In the past few days, three ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh — Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Saini have resigned and joined the Samajwadi Party. Several Bharatiya Janata Party MLAs have followed the same path, and this number is expected to increase further.
It’s important to analyse the electoral significance and the reason behind their defection from the BJP.
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Significance of former ministers in UP
That the BJP wins by creating Hindu-Muslim communal tension has been overemphasised, but the party’s focus now seems to be on creating an internal caste-based polarisation within the Hindu community. Under this strategy, the party has successfully formed a social coalition of non-Yadav backward castes and non-Chamar Scheduled Castes along with dominant caste voters in Uttar Pradesh. An analysis of the caste-wise candidate nomination pattern of the BJP supports this argument.
To help materialise this social coalition, the BJP has imported prominent leaders of non-Yadav OBCs, particularly the Most Backward Castes (MBCs) from other parties. Dara Singh Chauhan, Swami Prasad Maurya, and Dharam Singh Saini fall in the category of such leaders. They have significant influence among Maurya, Kushawaha, Shakya, Saini, and Nonia voters that reside in the Purvanchal, Awadh, Bundelkhand, Rohilkhand, Braj, and Western regions of Uttar Pradesh. The electoral importance of Dara Singh Chauhan can be understood by the fact that after joining the BJP in 2015, he was appointed chairman of the party’s National OBC Morcha.
Swami Prasad Maurya started his political career in the 1980s with the Yuva Lok Dal and then moved to the Janata Dal. He joined the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in 1996 and remained with it till 2016 serving as a minister in the Mayawati government and the Leader of Opposition. In the four decades of his political career, he is credited with mobilising the Mauryas, Kushwahas, and Shakya castes. Through his patronage network, he has created social and political elites among his community. This is why he enjoys huge support among the voters of these castes, particularly the social and political elites. Therefore, his joining the SP will also mean the transfer of votes from these castes.
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Why Chauhan and Maurya left BJP
Although leaders started leaving the BJP soon after the declaration of the model code of conduct in Uttar Pradesh, rumours of them leaving had been making rounds since June last year. There are five reasons behind that.
First, the BJP has been facing strong pressure to nominate candidates from its cadre rather than give tickets to those coming from other parties. It has been said that in order to reduce anti-incumbency, the BJP would deny tickets to many existing MLAs. This has generated fear among the MLAs who do not owe allegiance to the BJP cadre. They were pressuring these leaders to protect their candidature by leaving the party.
Second, there has been widespread dissatisfaction among the students of backward castes and Scheduled Castes (SCs) due to repeated tweaking of reservation policy. These students have been protesting in Lucknow for the past year. These ministers have regularly seen visitors complaining about the tweaking of the policy. The discontentment of youth has created fear among these leaders that they will lose support.
Third, MBC leaders have long-held grievances that the Yadavs have been taking a lion’s share in Other Backward Class (OBC) reservations. The BJP had promised to bifurcate OBC reservations and shift 17 most backward castes to the Scheduled Caste category. However, the party has failed to fulfil this promise.
Fourth, voters and supporters of Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Saini are mostly small and marginal farmers. Mauryas, Shakyas, Kushwahas, and Sainis are traditionally involved in growing vegetables and selling in local markets. However, after assuming chief ministership, Yogi Adityanath took strong measures to ban cow slaughter. This policy has created the problem of stray animals, which has been an issue especially for marginal farmers whose crops have been damaged. They have been forced to sleep in their fields at night to protect their crops, but in vain because they own small chunks of land across different places. Besides, stray animals have also increasingly caused road accidents in rural Uttar Pradesh resulting in many deaths.
The farmers have been complaining about this problem, but the Yogi government has failed to provide a solution. The government tried to build gaushalas, but failed to run them efficiently. The farmers’ anger has been largely against Adityanath because they see it as a problem of his creation. But the MBC leaders do not want to be on the wrong side, since they were also unable to solve this problem.
Fifth, the centralised working style of Yogi Adityanath has also disillusioned these MBC leaders because he tried to run administration with the help of bureaucracy rather than his ministerial colleagues. Such a working style has created a sense of powerlessness among these leaders, where they’ve always felt that despite having a ministerial berth, their voice was not heard.
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The timing of defection
The timing of these leaders’ defection has also posed several questions. Why did they wait for the announcement of the election schedule to make their decision? The principal explanation is the fear of punitive action. There is a commonly held belief among a section of journalists and politicians in Lucknow that their phones are tapped.
Many of them bought an iPhone for this reason but were not efficient in handling it. Besides, the way central agencies and police machinery have been misused by the BJP against its political opponents has also created a fear among the leaders in taking decisive decisions early. That’s why the leaders waited for the announcement of the model code of conduct. In fact, the timing of the issue of a non-bailable warrant against Swamy Prasad Maurya in a 2014 case after he left the party shows that these leaders have been right in their calculations.
Some have raised questions on whether the defection of these leaders would impact the election outcome since a similar move in West Bengal, where the BJP had engineered defection, could not harm the incumbent Trinamool Congress (TMC). But unlike West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh has a track record of caste-based ethnic voting, which means the sequence of events in the coming days might make all the difference.
Arvind Kumar (@arvind_kumar__), PhD Scholar, Department of Politics & International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)