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It's all about caste in Uttar Pradesh!
Caste has always been a key factor in Uttar Pradesh polls. After Rajiv Gandhi's death in 1991, Congress literally got wiped out from the state. The majority of OBC votes of Congress were lapped up by Janata Dal and later by the Samajwadi party. Upper caste votes went to BJP and Dalit votes to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

From 1989 to 2007, the state gave fractured mandates witnessing 10 chief ministers and 3 terms of Presidential Rule. The people fed up with instability, gave clear mandates to BSP and SP in 2007 and 2012 respectively, which were able to form social combination of castes beyond their traditional vote segments.

Castes in UP

There is no official caste wise population data available for Uttar Pradesh as the last caste census was carried out in 1931 and latest numbers have not been revealed by the government yet. Hindus account for 81 per cent and Muslims for 19 per cent of the state's population. Amongst Hindus, OBCs account for 44 per cent, Dalits 21 per cent and upper castes 16 per cent. Amongst OBCs, Yadavs account for 9 per cent, Kurmis / Koeris 7 per cent and Jats 2 per cent of the population. Other OBC caste groups include Lodhs (2 per cent), Sunar, Patel, Dhobi, Mochi etc. among a total of 234 caste groups.

Support base of various parties

Majority of the castes have historically backed different parties – Dalits (Mayawati's BSP), Yadavs (Mulayam's SP), upper castes & OBCs (BJP). While the Vaish community has backed BJP, Jats of western Uttar Pradesh have backed Ajit Singh led Rashtriya Lok Dal.

2/3rds of BJP voters are OBCs, Brahmins and Rajputs. 85 per cent of BSP voters are Dalits, OBCs and Muslims. 75 per cent of SP voters are Muslims, Yadavs and OBCs. 2/3rds of Congress voters are Muslims, Yadavs and Brahmins (based on last three assembly polls data).

Many castes don't get along well with each other. Not only are there many groups, also there is antagonism amongst some groups. Brahmins and Rajputs have been at war with each other in Bihar as well as UP, claiming supremacy over upper castes. That's why while Brahmins have generally supported BJP and Congress, sections of Rajputs have also supported SP.

There is also simmering tension between Yadavs and other OBCs who accuse SP of passing on all benefits to their caste and ignoring others. Dalits and Yadavs can never come together to vote for the same political party as their economic interests clash – the Yadavs were predominantly landowners while Dalits were landless and in many places Yadavs were seen as exploiting Dalit labourers.

Forming a social combination beyond anchor vote segments is key to victory

In 2012, SP was able to attract a section of Jatavs disillusioned by BSP. BSP's vote share from Dalits, SP's vote share from Yadavs and BJP's vote share from upper castes has peaked. Hence the urgency to look outside.

Development and governance trumped caste identities in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. For the first time since the advent of Mandal (OBC reservations) and kamandal (Ram mandir) politics, people voted for development as it trumped caste dynamics amid Modi wave.

More than 50 per cent Hindus across various caste groups (except Jatavs – Mayawati and Yadavs – Mulayam) backed the BJP. "This victory signalled a paradigm shift in voter behaviour, with a preference for good governance and development, pushing out the identity politics of caste and community."

Does this signal the end of caste based politics in UP? Not at all. Modi was the unifying factor among caste groups in the name of development in 2014. With Modi factor increasingly absent in state polls and assembly polls focused on local issues, caste factor is expected to make a come back in UP. Parties are vying to retain their traditional vote banks while at the same time trying to increase their social reach through alliances and distributing tickets to target caste groups.

In line with this approach, BJP has appointed an OBC to head the state unit but is still confused on whether to go ahead with announcing a CM candidate or not. And if it decides to go ahead, which caste he / she should belong to? SP has inducted back Amar Singh (Rajput) and Beni Prasad Verma (Kurmi). Congress has announced a Brahmin as its CM candidate and is trying to revive its traditional Dalit-Brahmin-Muslim vote bank.

The elections are expected to be another cracker after Bihar. While BSP is ahead as per initial opinion polls, things will heat up as poll dates near. Each seat will be fought hard and caste combinations on that seat plus choice of candidates will determine which party will win. The alliance which is able to create the best caste combination on each seat would win in the end.

Editorial NOTE: This article is categorized under Opinion Section. The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of merinews.com. In case you have a opposing view, please click here to share the same in the comments section.
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