Caste calculus goes for a toss in the north

SP-BSP-RLD alliance trails far behind BJP’s vote share in Uttar Pradesh

May 23, 2019 10:28 pm | Updated 10:28 pm IST - New Delhi

The caste calculus often pulled out to analyse the Indian elections has to be thrown out, at least for now, after the Bharatiya Janata Party’s clean sweep through Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand where alliances were tied carefully according to caste-based vote banks they held.

In Uttar Pradesh, the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance, hailed as a unique political experiment together polled 38.99% of votes trailing far behind the BJP’s 49.49%.

With the slogan Haathi, Lathi aur Saat Sau Chhiyasi where Haathi referred to BSP’s symbol elephant, lathi used for SP’s stick to shepherd cattle and Saat Sau Chhiyasi ( 786) a reference to Muslims, on paper they were perfect. The allies worked in perfect harmony in spite of historical differences. The campaign was well co-ordinated. They managed the optics also well, with SP Chief Akhilesh Yadav playing loving Bhatija (nephew) to Bua (aunt) Mayawati.

Falling short

Yet it was not enough, because the BJP in U.P. countered the SP-BSP’s caste calculus by mobilising a much varied but a larger caste coalition. “While the BSP-SP had Jatav, Yadav and Muslim votes they lacked the support from most backward society,” Professor Vivek Kumar, Professor In-charge of Ambedkar Chair at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems said.

Professor Badri Narayan echoes the same sentiment. “The BJP responded to the SP-BSP by mobilising 40 non-Yadav most back ward castes and among the Dalits Passis who for long have had rivalry with Jatavs, BSP’s committed voters. They also wooed many other smaller sections of Dalits,” he said.

And wherever the caste arithemetic did not work they used the overarching Hindutva narrative to combine everyone, he added. It was only in the U.P. campaign that Mr. Modi invoked his own backward caste roots.

In Bihar too, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, carefully chose its partners. To add to its traditional Muslim-Yadav vote bank Tejashwi Yadav, who is leading the party in the absence of his father Lalu Yadav brought together Rashtriya Lok Samata Party of Upendra Kushwaha, extremely back ward caste leader Jitan Ram Manjhi’s Hindustani Awam Morcha and Mukesh Sahani’s Vikas Sheel Insaan Party. And then via Congress, they sought to keep the minority vote too in their fold.

Together they made a formidable alliance, except it did not work. Barring Kishanganj where Dr. Mohammed Jawed of the Congress won, the coalition scored nil. The Rashtriya Janata Dal got more than 15% of votes but not a single seat.

Professor Kumar says the prime reason is that the alliance was forged too late. The seat distribution was settled after intense tussle leaving a bitter taste among the allies.

Right from the word go, it was an uncomfortable marriage with infighting and rebellion. The RJD itself fielded their own leader against Congress’s Ranjeet Ranjan in Supaul to counter her husband Pappu Yadav who despite many requests contested against RJD candidate Sharad Yadav. Similarly, Congress rebel Shakeel Ahmed fought against VIP’s Badri Kumar.

In Jharkhand the Congress brought together Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, Jarkhand Vikas Morcha and Rashtriya Janata Dal. The alliance partners ticked all the boxes by bringing many tribals and non tribal parties together. But the alliance got only two seats with Congress and Jharkhand Mukti Morcha. “We have not been able to explain these results. The BJP government in state is extremely unpopular, nationalism as a narrative does not echo with Jharkhand so much and yet we lost,” a senior Congress leader said.

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