LUCKNOW: The concept of Ahir Armoured Regiment floated by SP chief Akhilesh Yadav may be seen as a bid to introduce caste angle into country’s defence forces, but political pundits view it as a strategic attempt by SP chief to woo backward castes to his fold ahead of 2019 Lok Sabha elections, one of the most crucial battles in the political history of independent India.
In the battle of 2019, all the major parties have their eyes fixed on the Other Backward Castes (OBCs) as they constitute an overwhelming 40 per cent chunk of state’s total population. This explains why Akhilesh’s Ahir Regiment promise unsettled the players across the political spectrum.
While senior political leaders maintained a guarded silence over the issue, BJP’s Azamgarh candidate, actor-turned-politician, Dinesh Lal Yadav aka Nirahua, came out in support of it. In UP, out of 40 per cent OBCs, 9 per cent are Yadavs, followed by 4-5 per cent Kurmis, a well-to-do OBC sub-caste of 79 different backward sub-castes.
While majority -- Gujjars, Sonar, Pals, Nishads, Telis, Prajaptis, Kashyaps, Kushwahas, Nais, Rajbhars, Sahu -- are engaged in traditional occupations, Kurmis, Lodh, Yadavs, Kushwahas, Mauryas, Katiyars together make an elite class involved in farming. Even some Muslim castes -- bunkar, julaha, rangrez, kasai, manihar and carpenter-- are also included in OBCs’ sub-categories.
Backward groups are believed to be Samajwadi Party traditional vote bank since Mulayam Singh Yadav entry into politics. In 70s and 80s, even Congress enjoyed considerable support of these castes and remained in power. But in 2014, the BJP worked out the caste equation in UP by drawing non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits successfully to its camp. It tied up with Apna Dal (S), headed by Anupriya Patel and the alliance bagged 73 (71 + 2 ) of 80 seats storming to power at Centre with a huge mandate.
UP Assembly elections in 2017 were a redux of 2014 for the BJP which followed its formula and stitched up with smaller backward groups like Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party of OP Rajbhar. As per the data available, in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, BJP charted it course to power by making backwards a crucial part of its success mantra.
It got support of 55 per cent of non-Yadav backward votes and 45 per cent non-Jatav Dalit votes. Even the party succeeded in breaching SP’s committed vote bank by snatching 27 per cent vote chunk of Yadavs. In 2017, BJP repeated 2014 successfully. “In politics, castes act as pressure groups. Indian politics depends a lot upon emotional connect with the castes. A few days back, BJP broke NISHAD (Nirbal Indian Shoshit Humara Aam Dal) away from SP –BSP alliance striking an immediate chord with the communities of fishermen, boatmen in one stroke,’ says senior social scientist Prof DR Sahu.
After forming the government in 2017, CM Yogi, with an eye on 2019 Lok Sabha election, proposed in Assembly a quota within quota for other backward classes so that reservation benefits could percolate down to extremely backwards and most backwards. Normally, dominant sub-castes -- Yadavs, Patels, Sonars and Jats -- keep cornering all quota benefits. Even a social justice panel headed by a retired High Court judge Justice Raghvendra Kumar was set up.
It had the mandate to propose re-distribution of 27 per cent quota among different backwards sub-castes. The recommendations of the panel could not be implemented following dissent of the prominent Patels, Kurmis and Yadavs who were accorded just 7 per cent of 27 per cent OBC quota. Rest 9 per cent was recommended for extremely backward sub-castes and 11 per cent for MBCs. Even Dalit Czarina Mayawati also realises the political relevance of backwards. In an obvious gesture, she appointed two OBCs to top party posts -- RS Kushwaha, state unit chief and Ram Achal Rajbhar national general secretary—instead of giving those positions to Dalits.
Congress too is out to woo backwards by aligning with Apna Dal (Krishna Patel) group and Mahan Dal in western UP. However, the sword of uncertainly is hanging on Kirshna Patel group of Apna Dal with Election Commission cancelling its status of a political party.