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Elections 2022: Which Way OBCs Swing Could Decide Fate Of Uttar Pradesh

The results of the 2022 Uttar Pradesh polls will depend on the stitching of electoral alliances with OBCs and poaching of their leaders. Other issues may be present but the icing on the cake will be provided by the support of OBCs.

Akhilesh Yadav
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Come elections and political analysts air drop into villages of the Hindi heartland cornering people about elections, issues, voting, etc. The issues vary from economic development, infrastructure, health facilities, education and how they are going to affect the election. The villagers also counter them by adding a few more issues. It seems to be the perfect situation—where the development work in a constituency is analysed and the report cards of MLAs scrutinised. However, very few care to delve into the caste arithmetic in UP. Superficially, the elections may be contested on glossy issues but internally, caste equations play a major role.

Such is the impact of caste in UP that whenever a leader switches sides, it is painted as a prize catch for the beneficiary party as it is expected to influence that particular community. Needless to say, often party-hoppers do not have any sway over their own community. Whenever any political party releases its list of candidates, the foremost story in any newsroom is to count the number of candidates from every caste, so as to get a catchy headline in the next day’s issue. At times, neutral surnames like Singh often prove wrong as it is hard to guess the caste of the candidate. Even if a party fields fewer candidates from a particular caste, it is highlighted. Another aspect has now been added to the cauldron with different parties promising that they will conduct a caste survey, if voted to power.

Broadly, under Mandal Commission recommendations, castes are grouped in three major categories: Forward or Upper Classes, Other Backward Classes and Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. The OBCs form the major chunk of the population with a conglomerate of several castes. In the 80s, the churning had begun and UP served as a caste crucible. On August 7, 1990, the then prime minister V.P. Singh implemented a 27 per cent reservation for OBCs, leading to widespread opposition. With this, the awakening among OBCs began. Besides economic upliftment, political awareness also grew. The political enlightenment saw the rise of several OBC leaders.

Political importance

The Mandal Commission included several castes in the OBC list. As per the Central list of OBCs for UP, there are 76 castes which comprise the OBC. The State Backward Class Commission has rec­eived nearly five dozen representations from other communities for inclusion in the OBC list. The major share of political power was, however, captured by the Yadavs and Kurmis. Slowly, simmering discontent spread among the other OBC castes that felt sidelined and their share being eaten up by the Yadavs. During his tenure as the chief minister of UP, Rajnath Singh constituted a Social Justice Committee headed by Babu Hukum Singh in 1991. The committee classified the OBCs  as Backward Class, More Backward Class and Most Backward Class. The Yadavs were in the Backward Class, while the More Backward Class had 8 castes, and the Most Backward Class comprised a staggering 70 castes. Its recommendation of quota within quota, however, could not be implemented.

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Kingmaker? Om Prakash Rajbhar

But the panel’s classification set the cat among the pigeons. Except the Yadavs, other castes began flexing their muscles. Smal­ler OBC groups started grouping tog­ether, eventually leading to the emergence of caste-specific political parties. The Mahan Dal of Keshav Dev Maurya, Janwadi Party Socialist of Sanjay Chauhan etc., are similar in nature and composition. Bigger parties eye them for providing the much-needed support among their communities. Om Prakash Rajbhar, who heads the Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party, broke ties with the BJP citing sub-categorisation of the OBC quota. Raja Nishad, who heads the Nishad Army, also advocates reservation for the community though the Nishad Party of Dr Sanjay Nishad is an ally of the BJP.

The Mandal Commission grouped castes in three major categories: Forward or Upper Classes, Other Backward Classes and SCs and STs. The OBCs form the major chunk of the population.

Though there is no official data available, it is estimated that Yadavs, Kurmis and Lodhs are the top three castes number-wise among OBCs and are influential in several seats in the state. After 1989, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Beni Prasad Verma emerged as the tallest leaders of their community. However, the catch lies in the smaller groups of OBCs. Their numbers vary between one and three per cent of the population and they are present in small numbers in several constituencies. These groups cannot win any seat on their own but they can influence the final results. Even if they are as few as 5,000 in any constituency, they can affect the result in a tight contest. This is where the political caste equation comes into play. A wily Mulayam promoted leaders of other OBCs, like Beni Prasad and Phoolan Devi (Nishad) who had considerable clout over their community. The efficiency of cobbling up alli­ances with OBCs mattered a lot in the final outcome. Several smaller castes—like Rajbhar, Gadariya, Prajapti, Kashyap, Savita, Shakya and Maurya—did not get that much attention earlier. With the advent of the new-look SP after 2012, the established caste equations fell apart and an aggressive BJP swooped in to reap the harvest. In 2017, the BJP’s 300 MLAs had 101 OBCs, much higher than the 13 in 2012.

Poll position

Much has changed since implementation of the Mandal Commission recommendations. OBCs, who were once content with just one of their leaders being showcased by a political party, now do not hesitate to demand a bigger share. They are no longer ornamental pieces. The political awakening can be gauged from the fact that political parties representing smaller groups now do not shy away from hobnobbing with bigger national parties. The 2017 assembly elections were an apt example of this—Apna Dal (Sonelal) headed by Anupriya Patel won nine seats, Rajbhar’s SBSP won four seats, both with BJP support. On the other hand, SP contested the polls with the Congress and proved to be a damp squib.

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Every election comes with switching loyalties. However, the exodus by three top OBC leaders from the BJP—Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini—is being seen as much more than the pre-poll party-hopping for political heft. The SP lost no time in fielding them as candidates for the ongoing assembly elections. Maurya is now campaigning single-handedly, hopping across the state in a chopper. Saini’s importance can be gauged from the fact that SP nominated him from his seat Nakur in Sah­aranpur, though an important Muslim face, Imran Masood, had staked claim for the same seat. The SP also embraced Kamlesh Rajbhar, son of former Speaker of UP assembly late Sukhdev Rajbhar, from Didarganj in Azamgarh. Here too, the tall Muslim leader Adil Sheikh, who had defeated Rajbhar in the 2012 polls, was a strong contender for the seat. In UP, the politics of tokenism and symbolism also works. The results of the 2022 polls will depend on the stitching of electoral alliances with OBCs and poaching of their leaders. Other issues may be present but the icing on the cake will be provided by the support of OBCs.

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(This appeared in the print edition as "Simmering Cauldron")

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(The writer is a Lucknow-based senior journalist)

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