UP polls: Small is big in the state where the die is ‘caste’

LUCKNOW: Small is big when it comes to electoral politics in caste-ridden Uttar Pradesh where even a minuscule sub-caste becomes a force to reckon with and lesser known political parties representing them seem to be reaping the benefit.

Come elections, these smaller political outfits make their presence felt in a big way as they can influence the outcome in the high stakes elections this time. These parties also matter for mainstream political parties like BJP and Congress because of the support they enjoy among certain castes.

Little known Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party is forging an alliance in eastern UP with BJP, which is also in talks with Janwadi Party (Socialist), headed by Sanjay Singh Chauhan. Apna Dal headed by Union Minister Anupriya Patel is already an NDA ally. Seeking to leave their mark in the cow belt politics, Peace Party, Nishad Party and Mahan Dal are also expected to throw their hats in the rings.

With certain castes and sub-castes likely to leave an imprint on UP politics, it was definitely not out of the blue when Chief Minister recently cleared the file carrying names of 17 Other Backward Castes for inclusion in the Scheduled Castes (SC) list.

While Akhilesh sought to score a brownie point by this move, BSP chief Mayawati sought to checkmate him by trashing the decision as nothing but “election stunt”, though it was her government that had sent the recommendation to the Centre earlier.

The 17 sub-castes which the government wants included in the SC category are Kahar, Kashyap, Kewat, Nishad, Bind, Bhar, Prajapati, Rajbhar, Batham, Gauriya, Turha, Majhi, Mallah, Kumhar, Dheemar, Dheewar and Machhua.

Though individually each has a very small vote share, yet together, they make up a significant chunk of votes. OBCs are roughly 44 per cent of UP’s electorate, Dalits 21 per cent, Muslims 19 per cent, and upper castes 16 per cent. Yadavs, the core of the SP’s base, are numerically and socially dominant among OBCs. But the 200-odd non-Yadav OBCs together account for over double the Yadav population.

They include Kurmis, Koeris, Lodhs, Jats and Sunars, while Pasis and Valmikis are the large groups among Dalits.

The Peace Party of India (PPI) had won four Assembly seats in 2012 UP Assembly polls and is planning to forge an alliance with Nishad Party to contest all the 403 seats up for grabs.

PPI has its support base among Muslims and had contested 200 seats last time with Apna Dal as its ally. Nishad Party on the other hands banks on votes of fishermen in parts of eastern UP where the Nishad community has sizeable presence.

The Mallah community, which makes up around 4.5 per cent votes, is divided into 27 sub-castes, and has a good presence in roughly 125 constituencies along the rivers in UP, where they contribute to the victory and defeat of candidates. In eastern UP itself, another party – Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party – is reported to be giving touches to seat sharing arrangements with BJP.

The outfit enjoys support among Rajbhar caste present in several constituencies in the belt. In places like Badaun, Etah, Bareilly, Shahjahanpur and Farrukhabad, Mahan Dal has emerged as an important player and had allied with Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The party enjoys support among politically active Shakya, Maurya, Kushwaha and Saini communities. In Bareilly and its neighbouring areas, Ittehad-e-Millat Council plans to contest a dozen seats but has not taken a final call.

Speculation is rife that another faction of Apna Dal, headed by Krishna Patel, may be accommodated in eastern UP by Congress, which is in talks with ruling Samajwadi Party for a ‘maha-gathbandhan’. BJP, which has considerable upper caste support in Uttar Pradesh, has been promoting non-Yadav OBCs like its UP state chief Keshav Prasad Maurya, and MoS Health Anupriya Patel of the Apna Dal. BJP recently inducted the former BSP national secretary Swamy Prasad Maurya in the party, and made another Maurya leader, Keshav Prasad Maurya, its state unit chief. Mauryas, also called Kachhis, Kushwahas, Sainis and Shakyas, are Koeris, and numerically significant in eastern UP.

BJP hopes to repeat its spectacular Lok Sabha performance in 2014, in which it got 42.3 per cent votes, almost double the SP’s 22.2 per cent and BSP’s 20 per cent. Interestingly, in Assembly elections, BJP’s performance has got successively worse on every occasion since 1996, when it peaked at 32.51 per cent. It got 20.12 per cent votes in 2002, 16.97 per cent in 2007, and 15 per cent in 2012.

Kurmis – who have surnames like Verma, Patel and Gangwar and weavers are the most aggressively wooed communities in this election. These three castes are the biggest among the smaller castes in the state. The ruling SP is not oblivious to the need to reach out to non-Yadavs.

SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav brought back his friend-turned-foe and prominent Kurmi leader, Beni Prasad Verma, in May, and made him a Rajya Sabha MP. BJP has deployed Union Minister Anupriya Patel to woo Kurmi voters.

Patel is the daughter of Sonelal Patel who, as general secretary of the BSP back in 1994, had organised a Kurmi Rajnitik Chetna Maha Rally in Lucknow against the Yadav domination of OBC politics. Sonelal Patel had founded the Apna Dal in 1995. Anupriya, who is the Lok Sabha MP from Mirzapur, was made Minister in the last Union Cabinet reshuffle with an eye on UP elections.

]BSP has deployed five leaders from different backward castes to reach out to their respective caste groups. Party MLC Suresh Kashyap has, for example, been asked to work on the Kashyap-Nishad caste group.

Weavers — both Hindus and Muslims — too have caught the attention of political parties ahead of the elections. This caste group is spread across UP, with a sizeable concentration around Varanasi. Momins are Muslim weavers, while Taanti and Tantuwe are Hindus.

Apparently with an eye on their votes, Prime Minister Narenda Modi had last year launched the ‘Ustad’ scheme in his constituency Varanasi to help weavers. For the last many elections, Muslims have been voting for the party that is seen as capable of defeating the BJP, and switching between the SP and BSP.

Upper castes have mainly backed the BJP in recent elections. In the event of a triangular contest the winning party will need about 40 per cent of the vote polled. And it is here that the votes of the numerically smaller communities will come into play.