Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav said that if his party comes to power in Uttar Pradesh, it will conduct a caste census of the Other Backward Classes. He joins the chorus of regional satraps who have been demanding such a census so that welfare schemes of the government reach the most backward and deprived castes.
Akhilesh hopes to break the Non-Yadav OBC (NYOBC) consolidation, presently in favour of the Bharatiya Janta Party, in the 2022 assembly election through this promise. In the 2017 state elections, the BJP garnered majority votes and united the ‘lower’ backward classes by pitting them against the ‘upper’ backward classes (mostly Yadavs) represented by the SP. The NYOBC voters are the biggest voting bloc in UP, accounting for 30 to 35 per cent of the state population.
NYOBC voters could see it as poll rhetoric
The demand for a caste-based census is not new. It is not something that is emanating from the public. People are grappling with much bigger issues during the pandemic, such as price rise, unemployment, and agricultural distress. It is primarily a demand coming from ex-Janata Dal splinter groups to bolster their poll prospects.
Akhilesh Yadav and his party have not yet articulated the benefits of a caste-based census. What will be the next step after the enumeration of OBCs? Will it lead to more or a proportional reservation for OBCs in UP? If yes, this would mean breaking the ceiling of 50 per cent fixed by the Supreme Court. How will the SP ensure that any increase in the reservation will not be nullified by the courts, like in the case of Marathas in Maharashtra?
The NYOBC voter could view this promise sceptically. Why didn’t the SP conduct a caste-based census during its rule of 2012-17? What is the guarantee that Yadavs once again will not be the biggest beneficiary of the increase in reservation? While Akhilesh has coined the slogan “jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari”, he has made no clear commitment on increase in the reservation.
While SP claims to champion the cause of backward classes, the excessive Yadavisation of the party over the years has irked the NYOBCs. They have been poorly represented in administration and legislature.
During Akhilesh’s tenure in major districts of UP, nearly 60 per cent of the police stations were headed by Yadav officers. In the current Lok Sabha, two out of five SP Members of the Parliament are Yadavs while the rest are from minority communities. In Rajya Sabha, two out of five MPs are Yadavs while only one belongs to the NYOBC group. Yadav family members occupy prominent positions in the party.
The party has over the years focused on its Muslim-Yadav vote bank to sail it through in a triangular contest, not paying much attention to any other bloc, including the NYOBCs.
Evolution of support for the Samajwadi Party
BJP’s cemented position
NYOBC votes were split between the three main parties between 2002 and 2012. However, in 2017, the NYOBC voters consolidated behind the BJP as it received 58 per cent support (+31 per cent), partly due to tactical alliances with smaller parties like Apna Dal and SBSP.
On the other hand, SP’s support among NYOBC voters reduced from 38 per cent in 2012 to 18 per cent in 2017. This translated into a loss of 6 per cent to 7 per cent vote share for the SP.
Non-Yadav OBC support for various parties
Even during its heyday in 2002 and 2012, as data above shows, the SP never received majority support from NYOBCs. So, to expect NYOBCs, a bloc it has ignored in the past, to flock to it after this announcement is a bit optimistic.
At best, the SP can hope that the census promise leads to a split of NYOBC votes (like earlier) resulting in a decline in BJP vote share. However, for that to happen, the BSP and Congress will need to up their game, which is not in SP’s control. These parties have closed the possibility of any formal alliance as well.
SP lacks strong community leaders
SP is considered a majority Yadav-centric party and doesn’t have many NYOBC faces in order to woo various groups:
OBCs have been rewarded by the BJP with adequate representation in lieu of support both in the state as well as the central cabinet. It has fulfilled the demand of constitutional status to the National Commission for Backward Classes and provided reservations for OBCs in medical and dental colleges.
It has formed the Rohini Commission to examine the inequitable distribution of reservation among the OBCs and work out a sub-categorisation. The panel’s report is expected by July 2022. The NYOBCs would want to see its findings and recommendations to address their concern for equity in government jobs rather than be lured by a promise, which could turn out to be hollow.
Akhilesh Yadav’s attempt of making a dent in BJP’s NYOBC vote bank by promising caste-based census may not reap electoral benefits. Instead, focusing on bread-and-butter issues would be a better strategy.
Amitabh Tiwari is a political commentator and strategist working with various political parties and leaders. He is a former corporate and investment banker who tweets @politicalbaaba. He is not currently working for any party/leader in Uttar Pradesh. Views are personal.
(Edited by Srinjoy Dey)