As the seventeenth assembly polls approach Uttar Pradesh in a couple of months, political parties are sharpening their electoral strategies. Though all major parties are claiming to be front runners, they suffer from one or the other drawbacks. The ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) is in shambles; it faces a virtual split between governmental and organisational wings, the former led by CM Akhilesh Yadav and the latter by his uncle and president of the state unit Shivpal Yadav with Mulayam Singh Yadav, SP supremo, overtly backing him.
The BSP is facing exodus with Swami Prasad Maurya (backward caste leader), R K Chaudhury (Dalit leader) and Brajesh Pathak (Brahmin leader) leaving Mayawati who is a bit nervous about her social engineering. The BJP has chosen to remain faceless for the elections by not projecting its chief ministerial candidate.
That is in spite of the fact that it knows well that after losing two faceless assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar, it banged Assam by putting a local candidate in Sarbanand Sonowal. The Congress — after initial tempo built by party strategist Prashant Kishore — had been declining, recently suffering a psychological jolt when its senior leader Rita Bahuguna Joshi joined BJP. But, to focus on disadvantages of major parties is not to put them on common platter in respect of electoral contestation. That is because UP is heading towards a new democratic upsurge.
Eminent political scientist Yogendra Yadav talked about two democratic upsurges in India. The first was in late 1960s that laid foundation for the end of ‘Congress-system’ (in which Congress dominated during 1952-1967) and began an era where Congress retained position of ‘natural party of governance’ but anti-congressism allowed opposition parties to challenge it in states (1971- 1989).
That happened due to active involvement of Other Backward Castes (OBCs) in electoral process. The second happened during 1990s that saw higher voter turnout, greater political mobilisation of marginalised and availability of new political choices before voters. That too happened as sequel to release of high OBC energy in electoral process owing to implementation of Mandal Commission recommendations.
Both the democratic upsurges centred round OBCs. UP appears to be heading towards third democratic upsurge in run up to the 2017 assembly polls that centres round the marginalised, especially OBCs. There is turnaround among Dalits, OBCs and Muslims indicative of new upsurge. These communities feel that the promised fruits of second upsurge were denied to them. They got identity, not empowerment.
So, they feel attracted to parties that offer them political and economic empowerment. The first sign of discontentment was discernible soon after Mayawati’s successful social engineering in 2007. The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS) data suggests Dalits, OBCs and Muslims started leaving parties they traditionally voted, moving to non-caste parties mainly BJP and Congress. Mayawati could placate Brahmins and Muslims in her social engineering only at the cost of Dalits who accelerated their movement from BSP.
Consequently, in 2009 LS polls, 9 per cent mostbackwards and 1 per cent Jatavs (Chamars) deserted BSP and 16 per cent Muslims and 1 per cent Kurmis left SP and moved to Congress and BJP. This trend continued in 2012 assembly elections and culminated in 2014 Lok Sabha polls that saw a heavy shift of marginalised to BJP enabling it to win 71 out of 80 seats. In UP, marginalised caste groups are not only greatly mobilised and participate in political process, but appear to exercise their right to choose among several parties, a new trend.
During the second democratic upsurge, the marginalised were moving towards caste parties in search of identity; today, they are moving away from them for empowerment. If Dalits and OBCs move out of their caste parties, who is going to benefit? Obviously, they will go to a party that offers them prosperity and psychological security. PM Narendra Modi has made paradigm shift in Dalit-OBC-Muslim discourse with inclusive development, controlling corruption and initiating social security schemes. His own humble OBC caste has made marginalised, especially OBCs, feel a little better under BJP dispensation.
To politically encash that, BJP has gone all out to rope in OBCs, especially more-backwards and most-backwards. The party appointed Anupriya Patel from more-backwards to the Modi Cabinet and Keshav Prasad Maurya, from mostbackwards, as president of state BJP. In addition, they inducted Swami Prasad Maurya, most-backward leader, expelled from BSP.
The focus of BJP on OBC caste-groups becomes clear when we see that they constitute 41 per cent of electorate; and more-backwards and most-backwards are 80 per cent amongst OBCs. These caste groups had fragmented loyalty; but they voted heavily for BJP in 2014. If they choose to back a party, it could be a game changer in state politics.
Recent CSDS studies indicate that SP and BJP are in stiff competition over OBC votes: 32 per cent support BJP and 34 per cent SP. They say that while SP was clear winner of Yadav (upper OBCs) votes (67 per cent), BJP led in morebackward (30 per cent) and most-backward (41 per cent) segments. Thus, BJP is dislodging SP as the sole representative of OBCs.
Muslims solidly stand behind SP with 62 per cent support and Dalit-Muslim coalition was not visible on the ground. The big story in UP is the shift in OBCs political orientation; more-backward and most-backward are clearly swinging towards BJP. If this happens during polls, then OBC driven democratic upsurge has the potential to change electoral face of UP.