Lucknow: Ahead of the crucial 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, political parties in the state are now looking to woo non-Yadav Other Backward Classes (OBCs), who constitute about 35 per cent of the population.
The ruling BJP has a head start, in that its allies include the Kurmi-dominated Apna Dal, which it first tied up with ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. It had also expanded its reach among 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, however, broke off ties after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Last week, O.P Rajbhar met UP BJP chief Swantantra Dev, but he is adamant that he will not rekindle his relationship with the BJP.
While the SBSP relies on the Rajbhars, the Nishad Party’s vote-bank are the Nishads. Both communities are classified as MBCs in the state.
The BJP is now focusing on these other OBC castes through its “grand Hindu identity”.
“A large section of OBCs are still with us,” a senior BJP functionary told ThePrint. “Not only have we given them leadership but also representation in ticket distribution and the UP cabinet.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is himself from an OBC background. It’s the biggest factor behind OBC consolidation towards our party,” he added.
“In UP, our deputy CM is a Maurya, and the state president Swatantra Dev is Kurmi. Both are from OBC background. We know that a large section of Yadavs will vote for the SP, and so we are focussing more on non-Yadav OBCs.”
He further said that they will rely on Hindutva to rally these castes. “We have to keep them aware of it through our events,” he added.
The Samajwadi Party, meanwhile, launched its OBC sammelans on 9 August.
“These sammelans are first organised in the central UP and Bundelkhand areas, and then we will move onto Purvanchal,” an SP functionary said.
“Our focus is also on Kurmis, Mauryas, Sainis, Sahus, Kashyaps and other such OBCs. We are going to ally with the Mahan Dal, which is headed by a Maurya. Our OBC chairman is Kashyap. Om Prakash Rajbhar is also showing interest in allying with our party. In this way, several OBC castes are consolidating in our favour.”
A second SP functionary told ThePrint that non-Yadav OBCs will also get more tickets in these elections.
The Congress, on its part, has already held several OBCs sammelans.
मौर्य/कुशवाहा/शाक्य/सैनी समाज को भाजपा सरकार ने क्या दिया? नौकरी में, संस्थानों में, शिक्षा में प्रतिनिधित्व शून्य है। संघर्ष और वोट के समय भाजपा को यह समाज याद आता है। भाजपा ने आपके समाज के प्रतिनिधित्व को कमजोर किया, विश्वासघात किया। भाजपा सत्ता की भूखी है,पिछड़ा विरोधी है। 1/2 pic.twitter.com/BTSl54WqNx
— Rahul Gandhi (@AjayLalluINC) July 31, 2021
“We have organised four OBC sammelans as of now. In these sammelans, we have covered Sainis, Kushwahas, Mauryas, Shakyas, Pals, Dhangars, Gaderiyas, Kumhars, Nishads, and Mallas,” a UP Congress leader said.
“Our focus is especially on those OBCs who do not support the BJP. Our state president Ajay Lallu is also an OBC, and so we are hopeful that this time a major section of OBCs will vote for us.”
While the BSP is not making any such moves, party supremo Mayawati had appointed Bhim Rajbhar as a state president a few months ago.
Also read: ‘Booth vijay abhiyan’, village & dalits reach out, Nadda draws up plan for 2022 UP poll win
Who are non-Yadav OBCs?
The Yadavs are the largest and the most influential OBC community in Uttar Pradesh. They comprise 9-10 per cent of UP’s population and 20 per cent of the OBC numbers.
According to Professor Kaviraj, of the political science department in Lucknow University, castes such as the Kurmis, Mauryas, Kashyaps, Nishads, Rajbhar, Binds, Sahus, and Prajapatis among others make up the non-Yadav OBC base.
“In simple words, OBCs other than Yadavs are non-Yadav OBCs. They comprise at least 35 per cent of the total population of Uttar Pradesh,” he said.
“The caste-wise census was not released in 2011, and so we do not have exact data for OBCs. If the Mandal Commission report is to be believed, OBCs make up 52 per cent of India’s population. In UP, the OBC population is anywhere between 40 to 50 per cent.”
Professor Kaviraj added that after Yadavs, the Kurmis are considered the second most influential OBC caste, followed by the Rajbhars.
“The Kurmis comprise between 7-8 per cent of UP’s population. In eastern UP, they play a huge role especially in Pratapgarh, Prayagraj, Sonbhadra, and Mirzapur,” he said.
“Similarly, Gangwars have influence in Bareilly and Pilibhit districts, Vermas in central and eastern UP. The Lodhs have influence in Etah, and Mainpuri belts in western UP. The Nishads and Mallas mainly have a presence in Prayagraj, Varanasi, and Jaunpur among others.”
OBC significance in assembly polls
According to Dr Shilpa Sikha Singh, a UP-based political analyst and assistant professor at Lucknow’s Giri Institute of Development Studies, non-Yadav OBCs have the most important role to play in upcoming UP elections.
“They consolidated and voted for BJP in the last assembly polls,” she said. “But if they scatter this time, it will be a huge blow for the BJP.”
Singh said that a large section of Yadavs are with the SP while the Kurmis and Mauryas will most likely back the BJP.
“The Rajbhars, Nishads, Kashyaps, Lodhs, and Shakyas among others are also significant in several constituencies. In eastern UP, they can swing the election on several seats, specially Rajbhars and Nishads,” she said.
“It seems that these castes have still not decided for whom they will vote. I believe that it will depend on individual constituencies this time. The ruling BJP and opposition parties are not leaving any stone unturned to woo them. It seems that non-Yadav OBCs will be the king-makers.”
According to The Hindu CSDS-Lokniti Post-poll Survey after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Kurmis and Koeris, and other such OBCs rallied behind the BJP. The survey found that four-fifths of Kurmis and Koeris, and three-fourths of lower OBCs voted for the BJP.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)
Also read: Caste, 2022 will be in play as Yogi govt looks to name 9 colleges after saints, BJP leaders