UP Polls: Upper Castes Consolidate Behind BJP
“UP me ATM (Ahir, Thakur and Muslim) ki Sarkar hai”, (The ruling dispensation at UP means the rule of Ahir, ie, Yadav, Thakur, i.e, Rajputs and Muslims), remarked a middle- aged Thakur (Rajput) respondent at Kunda, Pratapgarh to the author in 2012 after Akhilesh Yadav led SP government was formed, trouncing BSP and reducing BJP to its lowest tally of 49 seats. The statement, besides Muslim-Yadav equation, signifies an important dynamic informing the state, namely, the dominant trend of electoral intra-upper caste rivalry in general and Brahmin-Rajput rivalry in particular, since independence. In the typical political trait of Hindi heartland (UP, Bihar and MP), the non-Brahmin upper castes, especially Rajputs, appalled by the Brahmin’s dominance in Congress started shifting to the non-Congress parties in significant numbers. In UP, the Rajputs were the core social constituency of non-Congressism, as propounded by Rammanohar Lohia and executed by Charan Singh in the form of famous non-Brahmin AJGAR (Ahir, i.e, Yadav, Jat, Gujjar and Rajput) electoral alliance in 1970s and 1980s. Though the Congress tried to win back the support of Rajputs by giving them chief ministership across the Hindi-heartland since 1980s, the Brahmin-Thakur rivalry continued.
In fact, the 1989 Lok Sabha election that was the first personality centric election in north India in 1980s, the acrimonious campaign by Rajiv Gandhi (perceived Brahmin) and V.P Singh (Rajput) had its bearing upon the social constituencies wherein the Rajputs are said to have voted significantly in favour of the latter. The trend continued in the 1989 Assembly election in the state, bringing Mulayam Singh Yadav led Janata Dal in power by defeating the incumbent Congress party led by N.D Tiwari.
This social aspect in electoral arena is significant as in the popular understanding the decades from late 1960s to late 1980s, i.e, the era of Congress-dominance famously known as ‘Congress System’, is considered the continuation of the older dominance of upper castes as a homogeneous bloc, who were, unsuccessfully but relentlessly, resisted by lower castes under the banner of socialist parties. In that dominant narrative of ‘upper caste vs. backward caste’ electoral rivalry, the aspect of intra-upper caste rivalry, especially in UP, has often been understated. This understatement needs to be factored in any political analysis as the intra-upper caste rivalry gripping the state was not just confined to the elections but rather extended to spheres like institutional access and Mafia rivalry for dominance over public resources. Moreover, the social scenario of upper caste domination till 1980s made their internal rivalry electorally significant as they operated in prevailing context of political-clientelism, bringing additional support base from among the lower-castes for different parties, making democracy competitive.
However, an important shift came in the wake of Mandalization of north Indian politics since 1990 causing an unprecedented consolidation of upper castes behind BJP, making the saffron party a dominant electoral force in the state throughout 1990s. By 2000s, the electoral decline of BJP on account of factors like, desertion of OBC leaders like Kalyan Singh, Ram Temple becoming a non-issue, coupled with friendly overtures from regional parties compelled upper castes to act as the balancing factors, tactically oscillating between them from election to election, besides supporting BJP. The data suggests that more Rajputs had tilted towards SP while Brahmins migrated towards the BSP.
It is against this backdrop that 2014 Lok Sabha election witnessed the second shift when upper castes converged behind the BJP after being swayed by the Modi – a trend continuing in the ongoing assembly elections as well.
The fact that upper castes are vouching for BJP in 2017, despite factors like, being at the receiving end in the wake of demonetization affecting agriculture adversely; both BSP and SP fielding significant number of upper caste candidates; BJP focusing primarily upon non- Yadav OBCs; a general sense of appreciation regarding Akhilesh Yadav’s leadership and the image of Mayavati as a tough administrator, reveals the deep interplay of identity plank and winnability quotient of the ongoing Assembly election in the state. As a pro-BJP Brahmin farmer unhappy with demonetization persuasively remarked at Jhanshi, “2007 me BSP ko aur 2012 me SP ko vote diya kyunki BJP race me nahi thi, lekin BSP ke Raaj me Dalit aur SP ke Raaj me Yadav ka bolbala ho jata hai, Is baar BJP race me hai aur fir humare pas BJP ke alawa chara bhi kya hai”, (I voted for BSP in 2007 and SP in 2012 as BJP was not in the electoral race. However, Dalits and Yadavs dominate the social space in the regime of BSP and SP respectively. This time BJP is in the race and otherwise also what option do we have besides supporting BJP).
Interestingly, the complex dynamics of the centrality of ‘identity plank’ and ‘winnability factor’ could be seen in the comment of a Brahmin respondent at Chillupar assembly constituency in Gorakhpur wherein both BJP and BSP have fielded Brahmin candidates, “Here the Brahmins are divided among both BJP and BSP due to candidate factor. However, everyone desires BJP forming the next government in the state”.
Thus, the factors like, continuing enigma of Modi among upper castes, post-2014 perception of BJP being the political force to reckon with, the Yadav and Dalit centric image of SP and BSP and the perception that an upper caste stands a chance of being appointed as CM if BJP forms the government, have led to the consolidation of upper castes behind BJP, despite latter’s overwhelming focus on non-Yadav OBCs. The sentiment was summed up in the response of a Rajput respondent at Baldev Assembly constituency in Mathura, “earlier we used to shift to other parties as there was no wave for BJP. Now we are completely with BJP as there is Modi wave making the party winnable once again.”