It is clear that the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance is headed for a mammoth victory. The BJP is likely to win at least 55 of the 80 seats in UP. This is in contrast to the reading of political analysts, who had expected the gathbandhan of the SP and BSP to pose a severe challenge to the BJP. The SP-BSP gathbandhan, backed by the Scheduled Castes and other backwards, was deemed an unassailable social coalition. What then explains the success of the BJP in UP?
First, the BJP, which has its core vote among the upper castes, who are numerically substantial in UP, went for a strategic micro-management of castes and crafted a new social equation. This too was a gathbandhan of non-Yadav, numerically substantial OBC communities such as Kurmi, Maurya, etc. and most backward castes including Nishads, Bind, Kasera, Kumhar, Thathera, Tamboli. The party also reached out to non-Jatav Dalit castes such as Musahars, Nat, Kanjar, and Kuchbadhiya. The BJP built this social coalition by organising caste conferences of various most backward and non-Jatav Dalit castes while also ensuring that the benefits of schemes like Ujjwala Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Aawas Yojana and Mudra reached them. In this way, it crafted a larger social coalition than the gathbandhan of the SP, BSP and Rashtriya Lok Dal. Feedback from the RSS helped the party to build and manage this coalition. Dalit and MBC caste heroes were reinterpreted by the BJP-RSS leadership as Hindutva warriors to attract their respective communities into the Hindu fold.
Second, vote-katuas (vote-cutters) like the Congress and Pragatishil Samajwadi Party of Shivpal Singh Yadav worked against the SP-BSP-RLD gathbandhan. The Congress’s tactic was to field candidates who could work as vote-katuas against the BJP in many seats. The tactic misfired. Many Congress candidates were leaders from the SP and BSP, who were denied tickets by their own party. They cut into the gathbandhan’s votes, which in benefited the BJP.
Third, the SP and BSP cadres didn’t get sufficient time to build a rapport on the ground. In our field trips, we could sense the rivalry among cadres, which was not overt, in many constituencies. The interests of the Jatavs and Yadavs work at cross purposes at the grass roots. This conflict works at multiple levels — between the landholding Yadavs and landless Dalits, the socially dominant Yadavs and newly assertive Jatavs. It also affected the transfer of votes between the parties.
Fourth, an aspirational class of voters which identified with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The economic reforms initiated by the Congress under the prime ministership of P V Narasimha Rao have unleashed aspirations across age-group, gender and caste. This section of aspiring classes relates to the politics of BJP and is attracted towards its neo-right agendas. Issues such as national security, the call for a strong prime minister, cornering Pakistan and other such slogans motivated them to support the BJP. They backed the BJP in 2014, and their loyalty to the BJP was evident in 2019 also.
Fifth, the Modi government, through policies and programmes, mobilised various marginal communities horizontally to counter the BSP and SP, which mobilised castes vertically. The reservation for economically backward sections among the upper castes helped to dilute the dissatisfaction among the upper castes, especially the Brahmins, who perceive UP Chief MinisterYogi Adityanath as favouring specific castes. It also diluted the upper caste anger against the BJP’s ambivalence on the SC-ST Act, which had played a significant role in the party’s defeat in the elections to assemblies in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. The reservation for economically backward classes helped the party to assuage the upper castes in northern India, particularly in UP.
The impressive success of the BJP and the failure of gathbandhan in UP may have far reaching consequences for Indian politics. Political parties may have to redefine the politics of social justice in north India. The relationship between caste and politics may have to be revisited. The OBCs and SCs are not homogeneous communities. Their inherent heterogeneity is brought to the fore by competitive democracy. Political parties such as the BJP are quick to respond to the emergence of these heterogeneties and craft social equations accordingly.
This article first appeared in the print edition on May 24, 2019 under the title ‘Gathbandhan vs Gathbandhan’. The writer is professor, Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad