With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) nominating Raghuraj Singh Shakya, who belongs to Shakya – an Other Backward Classes (OBC) community – as its candidate for the high-pitched Mainpuri bypoll in Uttar Pradesh, the saffron party’s tried and tested strategy of fielding a candidate from a non-Yadav OBC social group that represents a sizeable population in that particular constituency though not having the numerical or political strength across the State, has once again come to the fore.
In U.P., which sends 80 members to Lok Sabha and happens to be the ruling BJP‘s epicentre of political stability, it has devised this interesting social combination for Parliamentary bypolls since its rise in the electoral horizon of the State in 2014.
The strategy to give candidature to numerically lesser significant non-Yadav OBCs is contrary to the BJP’s ticket distribution in Vidhan Sabha and Lok Sabha polls, in which it gives higher representation to the upper castes.
Since 2014, when the saffron party made an upsurge in the State under Narendra Modi, five of the last seven Lok Sabha bypolls (all were high-stake battles) have seen the party giving candidature to non-Yadav OBC nominees who were numerically weaker State-wide. This includes prestigious seats like Mainpuri, Phulpur, Rampur and Kairana. Apart from Azamgarh, where the party repeated a Yadav nominee, it has restrained from giving ticket to Yadavs.
Available data show that for the Mainpuri bypoll held in 2014, after Mulayam Singh Yadav vacated the seat and retained Azamgarh, the saffron party made Prem Singh Shakya its candidate against the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Tej Pratap Singh Yadav. It was the first election in Mainpuri where the BJP got more than three lakh votes, which gave the party belief that it would breach the ultimate citadel of the SP. Shakya is not considered as a dominant group within the OBC pyramid of U.P., like Yadavs, Kurmis or Kushwahas.
In the 2004 Parliamentary polls when the saffron party was in power at the Centre, it gave candidature to Ram Babu Kushwaha from Mainpuri. However, Mr. Kushwaha polled only around 14,000 votes and lost deposit. Kushwahas are considered a dominant agrarian OBC group in the Hindi belt.
The BJP strategists believe that putting a non-Yadav OBC candidate from a social group which has good representation in a particular constituency, but is not numerically or electorally dominant across the State, helps the party get a major chunk of votes from its loyal upper caste base as these candidates wouldn’t be seen as a threat to the upper castes’ political domination. Moreover, the move helps the party to get both Brahmins and Rajputs stand side by side in the bypolls.
History of bypolls in the State in the last eight years also highlights that whenever the party chose a candidate from a pan-State, dominant upper caste social group, it has led to a reversal in the party’s fortunes. The Gorakhpur Parliamentary bypoll of 2018 was the best example of this as the party lost what it considered to be its most safe seat in the State, which was represented by present Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, when it gave the candidature to Upendra Butt Shukla, a Brahmin. The Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Praveen Nishad won the high-stake battle when the CM vacated the seat after getting elected for the State’s top post.
Interestingly, these numerically weaker OBCs have got hardly any representation in the top chambers of power occupied by the U.P. leaders, be it in the State or at the Centre. In U.P., while the CM belongs to the dominant Rajput community, one Deputy CM, Brajesh Pathak, is from the Brahmin community which makes up roughly 9% of the State’s population as per the caste-based census held in 1931.
In the Central government, both the Cabinet Ministers who originally hail from U.P. belong to dominant upper caste groups. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Minister of Heavy Industries and Public Enterprises Mahendra Nath Pandey are from Rajput and Brahmin communities respectively.
Even Hukum Singh, who belonged to the Gurjar community, and was among the most senior BJP leaders to have won in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls from the State, was not included in the Union Cabinet. The Gurjar community is restricted to a few districts of western U.P. and is considered numerically weaker. But, when he died in 2018, the party gave his daughter Mriganka Singh the candidature from Kairana in the Lok Sabha bypoll, and continued the strategy of giving candidature to non-Yadav OBC groups.
A winning formula
The party has clearly reaped electoral gains using the formula. In the recent Rampur Lok Sabha bypoll, it was able to take the stronghold of the SP by fielding Ghanshyam Singh Lodhi, a Lodhi OBC, as its candidate. The caste group has not much electoral significance other than in the eight-odd Parliamentary seats in central-western U.P., unlike Yadavs or Kurmis.
Analysts believe that the strategy helps the saffron party in many ways. On one hand it helps the party to get the votes of the community which is in sizeable numbers in the particular Lok Sabha constituency and consolidate the upper castes or dominant social groups which are already considered loyal to it. On the other, it also helps the party in non-Yadav polarisation.
Sumit Kumar, a social scientist, who teaches in University of Delhi, said, “In Gorakhpur, the BJP lost the 2018 polls with its Brahmin candidate due to counter-polarisation or, we may say, when a backward class unity happened. But when the BJP nominates a non-Yadav OBC candidate, it helps the party to restrain such a polarisation and do a counter-polarisation against the opposition’s core vote bank.”
Such analysis looks true as in the Rampur bypoll, despite roughly 48% of the voters belonging to Muslim community, which is considered loyal to the SP, the BJP was able to wrest the seat. With all this in the background, it needs to be seen that if the BJP could repeat the same in Mainpuri, which is considered the final Parliamentary citadel of the SP through its non-Yadav OBC calculus.