The wide social coalition that the BJP crafted and honed in U.P. during national and State elections over the last seven years remained intact this Assembly election. An analysis of the caste-wise vote preference data from the Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey points to a story of continuity as far as the BJP’s base is concerned. The party has also achieved some major gains from unexpected quarters. The SP also improved its performance among communities except the upper castes, but this was clearly not enough to defeat the BJP.
The BJP’s social base
The BJP managed to not only consolidate its traditionally staunch upper caste base even further, netting over four-fifths support from the Brahmins, Thakurs and Vaishyas, but also held on rather successfully to its relatively recently cultivated support base of non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBCs). This critical segment that constitutes two-fifths of U.P.’s electorate was widely expected to move away from the BJP in significant measure due to the SP’s alliance with smaller caste-based parties such as the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Janwadi Socialist Party, Mahan Dal, and Apna Dal (Kamerawadi) that cater to some of the non-dominant OBC segments such as Rajbhars, Noniyas, Chauhans, Kushwahas and Mauryas. The defection of BJP’s senior backward caste leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini to the SP was also expected to dent the BJP’s base in their respective constituencies. However, the post-poll data suggest that the BJP actually ending up gaining more support from these constituencies, except the Rajbhars. Among the Maurya-Khushwaha-Koeri communities for instance, the party increased its vote share from 56% to 64%. Major gains for the BJP also came from Gaderias and Kumhars. The only non-Yadav OBC community where the BJP appears to have lost some support is that of the Mallahs. Lokniti’s survey finds that the BJP lost support to the tune of 11 percentage points among the Mallahs. Nonetheless, the BJP was still way ahead of the SP among the non-Yadav OBCs, securing over three-fifths of their votes.
The BJP made some very significant gains among the Dalits: Jatavs and non-Jatavs. It won over two-fifths of the support of non-Jatav Dalits as opposed to one-thirds last time. It made some of its most impressive inroads among Jatav Dalits, the community that has stood by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) through thick and thin in the past, securing 21% or nearly a fifth of their votes, more than double of 2017. The BSP’s vote share among Jatavs came down drastically from 87% to just 65%. Among non-Jatavs, which had already started moving away from the party since the last few elections, the BSP’s vote share reduced considerably too. This indicates that the BSP is facing an existential threat. Interestingly, this time around, it was the SP that gained far more from this BSP decline among non-Jatav Dalits than the BJP. But it wasn’t sufficient.
A major roadblock for the SP’s failure to make sufficient inroads among Dalits and lower OBCs was the strong perception among them about the dominance of Yadavs under Akhilesh Yadav’s rule as compared to the alleged Thakurvaad under Yogi Adityanath’s rule. In the post-poll survey, even though most voters were found to carry the opinion that Mr. Adityanath’s rule had benefited only upper castes (overall 43% thought so), this sentiment was nonetheless much weaker than the sentiment recorded in the 2017 survey about Mr. Yadav’s rule having benefited only Yadavs (54% had said so).
A further disappointment perhaps for the SP alliance was the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) not being able to sufficiently consolidate its core Jat voters in favour of the alliance, even though the party did perform well in some of its traditional strongholds. Despite the active participation of western U.P.’s Jat community in the farmers’ movement and the pre-election noise about Jats beginning to move back to the RLD, a majority of Jats, our data indicates, voted for the BJP. The Jat-Muslim-Yadav alliance that had been anticipated in western U.P. before the elections did not materialise pan region. It was limited to a few seats in the upper parts of the region. In fact, for the fourth straight election in U.P., only Muslims and Yadavs (30% of the electorate) consolidated behind the SP, offering it four-fifths of their support. It seems that Yadav and Muslim voters’ heavy consolidation in favour of the SP led to counter-mobilisation of Hindu voters (other than Yadavs) in favour of BJP. The Congress’s complete inability to wean way upper caste support from the BJP didn’t help matters either, for the SP.
To conclude, it can be said, that several governance issues notwithstanding, the BJP’s caste arithmetic could not be breached.
Mirza Asmer Beg is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Aligarh Muslim University; Shashikant Pandey is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University, Lucknow; Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS