In a bid to build a broader social alliance of backward castes and Dalits to dislodge the BJP in Uttar Pradesh in 2022, Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav has not only accommodated leaders from the ‘Bahujan’ stream of caste politics but now has also incorporated its language in his election campaign.
In fact, Mr. Yadav, through an albeit fledgling caste arithmetic and political messaging promising backward castes a share in power and honour as per their population, seems to have taken a leaf out of the politics of Kanshiram. The BSP founder had popularised the clarion call for OBCs and Dalits of Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari — each community or caste bloc should get representation as per their share in the population — to challenge the dominance of the upper castes.
With the BSP under Mayawati diluting that project and shifting to a strategy of ‘ sarvajan hitai, sarvajan sukhai (for the good and development of all) relying more on appeasement of dominant castes, particularly Brahmins, to supplement the traditional Jatav vote, the ‘Bahujan’ space has since 2014 been occupied by the BJP.
However, the saffron party’s discourse has been completely different, laced with Hindutva. In the process, BJP has managed to bring together the numerically dominant non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, along with its traditional support base of ‘upper castes’, to create a winning formula.
In his rainbow coalition, Mr. Yadav has not only formed alliances with five OBC-based parties, which have support bases among Jat, Kurmi, Chauhan, Maurya-Kushwaha and Rajbhar castes, but now is also openly embracing elements of social justice politics. He had completely shied away from this plank in the last Assembly election where his main pitch was “ Kaam bolta hain (work will speak)”.
The Samajwadi chief is aggressively pitching for a caste census for the OBCs, who are numerically the most dominant bloc in the State — estimated to be about 40-45% — and taking potshots at the traditional ‘upper caste’ background of the BJP.
At a rally in Lalitpur on Thursday, Mr. Yadav said the BJP’s was unwilling to carry out a caste census as true count of the castes would expose the party’s ture composition and stated that “those who cannot do a caste census cannot think of your welfare.”
He then promised the OBC castes bhagidhari (representation), samman (honour) and haq (due rights) as per their population. All these terms are closely linked to the social justice politics in the State.
“ Abadi zyada hain, zyada samman dene ka kaam karenge (If your population is more, you will get more honour),” he said, stating that this was a “new SP,” which talks of the “rights and honour of all” and “representation of all.”
In Hardoi on November 27, Mr. Yadav, while promising voters he would carry out a caste census in U.P. if voted to power, also tried to counter the BJP’s frequent allegation that the SP patronized the Yadav caste at the cost of others. Mr. Yadav accused the BJP of trying to make castes fight and spreading divisiveness.
Targeting the OBC background of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has in U.P. campaign repeatedly flaunted his identity, without naming him, Mr. Yadav said, “Those who don’t want to do caste census have paper certificates”.
“But those who are standing here have original certificates. They know that when there will be a caste census, their numbers won’t be prominent. They are not that many in numbers the way they are accounting for it,” he added.
Appeal to Dalits
Apart from trying to woo the scattered OBC castes, Mr. Yadav is also trying to make inroads into the Dalit vote. Dalits comprise 21.5% of the State’s population and even today the BSP commands the largest share of its vote, especially the Jatav sub-caste to which Mayawati herself belongs.
Over the last two-three years, Mr. Yadav has added several key Dalit leaders from the BSP to his party from across the state, including Inderjeet Saroj, Tribhvan Dutt, Mithailal Bharti, Yogesh Verma and OBC leaders propagating an Ambedkarite ideology such as R.S. Kushwaha, Lalji Verma and Ram Achal Rajbhar.
To win the trust of the Dalits, Mr. Yadav regularly evokes B.R. Ambedkar and the threat to reservation and constitutional provisions from the privatization spree under the BJP government. If government institutions are sold and privatised, who will provide reservation and where will government jobs come from, Mr. Yadav asked at a recent rally in Lucknow, as he raised concerns over the dilution of rights of the reserved categories.
In his own words, Mr. Yadav says he is trying to form a colourful “bouquet” of different communities as opposed to the “single colour” (saffron politics) of the BJP.
At a recent rally in Ghazipur in east UP, where his caste formation already looks formidable, Mr. Yadav pointed to the “rainbow” of red, blue, green and yellow flags and banners, and said, “We Samajwadi people take along all colours. These people of ek rang (single colour) cannot take U.P. on the path of happiness, he said.
Sensing the threat of the SP, which has managed to wean away most of her MLAs and senior leaders, Ms. Mayawati on November 26, Constitution Day, asked the reserved categories to beware of the SP as it had opposed the reservation in promotion.
BJP leader and U.P. deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya has claimed that his party still commands the larger social alliance.
“ Sau mein 60 hamara, 40 mein batwara hain and batware mein bhi hamara hain (We have 60% votes, the remaining 40% are divided and even there we have a share),” he said, referring to the BJP’s formula of polarising other communities against Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs.
Will Mr. Yadav’s new-found love for Bahujan politics translate into votes is a question only the polls can answer.