them representation in the party in various forums, the BJP is trying to win them over. The Mallahs, the Kumhars, the Binds, the Nishads and the Lohars are a case in point.

Caste identity

SBSP general secretary, Shashipratap Singh, claims the credit for the BJP’s spectacular performance in 27 districts of east UP.

“Its alliance with the Apna Dal and the SBSP created an atmosphere in favour of the BJP. Even Modi’s victory margin would have gone down drastically in Varanasi [without the alliance] as Rajbhars alone account for 2.5 lakh votes,” Singh said.

Although the BJP has a committed Hindu support base, it is following BSP founder Kanshi Ram’s dictum of “protect the base vote and chase the core vote” and constructing a winning caste combination in each constituency.

The growing prospect of the SP and BSP, the Congress and the Rashtriya Lok Dal forming a grand alliance for the 2019 elections has rattled the BJP leadership. It has already had a bitter taste of the Opposition’s combined strength in the recent Lok Sabha bypolls.

Taking a leaf out of the BJP’s success book, the SP corrected the caste calculus and turned the tables on the ruling party in the Gorakhpur, Phulpur and the Kairana bypolls.

“Caste alliances always play a crucial role in winning polls in a state where identity, though fractured at the caste level, is thriving in politics. Their mobilisation, despite their minimal population, and the restricted pockets of influence, make a huge electoral difference to mainline parties,” Narain said. Every party is working on the caste calculus because the charisma of their leaders is not quite enough for the BJP to win 71 seats in the Lok Sabha, matching its 2014 tally, and for the Opposition to increase its 2014 tally of seven seats.

If the BJP is tolerating the outbursts of Om Prakash Rajbhar, cabinet minister and president of SBSP , the SP-BSP are trying to come together, forgetting years of mutual hostility.

The SBSP general secretary said his leader is only reminding the BJP high command of its poll promise of ending corruption and discrimination against lower castes. “We are not breaking away from the alliance,” he said.

According to Dalit activist Satish Prakash, the grand alliance has changed the politics of the country and it is in the interest of the non-BJP parties to join hands to take on the saffron power. However, there can’t be any grand alliance without the SP and the BSP joining it.

Political experts say that while the BJP can depend fully on the Bania, Rajput, Rajbhar and Kurmi voters, it is not easy to predict which way the Brahmin vote will go. Similarly, opposition parties, who are prospective members of the grand alliance, will try and construct a coalition of Yadavs, Muslims, Jatavs and, partly, the Jats, to take on the ruling party.

The rest of the castes will be up for grabs. That is where the parties are concentrating now.

First Published: Sep 16, 2018 07:39 IST