Lucknow: With the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections just a few months away, the BJP has finalised a plan for OBC outreach in the state. From Thursday, the BJP will hold a series of party meetings in several districts, which will culminate in a sammelan (large gathering) in Ayodhya on 18 September. A strategy will then be devised to reach the public via “maha (mega) rallies”, UP BJP’s OBC morcha chief Narendra Kashyap told ThePrint.
“We have an executive meeting on 18 September in Ayodhya. We are calling it ‘Pradesh Karya Samiti meeting’. At this meeting, we will finalise our agenda for the elections,” he said.
“Before this meeting, we are organising prantiya (zonal) meetings from 2 September. Three consecutive meetings shall take place in Ayodhya, Kanpur and Mathura on 2, 3 and 4 September. On 8 September, there will be a meeting in Kashi and another one in Gorakhpur on 9 September,” he added.
According to Kashyap, at the Pradesh Karya Samiti meeting, “we will decide our strategies for maha rallies in the coming days”.
“In these rallies the common public will also be invited. Our senior leaders will address these rallies. We will also conduct caste-wise OBC sammelans where representatives and local leaders from the castes will be invited.”
The BJP’s planned OBC outreach comes amid a heated debate on a proposed caste census, a demand backed by many parties, including ally Janata Dal (United), as well as some leaders within the ruling party.
While several players in Uttar Pradesh have put their weight behind the demand, the BJP leadership has been sending out mixed signals. The issue is expected to be a major issue when the UP elections roll around.
For the BJP, it is a crucial test because OBC politics has become a key element of the party’s Hindutva politics over the past few years.
Kashyap said he is confident of the OBCs’ support during the elections.
“We are targeting an OBC population of more than 10 crore in the state. We have more than 100 OBC MLAs, and more than 2 dozen ministers in the state. We have ample OBC leadership in our party. We are confident that the OBCs will fully support us in the elections,” he said.
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BJP and OBCs
OBC outreach has been on the mind of the BJP, which has traditionally counted the upper castes as its voters, for some years now.
The Yogi Adityanath government’s decision last week to name the road leading to Ram Mandir complex in Ayodhya after former UP chief minister Kalyan Singh — described by party members as the BJP’s first prominent OBC leader, days after his death — was seen as a bid by the BJP to use his legacy to blend OBC and Hindutva politics for the coming elections.
The introduction of OBC reservation in all-India quota for medical colleges, and the passage of the 127th Constitution Amendment Bill during the monsoon session — which seeks to restore the power of states and Union territories to identify and notify their own lists of OBCs — are also seen as steps in this direction.
The party already has an alliance with the Kurmi-dominated Apna Dal, which it first tied up with ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It also sought to expand its reach among the most backward castes (MBCs), by allying with O.P. Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) in 2017, and the Nishad Party in 2019.
The SBSP broke off ties after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections but Rajbhar’s meeting with Uttar Pradesh BJP chief Swatantra Dev last month created a buzz about his return to the fold.
“The party is focussing on raising the contribution our government and party organisation is making to OBC samaj,” said a senior party functionary on the condition of anonymity.
“For example, OBC reservation in medical colleges, the passage of the OBC bill in Parliament,” the functionary added. “With the Union Cabinet expansion in July, there are now 27 OBCs as Union ministers. These points we will raise in our outreach and rallies.”
‘Keshav and Swatantra Dev have a major role’
While the venue of some of the BJP meetings seems significant — Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura are all places of significance for Hindus — Kashyap said there “is no particular reason for deciding these venues”.
“We unanimously decided on these places. We are conducting meetings in Kanpur and Gorakhpur too,” he added. “I visited Meerut also. These venues are fixed so that nearby district workers can also attend. As of now, we are trying to mobilise party workers on the ground in different zones.”
While Union minister Bhupender Yadav and UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath will be invited to the 18 September meeting, Deputy CM Keshav Maurya and Swatantra Dev will have a major role in the entire initiative.
A second senior UP BJP leader pointed out that Maurya and Swatantra Dev both belong to OBC communities.
“They will not only address the Pradesh Karya Samiti meeting, but also the caste-wise sammelans. They will be portrayed as OBC faces in the state.”
Swatantra Dev, the leader said, belongs to Kurmi samaj, “which constitutes an estimated 7-8 per cent of the state’s population and is the largest caste cohort after the Yadavs”. Keshav is from the Maurya samaj, which has a population of 4-4.5 per cent, but he has become an OBC mascot for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh, the leader added.
“He played a significant role in OBC sammelans that happened before the 2019 Lok Sabha and the 2017 assembly polls. Under his leadership, our party came into power. UP has an OBC population of above 40 per cent, so they are our prime target as of now,” the leader added.
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)
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