Uttar Pradesh has always acquired centrality during general elections on account of the sheer number of Lok Sabha seats it offers. However, this time the political experiment of the ‘Maha-gathbandhan’ wherein three regional political rivals, the BSP, SP and the RLD joined hands to take on the Narendra Modi-led BJP, has made the electoral discourse in the state more interesting.
Two interrelated questions — has the Modi wave waned or persistent in the state and will the maha-gathbandhan halt the BJP winning spree in the state since 2014 — merit immediate attention. These questions can be answered partly by identifying the respective social base of electorates identifying the Modi factor as the most influential criterion behind their support for the BJP and partly by mapping the social profile of Modi detractors.
Unlike states like Chhattisgarh where the BJP decided to drop all the 10 sitting MPs, in Uttar Pradesh a majority of the incumbent MPs have been fielded, who are not popular with the electorate. The weaker profile of the BJP’s candidates in most of the constituencies as compared to the BSP-SP-RLD alliance is widely acknowledged by both the supporters as well as detractors.
The weaker profile of the BJP’s candidates and corresponding anger among the party’s supporters notwithstanding, the non-Yadav OBCs, upper castes and a section of non-Jatav Dalits, are rallying behind the BJP quite enthusiastically, citing the Modi factor. Among the non-Yadav electorate, one finds people hailing from castes like Kashyap/Jhimar, Saini, carpenter in Meerut, Muzaffarnagar and Saharanpur; Lodh, Kurmi and Kushwaha and others in Braj, Rohilkhand and central UP regions, a majority of the Kurmis, Rajbhar and Kushwahas in Awadh and Poorvanchal regions consolidated behind the saffron party.
Similarly, barring some notable exceptions like Hamirpur, where a section of upper caste Rajputs are veering towards the BSP’s Rajput candidate, the spirited support of upper castes, Brahmins, Thakurs, Banias, Tyagis and others for the BJP is visible across the state. There is also a section of non-Jatav Dalits like Khatiks, Valmikis and Katherias (Dhanuk) and Pasis in western and central and Awadh region enthused by the Modi factor so much so that they are willing to overlook the weaker profile of the BJP candidates while voting.
As a corollary to the upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs emerging as a support bloc of the BJP, one finds a strong statewide pattern of dominant intermediary peasant castes, politically assertive Jatav-Chamar Dalits and Muslims emerging as the strong detractors of the saffron party, its leadership and policies.
Interestingly, these dominant castes tend to privilege their farmer’s identity over the caste one while outlining their opposition to the BJP. Thus, what set of issues would emerge as the prime determinant of electoral articulation in the state is contingent upon the caste-community location of the electorates.
For an overwhelming majority of upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs besides a section of non-Jatav Dalits, Modi personifies a bold and decisive leadership and for them issues of national security rank above factors like anti-incumbency, unemployment etc. Welfare schemes like the PM Awas Yojana, Ujjwala Yojana and `2,000 to the farmers are secondary issues.
On the other hand, for dominant intermediary castes like Jats and Yadavs it is the precarious agrarian issues that acquire prominence besides unemployment and inflation. Though the issue of stray cattle destroying farmers’ crop is a recurring theme, its electoral significance lies in the social profile of the voters. For the upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs, the problem arising out of stray cattle is real but it doesn’t merit any attention in their political choice. But it is the opposite for Jats and Yadavs.
On nationalism, the Jats and Yadavs don’t seem to endorse Modi, arguing that the army has always made India proud. Together with Jatav Dalits, they seem to project the BJP rule as an unambiguous saga of failures and unfulfilled promises. Muslims echo the sentiment.
Three factors help explain why the social background of the electorate determines their preference about the party as well as issues. For the dominant intermediary castes like Jats, Yadavs and Jatav Dalits, Modi personifies the decline of their political prominence in UP. On the other hand, for upper castes who lost political prominence by early 1990s in the wake of the Mandalization of state politics wherein dominant OBCs and assertive Dalits acquired prominence, the BJP’s presence since 2014 marks a corrective measure.
Along similar lines, the non-Yadav OBCs, who by the late 1990s got disillusioned with Mandal politics as all the tangible benefits were cornered by one OBC caste represented by the Samajwadi Party, threw their weight behind the BJP. Thus, upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs became political allies without any thick correspondence in their social lives.
Similarly, the desperation to make a political comeback has made socially antagonistic communities like Jats and Dalits or Yadavs and Dalits joining hand. Irrespective of the electoral outcome, one aspect is clear: it’s a waveless election in which the social background of the voter will determine his choice.