Caste is not a physical object like a wall of bricks or a line of barbed wire which prevents the Hindus from co-mingling and which has, therefore, to be pulled down. Caste is a notion; it is a state of the mind.Dr BR Ambedkar
But in India’s largest state, Uttar Pradesh, where Ambedkar’s name holds significance, these words seem to be wrong.
The debate between casting the vote and voting for caste has always been a heated one when it comes to elections in the Hindi heartland, and more so in Uttar Pradesh, which is not only bigger than many countries in the world, but is also a key player at the national level, with its 80 Lok Sabha seats.
It is evident in UP that the party which will be able to get 30 percent of the votes will emerge as a winner. But the entire ‘Dangal’ is among the 23 percent upper caste population, 41 percent other backward castes, 21.1 percent Dalits and 19.3 percent Muslims. In the battlefield, BSP chief Mayawati is considered to be the saviour of Dalits whereas SP chief Mulayam is considered to be the rescuer of Muslims.
In the last general elections, the BJP won 73 seats out of 80 and that was because of the brilliant arithmetic the party had followed, along with polarisation while distributing tickets. In 2014, the BJP had fielded 25 OBCs, 17 Brahmins, 14 Thakurs, 17 Dalits, 3 Vaishyas and one Pasi and Bhumihar each, while 2 seats were given to the Apna Dal. It means 27 tickets were given to the OBC candidates, including Apna Dal. Interestingly, the BJP has always fought for 50 percent of the total votes since the remaining have traditionally never voted for the BJP.
This time too, the Bharatiya Janta Party is playing strategically and has appointed 23 OBCs and 2 Dalits as district-level heads. The focus of the BJP is to get 60 percent of the upper caste vote and 32 percent of the OBC vote. The party understands that in the presence of the SP, BSP and Congress, it will not be able to woo the Muslim voters. If the Muslim votes get split between the BSP and factions of SP, then it will be beneficial for the BJP and that’s the reason why some SP leaders are blaming the BJP for the recent Yadav ‘pari-war’.
Recently the Supreme Court has ruled that the politicians can’t seek votes on the basis of religion, caste, creed or language. On the very next day, the BSP chief Mayawati released a list of 403 candidates citing their religious and caste background. One may consider it contempt of court, but that represents the harsh reality of the political battleground that is Uttar Pradesh.
Mayawati’s Game Plan
Everyone understands Mayawati’s game of ticket distribution. If the three dominant castes and religions are included then it constitutes 51 percent of the vote. If the Muslims vote in favour of BSP, Mayawati’s share may touch 40 percent but it seems unlikely. The changes in the pattern of the BSP’s ticket distribution in UP reflect these objectives. BSP is focusing on the Dalit-Muslim-Brahmin combination.
This time Dalit Tsaritsa Mayawati has played a master stroke by giving more tickets to the Muslims as she is keen to take advantage of a split in the Samajwadi Party.
Overall, Mayawati has given 97 tickets to Muslim candidates, 87 to Dalits, 106 to OBCs, 113 to upper castes (66 to Brahmins, 36 to Kshatriyas and 11 to Kayasthas, Vaishyas, Punjabis). This is actually the original formula which led to a grand victory of Mayawati in the year 2007.
Samajwadi Party’s MY-Vote Bank
On the other hand, another key player in Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party, which is on the verge of a split, has always focused on the Muslims and Yadavs. According to a study, 80 percent of Yadav votes and 50 percent of Muslim votes usually go to the Samajwadi Party along with some votes that it gets from other communities as well.
This time too, the ruling party is focused on getting 65 percent of Yadav-Muslim votes, 14 percent of Brahmin votes and the other 30 percent of the votes from among the backward castes.
As far as the Congress is concerned, it has no base left in Uttar Pradesh and it is solely looking to the SP for a tie-up. Rahul Gandhi did rounds of Yatras, but that will hardly make an impact on the voters.
Who Will Emerge as the Winner?
The Election Commission has announced elections in five states and this battle will become more interesting in the days to come. So far, only the BSP has officially announced a list of candidates and other key players such as the SP, BJP and Congress are refusing to play their cards to avoid making an incorrect choice.
BJP, like in Bihar will go with the face of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and is hoping to use demonetisation to its advantage. From the recent opinion polls, the BJP seems to be a front runner and most people seem to have supported PM Modi’s demonetisation move, but it will not be so easy in the absence of a chief ministerial face.
The other and most popular face in UP is Akhilesh Yadav, who is looking for a second term. However, he is having a tough time because of the factions in the family. The stark reality is that caste and religion are the deciding factors in the state’s politics and it will be interesting to see which party will emerge as the champion.
(The author is an IT professional and an independent blogger who writes about socio-political issues. He can be reached @YatharthMishra_ . This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)