Caste, No More

It was considered that Uttar Pradesh and caste politics were the two inseparable things. But no more. An in-depth analysis of the results of the recent state polls shows that the old style of caste-based politics is passé. SP and BSP have paid the price for depending heavily on traditional votes whereas BJP’s deft handling of social engineering has paid it well, writes RAJENDRA KUMAR

Victory or defeat; the elections in Uttar Pradesh have something for everyone to learn. From Yogi to Mayawati to Akhilesh, everyone can take something away from these results. Once a bastion of caste-based identity politics, the state has given a signal that it has veneered towards a different stream of identity politics – the one where voters rose above caste and chose their religion. It also gave a clear signal to those dwelling in nepotism that the old brand of politicking is over now.
While the voters have reposed their faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they have also raised a few uncomfortable questions. Elections in UP could not be won merely on caste arithmetic now. It will indeed be a dose of development as well. At least on the face of it, it appears that the party that will manage to sell its programmes talking about issues related to eradication of poverty and development will be preferred over those just relying on caste.

The signals were rather clear during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections but it appears that neither Mayawati nor Akhilesh Yadav managed to decipher the results as it should have been. The results are there for everyone to see. The BJP that won merely 47 seats in the last polls was given a boost of 278 seats. Samajwadi Party scored a low of 47, while BSP and Congress were completely sidelined. The worst fate was reserved for Ajit Singh whose party won a lone seat after contesting as many as 300 of them. So what are the reasons behind such a result? Party supremo and political analysts are still trying to get their head around this result, with little success.

