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Lok Sabha elections 2019: How SP-BSP alliance math is playing out on the ground in Uttar Pradesh

The tale of two voters illustrates the churn on the ground and indicates the possible synergy in the alliance is because of pressure from below, rather than talks or diktats at the top .

lok sabha elections Updated: May 13, 2019 07:39 IST
Prashant Jha
Prashant Jha
Varanasi/Jaunpur/Bhadhohi
lok sabha elections 2019,lok sabha elections,lok sabha
Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has co-opted significant elements of Hindu society, including many backward and Dalit groups, two social formations — Yadavs and Jatavs — remain at the forefront of the opposition to the BJP.(HT Photo)

The first is a senior Yadav government official. The second is a junior Jatav employee in a government department. Both belong to east Uttar Pradesh, but work in different parts of the state.

Both can’t be named because government regulations bar them from articulating political views openly. But in extended conversations with HT, both — separately — answered a question which perhaps lies at the heart of the battle in UP.

Even as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has co-opted significant elements of Hindu society, including many backward and Dalit groups, two social formations — Yadavs and Jatavs — remain at the forefront of the opposition to the BJP. They, along with Muslims, form the core of the social coalition of the Samajwadi Party (SP)-Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance. How did this come about? And more crucially, amid reports of a very high degree of transfer of votes on both sides, how is it working on the ground?

The tale of two voters illustrates the churn on the ground and indicates the possible synergy in the alliance is because of pressure from below, rather than talks or diktats at the top .

The Yadav anger

The story of BJP’s attitude to Yadavs is one of exclusion, says the Yadav official. The community comprises close to 10% of the population.

“There are four broad metrics on which you can judge how a party is dealing with a community when in power. One — is it giving representatives of the community share in political power, ministerial positions, tickets for elections? Two, is it giving the officials from the community important postings and responsibilities, or is it deliberately excluding them? Three, is it giving them political postings like chairmen of government departments? And four, on the ground, how do local government functionaries, particularly the daroga (police officer) in the thana (station), treat members of the community ?”

On all four metrics, the Yadav official claimed, the BJP government — particularly the Yogi Adityanath regime — has adopted a policy of deliberate exclusion of Yadavs. “We have no political power; Yadav officials are harassed; Yadavs don’t even go to the thana now because they feel there is no point. This is what has led to consolidation of all of us behind the SP-BSP alliance and shed our deep antagonism to the BSP.”

But was it not the case that when SP was in power, the reverse was true and Yadavs enjoyed all the power? The official rejects the contention and claimed the BJP had a historic opportunity to reconcile with the community after its victory. “We anyway thought of the BJP as a party of savarnas, forward castes. Yet many Yadavs voted for Modi in 2014. But the party’s general attitude and Yogi’s in particular, alienated us entirely.” But hasn’t the BJP now become a more inclusive outfit? “Their attitude to backward (classes) is patronising, one of condescension. It is not willing to accept assertive backwards or Dalits.” This anger, he claimed, generated pressure from below on SP and BSP to come together. “Give no credit to Akhilesh Yadav or Mayawati for this alliance. It is all from the ground.”

The Dalit voice

He works in the public works department in an east UP town which voted on Sunday. He belongs to the Jatav sub-caste, which is almost 14% of UP’s population, and has been traditionally loyal to the BSP. And he is clear about his voting choice and what dictated it.

“I will vote for the BSP, irrespective of whether they win or lose.” But did he feel cheated that Behenji, as Mayawati is called, tied up with SP, a party with which the community had a long antagonistic relationship? “Not at all. Behenji realised that she cannot win on her own. An alliance was necessary. Modi may or may not become prime minister again but in my seat, and several other seats in Purvanchal, this alliance will do well.”

What was his problem with the BJP? “We have no sunwai, hearing, when BJP comes to power. Our superiors in government offices look at us with suspicion. We are made to feel like outsiders.” He added that there was another major concern in the community now. “Many people feel that BJP is playing with reservations that Babasaheb (Ambedkar) had given us in the constitution. Look, they cut 10% and gave it to the upper castes.”

But when pointed out that this was not true and the reservation to economically weaker sections was an addition — not at the cost of existing quotas — the Dalit official responded, “There is a game afoot. It is the first step. They will change the Constitution.” And what about the welfare schemes, which Modi claims has benefited the poorest, among them many Dalits? He responded, “Look at toilets. Most are incomplete. They are not used often. And when people go to ask for work to be completed, the village pradhan asks for his share in the money. Look at gas cylinders. How many households have been able to refill it?”

Like the Yadav official, the Dalit functionary claimed they may have given the benefit of doubt to Modi, but it was the Yogi government’s attitude that alienated the community.

Is it enough?

The BJP’s response to such voices is two-fold. On one hand, party strategists claim Yadavs and Jatavs will fragment and a section from both communities will vote for BJP. On the other hand, they also argue that these social groups did not vote for BJP in the last election, in any case, and by themselves, they would not be able to upset the BJP’s tally too drastically.

But both the men HT spoke to are confident that the Yadav-Jatav-Muslim combination will not only stay together but expand to bring in other groups.

But irrespective of how the electoral math eventually shapes up, the tale of two voters of the alliance is an illustration of how ‘caste politics’, often viewed derisively, plays out on the ground. Caste determines opportunities and livelihoods. It is inextricably linked to political power in UP.

And it is the exclusion from power which has led to pressure from below and the constitution of what is arguably the most important Opposition alliance in the country. Whether it is enough to change the outcome will be seen on May 23.

First Published: May 13, 2019 07:30 IST

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