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How UP is political kingmaker but caste is king, and why Hathras case matters

In episode 584 of #CutTheClutter, Shekhar Gupta delves into the political history of UP and explains its importance, as well as the impact the Hathras case will have on BJP votes.

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New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh is both a stabilising factor in our politics and also a deeply divisive factor, ThePrint’s Shekhar Gupta said in episode 584 of ‘Cut the Clutter’.

Gupta talked about the centrality of the state in national politics after it has become the subject of national outrage following the alleged gang rape and subsequent death of a 20-year-old Dalit woman from the Hathras district.

For any party to get a full majority in Parliament, it needs to sweep UP, the state that accounts for 80 seats in the Lok Sabha.

Thus, anything above 50 seats (for a party or a coalition) in the state “means they are in business”, Gupta said, adding this was exhibited when the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) swept UP in both 2014 and 2019. And to this extent, the state is a stabilising factor in national politics, he said.

Also read: How BJP high command stepped in to ask Yogi govt to amend its clumsy strategy in Hathras case

Dividing factor

Gupta, however, noted that UP’s divisive contribution is that it has been a long time since any one party dominated the state.

As seats in UP get divided, you also get divided results, and then you get coalitions in the country, he said. Thus, the power and the importance of the state are way in excess than even the 80 seats it contributes.

The BJP’s formula to win a majority is to sweep the Hindi heartland, which includes UP, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Haryana, Delhi, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh. This excludes Punjab.

According to Gupta, the political history of the Hindi heartland can be divided into two parts. It was in 1989 that big national parties and the upper caste lost their sway over UP and Bihar. Kanshi Ram, the founder of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), came up with a slogan, “Vote hamara, raj tumhara — nahi chalega, nahi chalega (Our vote, you rule, will not happen, will not happen)”.

This slogan succeeded in dividing the votes in UP, and from then on national parties lost their control over the state. Gupta explained there were two ways of looking at this — one, for those who do not like coalition parties it led to a long period of instability, or two, it liberated the state from the control of upper castes.

The year 1989 also coincided with then prime minister V.P. Singh launching the Mandal Commission and BJP’s L.K. Advani the Ram Mandir movement. “What happened at that point was that our politics got a new definition,” Gupta said.

Thus, in order to win the Hindi heartland, either you had to use caste to divide what religion united or use religion to re-stitch what caste divided, he added.

Gupta cited Professor Ashutosh Varshney’s 20-20-20-40 formula to explain the vote composition in UP, where Muslims accounted for 20 per cent, Dalits 20 per cent, upper castes 20 per cent and Other Backward Castes 40 per cent of the votes.

“If you got any two of the 20s or if you could get even half of any of the 20s and you controlled say the 40, you could rule the state,” said Gupta.

Also read: Hathras woman’s family says they know what would have saved her — ‘being a Pandit or Thakur’

Caste politics in Uttar Pradesh

In the 2017 state elections in UP, the BJP won an unpredictable and massive victory. So much so that the Congress-Samajwadi Party mahagathbandhan (grand coalition), along with BSP’s Mayawati, were all wiped out.

In UP, the forward castes account for 18-20 per cent of the population, OBCs are about 40-42 per cent, and among the upper castes, 9 per cent are Brahmins, 4-5 per cent are Rajputs, and 3-4 per cent are Vaishyas or Baniyas.

In 2017, Gupta explained, the BJP won 62 per cent of the upper caste votes while the mahagathbandhan got 18 per cent of the votes, and Mayawati’s Bahujan Samajwadi Party got 10 per cent.

Thus, the BJP pretty much swept the upper caste vote. Of the total Muslim votes, only 2 per cent Muslims went to the BJP, while 70 per cent voted for the mahagathbandhan (Congress and SP) and 16 per cent for the BSP.

Gupta explained that it was the OBCs who swung the power balance and were the key factor. This was because the BJP got 58 per cent of the OBC votes, the mahagathbandhan got 18 per cent of the votes and BSP got 11 per cent of the OBC votes.

Furthermore, in 2017, the BJP got 17 per cent of the Dalit votes. Therefore, BJP built new politics, both nationally and in UP, by getting the lower caste votes to its side, which it did not have previously.

Also read: Rahul & Priyanka Gandhi meet Hathras Dalit girl’s family, promise to help

Dalit votes crucial for BJP

Connecting the Hathras incident to UP’s politics, Gupta explained that Dalit votes and lower caste votes were crucial to the BJP. And that is why the party was panicking over how the Hathras incident has been “mishandled carelessly, crudely, incompetently and insensitively” by the Yogi Adityanath government.

In 2017, the BJP had a vote share that went into the high 40s in UP. The party got scheduled caste-non-Jatav votes, which accounted for 60 per cent of the vote share in 2017. And the woman who died in Hathras belonged to the Valmiki community, which is the lowest caste in the hierarchy.

Explaining the rationale of bringing in Yogi Adityanath, who is a Thakur, as the CM of UP, Gupta explained that the BJP thought people would not see him in terms of caste because he is a sadhu.

However, this is Uttar Pradesh, and also Adityanath makes no secret of his preference for people from his caste. Thus, in many ways it has become Thakurs vs the rest in the state, said Gupta.

Watch the latest episode of CTC here:

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