As far as knee-jerk reaction is concerned, Mayawati has put the blame on the EVMs. Mayawati had concocted a Dalit-Muslim alliance, which was rejected rather mercilessly. The result has also given arsenal to figures like Shivpal Yadav who, not surprisingly, put the blame on party’s CM candidate Akhilesh Yadav. He also concedes that BJP’s strategy and Modi’s image projection has pushed opposition on the edge.
It is important to understand Shivpal’s comment. BJP indeed changed its strategy and cobbled up a caste arithmetic that is unbeatable. While it was seen merely as a party of upper caste, middle class urban voters, that image will change now. The party knew that it will have to change its strategy and it did so by giving the war cry of “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas”. The party made a solid dent in extremely backward castes (EBC) and non-Jatav Dalits. The result is here for everyone to see.
Chandra Mohan, BJP spokesperson, maintains that PM Modi has struck a chord with the poor people, in spite of Rahul Gandhi’s rhetoric of “Suit-Boot ki Sarkar”. “He announced projects such as Neemcoating of Urea, Land Health Card, Crop Insurance Scheme, Ujjwala Project etc. that endeared him to the poor and villagers,” he added in good measure.
The spokesperson’s insinuation aside, the thing that worked in BJP’s favour was social engineering. The party was wooing EBC among the backward castes for quite some time. This group forms 41 per cent of the electorate in the state. The BJP gave place to the leaders from this community in the state and central leadership; something that Samajwadi Party had failed to do effectively. Apna Dal’s Anupriya Patel was inducted in the Union Cabinet. Keshav Prasad Maurya was made state chief. The party also gave around 50 per cent of the tickets to candidates from this group. This equation worked magic for BJP.
The role of Apna Dal and Suhel Dev’s Bharatiya Samaj Party in Purvanchal was critical in BJP’s victory. While the former brought Kurmis the latter consolidated Rajbhars in BJP’s favour. Their joint strength was enough to give BJP edge in every constituency.
In contrast, Samajwadi-Congress Alliance and Mayawati depended heavily on traditional votes. Akhilesh at least projected his developmental projects. Mayawati failed to do even that. That is precisely why her party fared the worst. Says analyst Anshuman Shukla, “The result suggests that her Dalit-Muslim alliance was rejected unceremoniously. She needs to understand that social engineering is not a mechanical process that you can start and stop at whim. Such experiments take time. They cannot be linked with politics of convenience. Until there is a ground level synergy between the two communities, the result will not be reflected in the final tally.”
What also worked against her was the fact that Brahmins and Thakurs saw their redemption in BJP’s rule and abandoned BSP when the party needed them the most. Her reliance on upper caste has brought her to this juncture. She needs to revive her image as a warrior of social justice if she wants to bounce back.
As far as Samajwadi Party-Congress alliance is concerned, it was bad for both parties. Congress, which started the campaign with the war cry of “28 Saal, UP Behal” ended up cobbling up an alliance with Samajwadi Party. In the retrospective one can conclude now that it sealed the fate of both the parties.
For the Congress at least it was merely a political experiment as it did not have much to lose anyways. However for Akhilesh, it was a clear-cut suicide to contest on merely 300 seats after running a majority government for five years.
Also, a deeply communal electorate did not buy his developmental plank. Akhilesh had focused on developmental projects and was rather sure that this will bring votes. It didn’t. The otherwise pathetic law and order situation also proved to be his bane. The votes simply did not transfer. This will further erode Congress’s base. It will not be surprising if the party fails to find committed workers to campaign for it in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Rahul’s post-election press conference also left the perception that he is not living in reality, when he termed the historic debacle as a “little down”.
Going back to BSP, it will be party’s worst performance since 1989. And that’s quite telling. There is a definite dent in the Dalit vote bank of the party. This erosion of Dalit votes mitigated the Muslim votes that the party managed to get. The party had 80 MLAs and 25.65 per cent votes in the previous election. It has gone down to 22.20 per cent this time. What is apparent now is that the party is losing steam continuously since its loss in 2012. The problem is chronic now. As mentioned earlier, the desertion of Brahmins from party’s fold for greener pasture in the BJP has also affected its electoral fortune. That BJP managed to win the majority of reserved seats should wake up Mayawati from stupor. However, instead of doing a rethink, she has resorted to conspiracy theory. Clearly, the party does not have a strategy at this time.
The continuous departure of Dalit leaders from BSP to BJP, including Udit Raj, Ramvilas Paswan and Ramdas Athawale signals that it will be difficult for BSP to hold on to its coveted vote bank unless it does something radical. Amit Shah’s poaching of BSP’s second-line leadership has further aggravated its decline. Mayawati’s penchant for control has come back to bite her. The worst part is, those in the know maintain that she is not likely to learn from the debacle.
Says Dalit thinker Lalji Nirmal, “The primary reason behind her decline is her inability to formulate and work upon a Dalit agenda. She has kept drifting away from Ambedkar’s mission. She rather focused on ‘Bhaichara Committee’ to concoct electoral alliances with the upper castes. She also failed to give proper representation to Dalits. She didn’t let Dalit and woman leadership develop inside the party. The followers of Ambedkar have left her one after another.”
Such is the debacle for the BSP that it will be impossible for Mayawati to win a State Council seat, leave alone Rajya Sabha one. This is a bad news for the party in general and Mayawati in particular. Early 2018 will see completion of term for 10 Rajya Sabha members, including Mayawati; whereas as many as 13 State Council seats will go for polls in mid-2018. Even to win a lone Rajya Sabha seat, a party will need 37 MLAs. BJP will send eight members easily, while it will need eight more MLAs for the ninth seat. Samajwadi Party will send one member and will have 10 additional MLAs left. Similarly, one of BSP leaders can win Council seat on his own. Let that settle in for a moment.
If Mayawati was cut and quartered, Samajwadi Party has not exactly set the tally on fire. In fact, Akhilesh Yadav will now be hard-pressed to save his Yadav votes. This is a historic low for the party. Out of the total of 47 MLAs, only 13 are Yadavs. Needless to say, Yadavs have voted in large numbers for BJP. To bring them back would not be as easy as it appears to be.     And that is not all. After such a drubbing, the murmurs inside the party are growing to bring back the old leadership. Akhilesh however is not backing down. He has assured tough measures to revitalise the party. Those close to him maintain that Akhilesh was crestfallen following the results. He did not expect such a drubbing. Akhilesh genuinely believed that his developmental planks will win him votes. It evidently did not. This has left him disillusioned.
That Samajwadi Party will not even win the so-called Yadav Belt of central UP is particularly bewildering. Districts like Etah, Mainpuri, Badayun, Kannauj, Auraiya and Ferozabad are particularly critical for the party, because of the Yadav votes. In the past, whatever had been the results, the party had performed well in the region. The party lost all seats in Etah, Auraiya and Farrukhabad. While it won a lone seat in Etawah and Ferozabad. Only in Mainpuri did it manage to win three out of the four seats in contention.
It is also the first time that less than 20 Yadav MLAs have returned on SP ticket. To put it in perspective, in the last assembly elections, as many as 40 Yadav MLAs had returned on SP ticket. Analysts believe that the civil war in Mulayam family, and the manner in which Mulayam Singh was himself sidelined, did not go down well with seniors of the community. Shivpal Yadav’s purge also angered a section of the community, especially in Purvanchal. Samajwadi Party managed to win only two seats out of seven in contention in Ghazipur, which was once its bastion. It fared poorly in Ballia and Jaunpur as well; although it managed to save some face in Azamgarh. Clearly, a section of Yadav voters wanted to teach the “upstart” a lesson in humility.
It is very clear now that old style of politicking and social engineering is passé amidst the saffron surge. Unless Mayawati and Akhilesh completely overhaul their strategy, they will be outsmarted by Modi- Shah duo in months and years to come. The question is, are they willing to change?