Upside down, not to the brahmins, turn the elections up

Former Finance Minister Arun Jaitley has repeatedly handled the Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls for the BJP. He has often described the UP political regime as a fluid mass of influential squires and local strongmen who float in search of the best available option to win the next election.

In an environment where victory and not party loyalty becomes the touchstone in the selection of candidates, the party jump is an asset. Diversity, if any, is prominently displayed in the resumes of serious ticket seekers. Political opportunism is not a brake.

So, former trade union minister Jitin Prasada’s leap of faith in the BJP should come as no surprise. For the descendant of the ancient principality of Shahajahapur, this would be the first race outside the fold of Congress.

Prasada is now a member of a new parivaar, a family that is perpetually in electoral mode. The elections in Bengal are over. The second wave of Covid-19 has subsided. The next big test is UP. The enthronement of Prasada in the BJP thus marks the beginning of the electoral season in UP. Listen to the trill of the bugles, see the flag is thrown.

After a series of meetings between the high-ranking officers of the BJP and the RSS, a correction of course seems to have been worked out by the dispensation from power before the elections in Uttar Pradesh. No reshuffle at the top is expected.

But the BJP is ready for battle with a plan of action to solidify its position – both politically and through the distribution and delivery of aid.

Read | The Modi-Yogi dead end in Uttar Pradesh

To save public perception battered by the devastating pandemic, the Yogi government is working on three fronts. It has already distributed free rations to the poor and deployed financial aid of 1,000 rupees for daily bets. A massive vaccination campaign to prevent a new wave of Covid is underway.

Many more projects are probably in the pipeline. But would all of this be enough to save the trail of death and despair?

Here, the scope of political management becomes important.

The performance of a political party in an election – aside from other factors – critically depends on its ability to build social coalitions to mop up a majority of votes in the first past the post system.

In both the 2017 assembly polls and the 2019 LS elections, the BJP won twice as many votes or more than any of its closest competitors. A considerable gap in votes separated him from the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party alliance in the last elections.

The massive advance was due to the BJP’s ability to forge a social alliance between its basic core of upper castes and middle class and middle castes, constituting over 50% of the state’s electorate.

Within this segment, the mobilization of non-Yadav backward landlord castes like the Kurmis and Lodhs has helped the BJP reach a threshold to challenge both the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP).

Read also | Jitin Prasada reveals why he left Congress

The complementary, or incremental, vote, which led to an exponential conversion of votes to seats, came from most backward communities and votes from non-Jatav castes, which were part of the BSP coalition.

Recently concluded panchayat polls indicate that the SP would be the main challenger to the BJP in the 2022 UP elections.

Congress is running out of steam and Mayawati of the BSP has played the role of adviser rather than that of an opposition party.

Akhilesh Yadav’s ability to challenge the BJP would depend on his ability to create a sub-caste coalition within the backward and planned non-owner caste communities.

Kanshi Ram first initiated this experience in the politics of the heart. The former head of the BSP mobilized most of the backward castes (MBC) such as Kushwaha, Maurya, Bind, Nishaad, Koeri, Mallah, Rajbhar, Nenua Chauhan, which form small coherent social blocks classified according to their vocation in the jajmani system.

This formula was then well understood and subsequently imitated by Nitish Kumar in Bihar, who sought to forge a social alliance of Dalits, MBCs and Maha-Dalits with other non-Yadav CBOs.

At UP, however, this amorphous group slowly galvanized around the BJP. The party has made a sustained effort to mobilize these communities. This made Keshav Maurya the Deputy CM in 2017. Swamy Prasad Maurya, BSP’s most vocal MBC leader, is with the BJP.

No political party in the UP has ever given the post of governor to a community leader. Baby Rani Maurya is now the governor of Uttarakhand.

The impact on the ground is visible to everyone.

In Lok Sabha’s last election, Akhilesh Yadav’s cousin and sitting MP Dharmendra Yadav lost to Badaun, whom the SP had won since 1996. The constituency has a high percentage of Yadav and Muslim voters.

The BJP won this seat in the last Lok Sabha elections by fielding Swamy Prasad Maurya’s daughter Sanghamitra. And Dharmendra Yadav lost that seat despite his candidacy as a common candidate of the SP-BSP alliance because a large part of the non-Yadav CBOs turned to the BJP.

The Dalits had BR Ambedkar, but the MBC never had an icon. In 2007, a large section voted for the BSP. In 2012, the SP was able to wean a section. Repelled by the domination of the Jatav in the BSP and the Yadavs in the SP, these communities have been seeking a larger share of the pie since 2014.

The BJP exploited the aspirations of MBCs seeking parity with upward mobility communities like Kurmis and Yadavs, the biggest beneficiaries of the Mandal disruption.

Over the past five years, however, some of these party social groups representing them have found themselves estranged from the BJP. Apna Dal, which has a base of support among the Kurmis east of Lucknow, has no representation on the union council. Its leader Anupriya Patel has since kept a studied silence.

Om Prakash Rajbhar left the NDA in UP. Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan flexes his muscles in western UP.

The Rashtriya Lok Dal and other sub-regional actors are trying to recover from the peasant unrest. The Aam Admi party is also trying to make a foray. He offers to lend weight to the upper and middle castes if he finds space in a non-BJP coalition.

All these parties and other small players are waiting on the sidelines to decide on their future course of action. They will wait a few more months to find out which way the wind is blowing. By October, we’ll have a clearer picture of who’s with whom.

The entry of Jitin Prasada aims to send a message to the main voters of the BJP, i.e. the Brahmins. The real battle for the state, however, will take place on different terrain.

Arrears remain the cornerstone of UP policy, and their mobilization is the key to success in state policy.

Will the Samajwadi party offer an alternative, inclusive and better formula of power sharing to non-Yadav backwards and part of the Dalits?

One of them got a glimpse of Akhilesh Yadav’s intention earlier this year when the SP leader promised to reinstate the reservation of promotions for employees of listed castes if his party returned to power. The SP will need to be more inclusive in its words and actions to get rid of the label of a caste-centric party.

(The writer is a freelance journalist)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

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