Nisar Z Siddiqui | Caravan Daily
THERE is a popular saying in political circles in India that the road to Delhi goes through Uttar Pradesh. The state boasts 80 Lok Sabha seats, the largest haul in any state in India. In 2014, the BJP bagged 71 of them and reached the majority mark on its own. As the 2019 polls approach, key stakeholders are gearing up to grab and cash this political golden goose. The first move has been made by the state’s regional parties and yet far arch rivals, the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. Both the parties have almost agreed for the alliance for 2019.
Political pundits believe that the Mayawati-Akhilesh alliance will be like Kanshiram-Mulayam tie-up of 1993, which had defeated BJP in the state when the saffron party was riding on the Ram Temple wave. But, from 1993 to 2019, the politics of the state has taken almost 360-degree turn.
The period of 1993 was immediately after the implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations. All sections in Other Backward Classes (OBC) were united and in Kanshiram-Mulayam pair they saw their messiahs who could deliver social justice for them. But this pair parted ways after the infamous guest house incident of 1995 when SP MLAs allegedly attacked then to-be chief minister Mayawati.
Today, there is a gulf between OBCs and most-backward OBCs (MBCs). It were MBCs that catapulted BJP to 71 seats in 2014 and a brutal majority in 2017 Assembly polls. They enjoy several ministerial portfolios in both central and state governments. In fact, during 2014 and after that, the BJP has been successful in convincing MBCs and most-backward Dalits that the SP and BSP have only brought prosperity to the Yadavs and Jatavs (caste of Mayawati and her core vote base). It is true to a great extent.
In UP, there are 22% Dalit voters. Out of them, 11-14% are said to be Jatavs. The rest are around 60 most-backwards Dalit groups or sub-castes like Pasi, Dhobi, Musahar, Khatik, Valmiki, Gaund, Kharwar, etc. All these groups stood solidly with BJP in 2014 and 2017.
There are around 45% OBCs in UP. Among them, 10% are Yadav, 5% are Kurmi, 5% are Maurya, 4% are Lodh and 2% are Jats. Rest 21% comprise groups like Gurjar, Rajbhar, Nishad, Mallah, Bind, Biyar, Chaurasiya, Prajapati, Lohar, Kumhar and Kahar. Overall, they constitute around 100 sub-caste groups.
In addition, the state has 19% Muslim voters who play a pivotal role in deciding the outcome of any election.
In UP, the SP has come to power with the caste equation of Muslims, Yadavs, MBCs and most-backward Dalits three times and BSP enjoyed power four times with similar combination. But, all these social groups have experienced left out when it came to reaping benefits of state-launched development schemes. Many leaders parted ways with their parent party and formed their own outfits.
Sonelal Patel fell out with Mayawati and launched Apna Dal. His daughter Anupriya Patel is a minister in Modi government today and Patels (Kurmis) are a major support group of BJP. Similarly, Om Prakash Rajbhar split with BSP and formed Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, which was an alliance partner of BJP in 2017.
Although both Apna Dal and SBSP leadership also developed differences with BJP but they didn’t leave the alliance. Besides, some prominent backward leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, Anil Rajbhar, Jay Prakash Rawat, Ashok Rawat and Mahendra Singh Rawat have joined the BJP recently and some of them are also ministers in the Yogi government.
Meanwhile, the Muslim votes remain divided among the SP, BSP and Congress in order of priority.
If we study the voting patterns of previous elections in the state, parties of MBC leaders used to fight separately, while Muslims would vote in majority to only one party – most preferably to SP and BSP. It could lift prospects of these parties immensely. But, now MBC parties have aligned with BJP. To please them, the BJP is also planning sub-quota within quota. The saffron party wants separate reservation within reservation limit to MBCs and most-backward Dalits.
The BJP has also come up with a “masterstroke” to introduce 10% quota for economically weak upper caste. The bill to the effect has already been cleared in both the houses of Parliament. The move, according to political observers, is to win back the upper-caste votes that are believed to have veered away from the saffron party as was evident in the recent elections in MP, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.
Another challenge, which the SP-BSP combine will face, is to transfer the votes of each other for each other. Pundits believe that the BSP votes can easily move towards SP candidates but vice-versa can’t be ensured. This doubt could be understood with example of Allahabad University’s recent student union election.
In these elections, Uday Prakash Yadav, the candidate of Samajwadi Chhatra Sabha (SCS), the student wing of the SP, won with a handsome margin. But, Munesh Kumar Saroj, SCS’s Dalit candidate for vice-president, lost his seat by a big margin to a Yadav candidate of National Student Union of India (NSUI).
Daddu Prasad, a former minister and BSP leader, admits such fears in the party. He says that it is very difficult that Yadav votes will be transferred to BSP. He is not even fully sure of a BSP-SP alliance. “Why is there only off-the-record confirmation of the alliance so far? Why is senior BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra officially denying it?” he questioned.
One more challenge for the SP-BSP alliance may be transfer of Muslim votes. It was noticed in both 2014 and 2017 elections that as soon as Muslims made up their mind to focus on a single candidate on some seat, there was instant polarisation on communal line and Hindu voted en masse for BJP candidate.
An additional challenge will be position of Congress and small outfits like that of Mulayam Singh Yadav’s younger brother Shivpal Singh Yadav, who has floated his own morcha to contest the election. In case the SP-BSP alliance doesn’t take Congress along, as is almost confirmed so far, the Congress may tie-up with Shivpal. Shivpal is feared to make a serious dent into SP’s Yadav votes.
Setting aside all odds, the Congress believes that it might become part of the alliance in UP like mahagathbandhan in Bihar and elsewhere. “See, we, the SP and BSP today share almost the same ideology and I believe there will be an alliance among us. But, in case, there is no alliance then the party is also ready to go solo in the polls. Like we did in 2009 polls and we had secured 22 seats. We have strength,” said Ajay Singh, who is Congress’ leader in UP Assembly and is an MLA from Tumkhui Raj in Kushinagar district.
Echoing the necessity of an alliance, former minister and an MBC leader, Ramdular Rajbhar, says that all like-minded parties will have to join hands to defeat BJP. “When judges of the honourable Supreme Court can come forward and talk of saving democracy in the country, we should understand gravity of rot in our political system right now and an urgency for a change,” he said.
Some political observers too feel that if there has to be any alliance in UP, it should be a grand one. Senior journalist Shambhunath Shukla says that the Congress should be part of the grand alliance as the party still has a considerable sway among upper-caste, Muslims and Dalits. “Whenever there is a big alliance, marginal voters shift towards it,” he said. However, Shukla also warned that sidelined leaders like Shivpal Yadav might prove quite costly to the alliance.
Nisar Siddiqui is a research scholar at Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi. The views are personal.