With polls due next month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to be headed for stormy weather. Ahead of the high-stakes polls, while the farmers from the west-Uttar Pradesh were yet to warm up to the party, the sudden exodus of non-Yadav Other Backward Class (OBC) leaders has triggered a stampede in the saffron party, indicating Mandal revival, a politics which revolves around caste identity and reservation benefits.
As many as three Cabinet ministers and eight legislators have resigned from the saffron party in the last 48 hours, accusing Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s Cabinet of apathetic attitude towards Dalits, backwards, farmers, unemployed youth and the traders.
All these deserters are set to join the principal Opposition party, the Samajwadi Party (SP). These leaders are said to enjoy clout among their non-Yadav OBC castes, which played a crucial role in ensuring the BJP’s thumping victory in the 2017 assembly and 2019 Lok Sabha polls. But the recent departures have dealt a blow to otherwise bright poll prospects of the party despite the anti-incumbency wave in western Uttar Pradesh following the farmers’ uprising.
A day after Swami Prasad Maurya, who holds sway in at least 30 assembly constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh, quit the Cabinet and the BJP alongwith four party MLAs, Dara Singh Chauhan, another minister and BJP’s MLA, followed in his footsteps. Even though senior BJP leaders like Keshav Prasad Maurya publically requested them to reconsider their decision, on January 13, Thursday, the exits continued.
Third minister in the Adityanath cabinet and a four-time MLA from Nakud in Saharanpur, Daharam Singh Saini, dramatically quit the Cabinet and the party today. Interestingly, about 24 hours ago, Saini, who is a key OBC leader, had denied that he was about to quit the party.Besides Saini, two more party MLAs, Mukesh Verma and Bala Prasad Awasthi resigned from the primary membership on Thursday. Digvijay NarayanChaubey aka Jai Chaubey, BJP MLA from Khalilabad seat in Sant Kabir Nagar, is also expected to switch over to the SP.
Just like 2014 and 2017 polls, the BJP has been leaving no stone unturned to make the best use of the opportunities available for polarisation. Though it has been relying on rhetoric uttered as dog whistles, the caste arthematics seem to have upstaged the Kamandal politics, apparently disturbing all the poll plans of the ruling party.
The BJP had won 303 seats in the 403 seat Uttar Pradesh assembly in the 2017 polls. But it is struggling to replicate 2017 performance this time with Ayodhya-Kashi-Mathura as its core agenda and the media blitz around seemingly unconvincing “Vikas”or development claims. Until recently, the Uttar Pradesh BJP was claiming to win 325 seats in the ensuing state assembly elections.
While Akhilesh Yadav, former Chief Minister and SP chief, is believed to enjoy the support of Yadavs and Muslims. This time, he has particularly been consolidating non-Yadav OBC vote bank as well. Unlike last state assembly elections, instead of forging an alliance with the Congress, SP has been stitching up coalitions with smaller non-Yadav caste based parties. He has even mended fences with estranged uncle, Shivpal Yadav.
On Sunday, in response to a query raised at a media conclave, whether Brahmins would vote for the BJP, Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had resorted to the communal card to counter the caste arithmetic.
Subtly hinting at the demographic composition, Adityanath said, “Yeh ladai usse bahut agay ja chukihai. Yeh ladai assi banam bees ki ho chuki hain — This battle has already moved ahead. This fight has become 80 Vs. 20.” He also termed the 20 per cent as “anti-Hindu”.
Incidentally, 80 per cent and 20 per cent roughly translate tothe population of Hindu and Muslim communities in Uttar Pradesh.
On the contrary, Akhilesh Yadav seems to have taken a cue from prominent Bahujan leader Kanshiram’s book by bringing all OBCs and SCs together in his poll strategy. This convergance accounts for a staggering 85 per cent of the electorate in Uttar Pradesh. Thus he is making the electoral battle a clear 85 Vs 15 bipolar contest, according to political observers.
With the slogan, “Raj tilak ki karo tyari aa rahen hai bhagwadhari" (get ready for the coronation as the ‘man in saffron’ is approaching) the digital election campaign projecting Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath was kicked off two days ago.
As many other fence-sitters in the BJP are said to be on the way out, Akhilesh Yadav used the hashtag “Mela Hobey”, a catchphrase inspired from the Trinamool Congress’s wildly successful slogan “Khela Hobey (game on)” during recently held West Bengal assembly elections. Sharing the picture of a defector, Dharam Singh Saini, with him, Yadav tweeted on Thursday, “The entry of another warrior in the fight for social justice has strengthened the constructive and progressive ideology of an inclusive Samajwadi Party.”
Amid soaring political tempers, Om Prakash Rajbhar, another OBC leader and Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party chief, has also reached out to the SP. On the recent defections from the BJP, he has claimed that over half a dozen BJP cabinet ministers are going to jump the ship and join the SP soon.
“This is just a movie trailer,” said Rajbhar. “The state BJP government is a government of the Thakurs. When there were 6 Yadav DMs in the UP, the BJP would cry foul that it’s a government of the Yadavs. It is a government of the goons. Today, there are 21 Thakur DMs in UP…,” said Rajbhar, adding, “Mafia and the criminals don’t have any caste. But what is happening as of now is that legal actions are being taken against Hari Shankar Tiwari, Vijay Mishra, Brijesh Mishra, Khushi Dubey, because they are Brahmins…On the other side, a wanted Thakur criminal has been playing cricket for the past ten months and openly campaigning for the party but no action is being taken against him. He has police cases registered against him in almost every district...”
In the same breath, Rajbhar held the state BJP leaders like Keshav Prasad Maurya and Swatantra Dev responsible for the denial of the reservation benefits to the government job aspirants from the OBC community.
As per the schedule, voting for Uttar Pradesh polls will be held in seven phases from February 10 to March 7. And the results will be declared on March 10, coinciding with vote-counting along with four other poll-bound states – Punjab, Uttarakhand, Goa and Manipur.