What appeared to be an election based on Hindutva issues rapidly turned into one that was more about stitching up micro caste alliances for both the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Uttar Pradesh. The grand Muslim-Yadav alliance on one side and the Hindu-Muslim binary on the other are no longer sustainable, and region-specific. Smaller aspirational caste groups are now clearly visible in the ticket distribution strategies of the political parties.
Who got tickets in these two phases of the UP assembly election? Those who can win, or, in other words, those who have the capacity to win this election. Analysing the pattern of ticket distribution, one may observe that almost all political parties tried to create a rainbow social alliance by placing numerically strong castes and religious communities at the centre and other castes at the periphery. So, the communities that are strategically important in the formation of the social alliance got more tickets than the comparatively less important ones.
BJP’s ‘Hindutva’ tapestry
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) scheme of a social alliance for electoral politics is based on forming a broader union of Hindu castes and communities guided by its Hindutva ideology. So, Muslims appear very negligibly in the electoral politics of the party. For the first time since 2014, one of the allies of the National Democratic Alliance, the Apna Dal (Sonelal) has announced a Muslim candidate named Haider Khan from the Rampur constituency of Western UP.
In the making of the Hindutva social alliance, the Jats, whose population in this western UP is estimated at around 20 per cent, remained as a core vote base for the BJP after the Muzaffarnagar riots. So, in spite of obvious disillusionment among the Jats due to peasant unrest, the BJP gave 16 tickets to the community. The Scheduled Castes (SC), which is an important section of the Hindu community, got 19 seats, 13 of which were given to the Jatavs — the largest Dalit community settled in this region. The other SCs include the Valmikis, the Banjaras, the Dhobis, the Pasis, and the Sonkars.
The Gurjars, a numerically important community in UP, got seven seats — five tickets were given to the Saini community and two to the Sakya community. The comparatively smaller communities of this region — the Kashyaps, the Khadagvanshis, the Mauryas, the Kurmis, the Kushwahas, the Prajapatis, the Nishads — got one ticket each.
So, within the meta-Hindutva identity, various castes were adjusted in the BJP’s scheme of forming a social alliance for electoral purposes. The strategy is also designed to gather all small and fractured castes together and form a broader electoral alliance of social communities.
The BJP, which is attacked by some Other Backward Classes (OBC) leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya or Dharam Singh Saini for not giving space to OBCs in its politics, gave 44 tickets to the community in these two phases. To make the social alliance broader, the BJP allotted 40 seats to upper castes — the Thakurs (18), the Brahmins (10), the Vaishyas (8), the Tyagis (2), the Kaysthas (2.) To extend its non-Muslim rainbow alliance, the BJP gave one ticket to the Punjabi community as well.
After these two indicators — religion and caste — belonging to the Hindutva ideology and party, economic strength, and image may be other indicators that determine the winning potential and become the basis for giving tickets.
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Explore other castes, gather more vote
In the electoral social engineering of the SP, the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), and the Bahujan Samaj Party that challenge the BJP in this election, the Muslims — another numerically strong community in UP — matter a lot. These parties assume that the Muslims, due to their anti-BJP stand, will move with the party of opposition. It is reflected in the SP-RLD alliance that tried to form a ‘Muslim, Jat, Gurjar, Yadav’ core in these two phases. Both the SP- RLD alliance and the BSP gave a higher number of seats to the Muslims.
Within the broader narratives of anti-incumbency, these opposition parties used caste as the building blocks of their electoral social alliance. The SP wanted to extend its political base among the non-Yadav OBC communities, and hence gave them 48 seats — around one-third of the total in both the phases. They have also given a good number of seats to the Dalits. To include as much as caste in their rainbow social alliance, they gave nine seats to the Brahmins, seven to the Thakur and nine to the Vaishya communities.
For some seats, contesting parties gave tickets to the candidates of the same caste. In such a situation, the image, credibility, trust, agenda and hawa of the candidates and the parties play a crucial role. In some cases, the mobilisations of the castes other than the caste of the candidates determine the victory of the candidates.
The BSP strategised to form a caste-based social equation to acquire the votes of the Sarvjans. The party has mostly distributed tickets to candidates of numerically important non-Dalit castes in many constituencies, so that the votes of the candidate’s community add to its Dalit base, thereby ensuring victory. In these two phases in western UP, the BSP’s strategy is to get Muslim and other non-Dalit votes via candidates and add them to its Dalit support. The BSP gave the largest number of seats in the first two phases to the Muslims, the OBCs and the Brahmins and not the Dalits.
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Gender, youth aren’t ‘caste-free’ either
The Congress’s strategy of ticket distribution is to allot them through categories like gender and youth, not centered on the conventional ones like caste and religion. The Congress calls it ‘new politics’. It claims that the party has given tickets to 40 per cent of women and 40 per cent of youths in this election. But as we know, both have caste determinants.
In western UP, political parties are contesting this election with their own trust capital, candidate image, electoral capacities, caste politics, and religious identities in these two phases. But every party wants to create a meta identity combining various smaller social identities — a political tower with building blocks of their own choice and design.
The author is Professor and Director at the G.B. Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad. He tweets @poetbadri. Views are personal.
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)