The BJP has been capitalising on an anti-Yadav sentiment that has been brewing against the Akhilesh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party.Ballia, Uttar Pradesh: While most accounts have indicated that the BJP is trying to polarise voters in Uttar Pradesh on religious lines, especially after the third phase of polling, what one seems to miss is that the party is complimenting its electoral and ideological strategy with a well-adopted anti-Yadav rhetoric. If trends from a large number of seats are to be believed, it has been partially successful in doing so.
Across the state, an anti-Yadav sentiment among non-Yadav voters is brewing. A constant grievance among a number of non-Yadav OBC voters is that only Yadavs have benefited from the Samajwadi Party (SP) government.
Chief minister Akhilesh Yadav emerged as a clean leader across all castes after the internecine feud within the party but the four-month long battle with his father Mulayam Singh Yadav also created a perception that only the members of the overarching Yadav caste, who are dominant in SP government, have cornered most of the resources in UP.
Shivprasad Khushwaha, an OBC resident of Salempur in Deoria, told The Wire, “Akhilesh is a clean leader but he did nothing for Poorvanchal. He focussed only on the development of Saifai (Mulayam’s birthplace).”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also hinted at Yadav hegemony under the SP rule in his election speeches. In almost all his rallies, Modi mentioned that the SP had converted police stations into party offices, indirectly pointing out that the alleged lawlessness under the SP’s rule is a result of the Yadav dominate the police force.
Many BJP activists The Wire met in UP said that the SP has only recruited Yadavs in various branches of its government.
“No recruitment happened on the basis of merit. If you are not a Yadav, then you are required to pay in lakhs as bribe to land a government job,” said Sunil Pandey, a BJP activist in Gorakhpur.
While this may or may not be true, what is important is that the BJP has largely been successful in advancing this theory of Yadav hegemony in many parts of UP.
This negative perception against the Yadavs have largely found acceptance among a large section of non-Yadav OBCs comprising Maurya, Shakya, Kurmis, Prajapatis, Khushwaha, Rajbhars, Nishads and many other such small but consolidated groups.
“If you look at the SP leaders, all of them move around in SUV-sized vehicles. Even a village-level pradhan has a (Toyota) Fortuner. Where do they get the money from?” asked one Kurmi resident of Barabanki.
This negative perception against Yadavs, which emerged from rising levels of inequality among OBCs, is being best captured by the BJP, which located these fault-lines first.
In fact, the BJP has worked on this campaign ever since it won the 2014 election. Durga Prasad Tripathi, an RSS worker in Sultanpur said, “The decision to appoint Keshav Prasad Maurya as the state president of the party was taken much before the election. It was clear since then that the BJP has hinged all its hopes on the non-Yadav population (around 25% of UP), which together with BJP’s base vote of upper castes is an winning combination. You can see that the party has given an unprecedented number of tickets to representatives of these groups.”
He added that the ‘upper’ caste loyalists of the party were offended initially because of the move by party president Amit Shah but the resentment subsided when it saw the party performing better than previous state elections. “They all know that the BJP is the only party where the upper caste voice is heard seriously,” he said.
A Delhi-based political analyst, who asked not to be named, says that there are two factors behind the resurgence of the BJP in the UP assembly elections. First, Modi’s popularity among a large section of people still remains intact. Second, the social engineering method that Shah adopted by uniting a large mass of OBCs and ‘upper’ castes helped it regain credibility among floating voters in terms of caste arithmetic. He added that this social coalition works well on ground as in the last two decades the assertive Yadavs have become the most-hated lot.
“Brahmins and other ‘upper’ castes hate the Yadavs, who under Mulayam’s leadership, challenged their hegemony. The ‘upper castes’ had a disproportionate hold over the whole political system. Yadavs not only challenged them but usurped their position in politics of patronage and corruption,” he said.
The wholehearted support of Brahmins for the BJP is something one cannot miss in this election. In every street corner, common areas of villages, and road-side tea stalls, Brahmins, who are also in a majority in the intellectual class of UP, have dominated public discourse in the last one week.
All of them give a clear lead to the BJP. “It will win at least 250 seats. Mark my words. We will talk again on March 11 (the day votes will be counted),” Sunil Pandey, a resident of Ayodhya, told The Wire with an assured tone.
In many other areas, Brahmins indulged in such psephology in favour of the BJP. They talk in an objective tenor, give detailed analysis of each constituency, its samikaran (caste arithmetic), larger political factors that favour the BJP even while the situation on the ground is starkly different.
“Although the BJP did not perform very well in the first phase, by all indications, it has swept the rest of the four phases,” said another Brahmin journalist of Basti who had concluded that the BJP will get an absolute majority.
While the upper caste votes are to few in comparison to other caste groups, such informal campaigns by them compliments the meta-narratives set by BJP. In this Brahminical discourse, the anti-Yadav sentiment reigns supreme.
Much of this hypothesis advanced by the Brahmins is also picked-up by non-Yadav OBCs, and this helps in setting the contours of the political debates on ground.
Thus, one can seriously perceive a growing anti-Yadav consolidation against the SP-Congress combine. But whether it will be enough to secure the requisite number of seats in a 403-member assembly is debatable.
The BJP leaders with whom The Wire spoke are aware of this. They believe that an anti-Muslim Hindu consolidation in an assembly election is difficult, given the sharp divisions among Hindus on caste lines. Since UP polls are largely dictated by a complex caste arithmetic, an anti-Yadav campaign, they say, may help the saffron party consolidate non-Yadav Hindus better.
A communal twist to the election and a concerted effort to consolidate non-Yadavs, the BJP hopes, will sharpen its campaign and win it a majority.
In response, Akhilesh has attempted to shed this Yadav-friendly image. For the first time, he has given tickets to many Kurmis, Koeris, Jaiswals and Mauryas.
By all accounts, Akhilesh has emerged as the first SP leader who is liked across caste and community groups in UP. Before the different phases of polling in the state, a random survey of voters established this fondness for Akhilesh. He is now banking on his non-partisan image to corner the opposition.
While rest of the parties are banking on a negative campaign against the SP rule, Akhilesh has relied only on his performance, going with his “Kaam Bolta Hai” slogan. What is pulling him down, however, is that ground-level SP activists, against whom anti-incumbency sentiments are running high, have not been able to consolidate this side of Akhilesh in a large number of seats. Most also lack the required expertise to intervene in this political situation.
Both the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the BJP are functioning much better as far as campaigning in constituencies are concerned, in terms of general visibility and loudness.
What one is witnessing in UP is a churning within the OBC community and also one of the most aggressive attempts by the ‘upper’ castes to get back their lost glory. In this scheme of things, however, the BSP may prove to be a major roadblock for the BJP.