Is BJP Rebranding Itself by Poaching BSP Leaders Such as Maurya?

As BJP tries to expand its social base in UP, Mayank Mishra asks whether the move will fetch any electoral dividend.

4 min read
(Photo: Lijumol Joseph/ <b>The Quint</b>)

The 2014 Lok Sabha elections signalled a paradigm shift for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh, and not just for the record number of seats it won. Perhaps for the first time, the party secured more votes among non-Jatav Dalits than the Bahujan Samaj Party. And it is estimated to have got an overwhelming 60 percent votes of most backward classes (MBCs), a growth of nearly 100 per cent over the previous Lok Sabha elections.

MBCs (OBCs excluding dominant castes like Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris) are numerically significant but politically under-represented. And they have been the focus of the BJP’s attention in recent years. With the entry of former BSP General Secretary Swami Prasad Maurya in the BJP earlier this week, the party’s profile in this social category is expected to go up several notches, especially in UP.

Winning Over Non-Dominant OBCs

The caste Swami Prasad Maurya belongs to is one of the largest OBC groups in the state. BSP founder and Mayawati’s mentor Kanshi Ram cultivated this and similar other communities, estranged as they were from the more dominant groups of Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeries. Mayawati took this legacy forward.

The BJP now has sensed an opportunity and has started cultivating them to expand what some commentators call its fixed but limited social base in states like UP. Other than targeting leaders from these communities, the party is also attempting alliances with smaller parties with limited pockets of influence on the assumption that smaller parties are easier to manage as allies.

And UP is not the only state where the saffron party has tried to push this idea. In Bihar too, the party tried to shed its image of a Brahmin-Baniya party. Surprisingly, its list of star campaigners for the assembly elections held last year included an unfamiliar name like Mukesh Sahni, who was projected as “son of Mallah”. Mallah, Nishad, Sahni, Lohars and Kahars are some of the castes categorised as MBCs.

The idea behind the BJP’s aggressive pursuit of MBCs stems from reports that suggest there is a sense of alienation among members of this group with parties seen to be representing OBCs. There is a realisation among members of these communities that they have been denied a fair share of political power thus far and they are yet to reap the full benefits of reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. Members of these communities have begun to blame the dominant groups in the OBC category for their relative deprivation and now want to come out of their shadow.

Uttar Pradesh BJP President Keshav Prasad Maurya greets Swami Prasad Maurya in the presence of  party president Amit Shah (right) in New Delhi, 8 August, 2016. (Photo: PTI)
Uttar Pradesh BJP President Keshav Prasad Maurya greets Swami Prasad Maurya in the presence of party president Amit Shah (right) in New Delhi, 8 August, 2016. (Photo: PTI)

Courting the MBCs

  • With the induction of BSP General Secretary Swami Prasad Maurya, BJP is trying to woo the MBCs who have been under-represented politically.
  • BJP is looking forward to expand its social base and come out of the ambit of being a ‘Baniya-Brahmin’ party.
  • BJP is targeting smaller parties as well in a bid to consolidate its vote bank with a rainbow alliance ahead of assembly elections in UP.
  • MBCs who’ve traditionally voted for Mayawati are a disgruntled lot due to alienation by dominant groups among the OBCs.
  • BJP’s move may backfire with the Brahmins looking up to Congress and Sheila Dikshit as their chief ministerial candidate.

Ignoring Dominant Groups

An extension of the ‘woo-MBC’ strategy is to politically sideline dominant castes. The BJP did it successfully with the Jats in Haryana, the Marathas in Maharashtra and may repeat the same with the Patidars in Gujarat. By ignoring or being indifferent to the claims of dominant communities, the BJP is trying to send a signal to MBCs that it wants to push their cause aggressively.

The BJP perhaps is also following the principle of working on its areas of strength. Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) data show that in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP secured 42 percent of lower OBC votes at the national level. In fact, overwhelming support from lower OBCs and upper castes (47 percent of them voted for the BJP) ensured the landslide victory for the party in 2014.

Risky Strategy

The BJP is repositioning its brand with the assumption that upper castes are likely to remain loyal to them forever. That may be a risky assumption. The aggressive pursuit of a section of OBCs runs the risk of alienating some sections of upper castes, more so in states like UP where the Congress is aggressively trying to woo Brahmins.

Given the history of upper castes’ association with the Congress in the past, it is not inconceivable that a section of them switches sides, maybe in future if not immediately. If that happens, it will lead to a new round of social engineering in the state’s political landscape.

Also read:

Swami Prasad Maurya’s Exit from BSP May Not Hit Behenji’s Fortunes
BSP and BJP Seek to Make Political Capital of Dayashankar Episode

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