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Following the third, fourth and fifth phases of polls in UP, the BJP has shown renewed optimism. Much of this, BJP sources say, is due to consolidation of upper caste and non-Yadav OBC votes. Upper castes comprise about 20% of UP’s population and non-Yadav OBCs about 32%, adding up to more than half. Over 35 per cent of the BJP candidates are from non-Yadav OBC communities. The appointment of Keshav Prasad Maurya as state party chief and the induction of Swami Prasad Maurya were steps to woo Shakya-Kushwahas, the numerical stronger castes among non-Yadav OBCs. A number of seats were also given to Brahmins and Thakurs.
But how effective is this consolidation? Through much of central UP, Bundelkhand and parts of eastern UP that The Indian Express travelled, many voters of non-Yadav OBC groups said they trust the leadership of Narendra Modi and feel the BJP deserves a chance as a challenger to the dominance of Yadavs. Contrarily, also on display was how various non-Yadav OBCs felt about one another, besides local considerations. So while Santosh Kumar, a young Kushwaha from Adda village near Etawah, was in favour of giving the BJP a chance, he was not happy that Keshav Prasad Maurya had not been declared CM candidate. “If you are pro-Kushwaha, why are you shying away from declaring his name?” His neighbour Ajay Kushwaha said he would vote for the SP candidate who had always helped villagers.
In Bharthana (SC), Rajeev Kushwaha said his community was unhappy with the SP as Yadavs had grabbed land in his village. In central UP and Bundelkhand, many Lodh Rajputs said they would go with the BJP. But in some seats, such as Charkhari, the community also weighed local considerations. The SP and BJP candidates are both Lodh Charkharis, the dominant community here. Besides, some local Brahmins were happy that the BSP candidate is a Brahmin. In Jhansi, where the electorate includes upper caste Vaishyas and Brahmins as well as OBC Kushwahas, the BJP has renominated its Brahmin MLA while the BSP’s Kushwaha candidate, who lost with a slender margin last time, enjoys goodwill in his community as well as among Muslims and Dalits.
Another hurdle before the consolidation effort is the arithmetic itself. Non-Yadav OBCs are not a cohesive group; they are also spread across UP. The largest group, Shakya-Kushwahas, account for 7-8% of the votes. The Yadavs count for 9%. Then there are many non-Yadav OBC castes unwilling to vote for candidates of one another. Adding to this is the impact, however small, of smaller parties such as Nishad and Mahand Dal in various constituencies.
“These barriers are there,” says Sanjay Kumar, director at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, “but it may not be such a big factor. Because of being spread out, two antagonastic castes may not necessarily be in every seat even if it may impact some.” He added the BJP has worked hard for the last few years on this vote block and indeed managed to consolidate them significantly. According to CSDS data, the BJP got 60% of the non-Yadav OBC vote at the peak of Narendra Modi’s popularity. In 2012, the SP had bagged about 30% of this vote; in 2007, the BSP had a similar share.
“Sixty per cent is very good consolidation. You have to be lucky to get more than that. But it will be difficult for BJP to replicate that in 2017 because 2014 was an unusual election,” said Kumar.
In the case of upper caste, particularly Brahmins and Thakurs, who seem to be the buzz behind the “BJP Hawa”, the saffron party got almost 75% of their votes in 2014, according to CSDS. This was more than double of what they had got in 2012 assembly polls. It would be difficult for BJP to better it.
A low turnout in Brahmin-dominated eastern UP’s fifth phase polls would also not enthuse BJP much even though both the BJP and SP have claimed that it’s the rival’s voters who have not turned up to vote. BJP would hope to retain its 2014 upper caste-edge and expect that at least 40% of non-Yadav OBC voters stick with it. If these two consolidations happen as mentioned, BJP will still bag about 27% of total votes polled. It will hope that at least 50% of non-Jatav Dalits vote for it to add to its OBC-Upper Caste kitty.
For the past several assembly elections in UP, BJP has secured about 15% of votes. It needs to double it to have a realistic chance at forming the government. Its job has been made difficult by Jats having deserted them and non-Jatav Dalits looking at both BSP and BJP as options. It will hope eastern UP gives it more than just “hawa”.