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At the Heart of Uttar Pradesh Elections Lie 3 Leaders & Their Break-Up With BJP

Rajbhar, Maurya & Tikait engaged with the BJP in different ways, but realised the threat it posed to their politics.

Updated
At the Heart of Uttar Pradesh Elections Lie 3 Leaders & Their Break-Up With BJP
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The last couple of days had witnessed a spate of resignations of BJP MLAs in Uttar Pradesh, the most prominent one being Swami Prasad Maurya, Labour Minister in the Yogi Adityanath government. He has now joined the Samajwadi Party.

The 'exodus' of MLAs from the BJP has triggered the question: has the SP finally reached a stage where it can turn the tables in the saffron party?

This is actually critically dependent on two other questions:

  1. Can the SP and its allies, like the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Mahan Dal, Krishna Patel faction of Apna Dal, and Janvadi Party (Socialist) ensure a shift of non-Yadav OBC votes from the BJP to the SP?

  2. Has the farmers' protest ensured a shift of Jat votes from the BJP to the SP-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance?

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Why do we say the SP's win is 'critically dependent' on these two questions? Because these are the two main processes through which the SP can eat into a significant chunk of the BJP's voteshare. Otherwise, the main gains for the SP would be at the expense of other Opposition parties, like the BSP and the Congress.

And at the centre of these two questions lie three leaders who engaged with the BJP in different ways in the past, but eventually fell out with the party at different points of time: SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar, SP's recent recruit Swami Prasad Maurya, and Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait.

The ways in which these leaders got close to the BJP may be a bit different (at least in Tikait's case), but their fallout with the BJP and their challenges in this election are very similar.

HOW DID THESE LEADERS GET CLOSE TO THE BJP?

Om Prakash Rajbhar and Swami Prasad Maurya's cases are somewhat similar. Both of them were from a BSP background and got close to the BJP around the same point of time – Maurya joined the BJP in 2016 and Rajbhar became an ally of the party during the 2017 Assembly elections.

They were important parts of the BJP's social engineering in Uttar Pradesh. Maurya belongs to the Kushwaha community, known as Maurya in parts of North Eastern UP, such as Siddharthnagar, Kushinagar, and Maharajganj, and Shakya in south-western districts, like Etawah and Mainpuri.

Rajbhars, on the other hand, are concentrated in Eastern UP districts, like Ghazipur, Mau, Balia, Azamgarh, and Jaunpur.

Their engagement with the BJP was justified as a reaction to the alleged neglect of their communities by the SP and the BSP. The message the BJP was trying to give was that in the name of 'social justice', these parties ended up benefitting only one caste group each – Yadavs within the OBCs and Jatavs within the SCs, respectively, and that the other groups gained nothing.

A share in power and respect within the government were promised to these two leaders.

For Rajbhar, who headed a party that had never tasted electoral success, the alliance with the BJP was extremely beneficial, to begin with, as it gave him a handful of MLAs and a ministerial berth.

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Maurya, who had been a minister in Mayawati's Cabinet, was accommodated in the Yogi Adityanath government as well.

Tikait, of course, is primarily a farm union leader and an influential figure in the Baliyan Khap. Though he has contested elections in the past, he is not an electoral politician.

He got close to the BJP during the 2013 Muzaffarnagar communal violence. Departing from his father Mahendra Singh Tikait's legacy of acting as a bridge between the Jats and Muslims in West UP, Tikait is said to have given an incendiary speech in the controversial Mahapanchayat that preceded the violence.

In the years that followed, Tikait maintained cordial ties with the BJP, both at the Centre and in UP.

He also tacitly backed the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, even though veteran RLD leader Chaudhary Ajit Singh was contesting from Tikait's area.

Tikait's supporters say that backing the BJP during and after the 2013 violence was a compulsion for him, as otherwise, he would have been alienated within the Jat community.

WHY DID THEY FALL OUT WITH THE BJP?

Rajbhar, Maurya, and Tikait fell out with the BJP at different points in time, but their reasons were similar.

For Rajbhar, the fallout is closely linked to the Raghavendra Kumar Committee that was set up by the Yogi Adityanath government in 2018 to carve out a sub-quota for most backward and extremely backward castes within the OBC quota.

Despite the committee recommending the creation of sub-quotas, the Adityanath government did not implement it for fear of alienating two dominant OBC groups, which are also BJP's core vote bank – Lodhs and Kurmis.

Rajbhar resigned from the Yogi government in February 2019, just before the Lok Sabha elections, and accused the BJP of "betraying OBCs" by not "dividing the 27 percent OBC quota."

Tikait fell out with the BJP after the farm laws were passed in 2020, and since then, has become one of its most vocal critics as part of the anti-farm law movement.

Maurya quit the BJP on 12 January 2021.

The trio may have engaged with the BJP in different ways for their political survival and advancement, but in the end, all three of them realised that the party had become an existential threat to their own politics.

Maurya and Rajbhar appear to have joined or allied with the BJP because they thought their respective bases would get a better deal than in the Yadav-dominated SP and Jatav-dominated BSP.

It became clear to Rajbhar and Maurya that the BJP sought to expand its base among non-Yadav OBCs through them, and eventually discard or sideline them and replace them with leaders of the same caste but from an RSS stable, such as a Keshav Prasad Maurya.

Then, they also saw that the BJP's acceptance of caste assertion was mainly so long it operated within a Hindu framework. The BJP's Hindutva twist to Rajbhar icon Raja Suheldev's clash with Ghazi Salar Masud has been written on by scholars, such as Badri Narayan.

Both these aspects sought to undermine the politics that Maurya and Rajbhar stood for.

The same goes for Tikait. He may have played along with the BJP in Muzaffarnagar, but later realised that the Hindutva-isation of Jats in West UP ended up shrinking the space for the agrarian and Jat politics that he espoused.

To add to these threats were two more aspects: BJP's increasingly unilateral, centralised, and bureaucrat-driven functioning at the Centre, and more so at the state level, that provided little space for any kind of negotiations.

Not to mention the upper-caste, especially Thakur, domination of the Yogi Adityanath regime.

All these factors contributed to these leaders' fallout with the BJP.

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HOW THEY FACE THE SAME CHALLENGE NOW

Presently, the SP-led alliance seems to be the best vehicle for the three leaders, given its intention to revive social justice-based politics and agrarian politics.

But for the Akhilesh Yadav-led alliance to win, Rajbhar, Maurya, and Tikait will need to fight a battle within their own communities.

Through Hindutva and its own massive resources, the BJP has succeeded in capturing the imagination of a sizable section of people within the communities of these three leaders.

The trio would now be faced with a clash of narratives within their respective communities.

The battle is between the politics of social justice and Hindutva within Mauryas, Rajbhars, and other non-Yadav OBC communities, and between agrarian politics and Hindutva within the Jat community.

Can these three leaders get their communities to vote as Rajbhars, Kushwahas, and farmers, respectively, or will the BJP succeed in getting them to vote as Hindus?

The answer to this question may shape the final outcome of the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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