New Delhi: After dilly-dallying for quite some time and keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on tenterhooks, Suheldev Bhartiya Samaj Party (SBSP) chief Om Prakash Rajbhar last week announced an alliance with the Samajwadi Party (SP) for the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly polls.
Rajbhar is confident that the SP-SBSP alliance will “wipe out the BJP” from the state.
The SBSP represents the Rajbhars, a caste that is classified in the Other Backward Classes (OBC) category, and whose members are crucial to the electoral battle in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the Awadh region.
In the 2017 elections, the BJP, which had allied with the SBSP, managed to up its tally in eastern Uttar Pradesh to 72 from the 14 seats it managed in 2012. At the same time, the SP’s numbers in the region reduced to 9 in 2017 from 52 in 2012.
In the 2017 assembly polls, the SBSP contested eight seats, winning four, and registered around 34 per cent of the vote share in these seats. Seen in this context, the Rajbhar vote becomes important.
ThePrint explains who are the Rajbhars and why has the SBSP’s decision to ally with the SP raised political temperatures in UP.
Rajbhars constitute around 3 per cent of UP’s population, the community’s leaders claim that the actual figure is around 4.5 per cent.
In Uttar Pradesh, the Rajbhars are considered an important community belonging to the OBC grouping. They believe they are descendants of Maharaja Suheldev of Shravasti, a medieval Hindu hero of the region. Suheldev is believed to have defeated the invading army of Ghazi Saiyyad Salar Masud, a nephew of Mahmud of Ghazni, in the 11th century.
“Rajbhars belong to the OBC community and have a major hold on 10-12 districts of eastern Uttar Pradesh. In these districts, their percentage goes up to 20-22 per cent, which can act as the deciding factor. They can play a crucial role in deciding the poll outcome,” said Badri Narayan, political commentator and director of the GB Pant Social Science Institute in Prayagraj.
Narayan said community members are mostly engaged in agricultural activities like farming or grazing of animals, while many are landless labourers too.
However, he indicated that there may be a split in the Rajbhar vote, as the BJP, since 2017, has also established its own Rajbhar leaders.
“BJP has also managed to establish its own leadership so there is a probability of the votes getting split between the SBSP and the BJP’s Rajbhar leaders,” he said.
‘SP in pole position to make gains’
Arvind Kumar, Ph.D. scholar of politics at the Royal Holloway, University of London, said the SP is in pole position to secure the Rajbhar vote.
“Ram Achal Rajbhar, who has significant influence, has joined the Samajwadi Party while Om Prakash Rajbhar has allied with it,” he said, also pointing out that the community is mostly concentrated in areas including Faizabad, Basti, Bahraich, Gonda, Sultanpur, Rai Bareli, Ghazipur, Azamgarh and Ballia, among others.
Kumar said going by the trends of 2017 assembly elections, where he says the community helped the BJP win eastern Uttar Pradesh, the SBSP’s decision to ally with the SP will have an impact.
“The community leaders have been demanding a division of OBC reservation into three — Yadavs, Kurmis and Most Backward (Rajbhars) — as they feel they are not able to get the benefits of reservation the way they should. While the BJP promised to look into it and even formed the Justice Rohini sub-categorisation panel, it has been only getting extension after extension. This has added to the disenchantment of the Rajbhar leaders,” Kumar said.
The dilemma for the BJP is that giving in to the demands of the Rajbhars and SBSP may anger other communities such as Kushwahas, Kurmis and the Jats, Kumar added. “This could be one of the major reasons that the BJP could not go into an alliance with SBSP this time.”
‘BJP will be wiped out’
Speaking to ThePrint, SBSP chief Om Prakash Rajbhar reiterated that the BJP will be wiped out.
“BJP has done nothing but cheat OBCs and Dalits. They got votes in the name of Keshav Maurya but made a person from Uttarakhand the chief minister,” he said. “As far as the Rajbhar community is concerned, we have a significant hold in eastern Uttar Pradesh. On 156 seats, we have 12-22 per cent of the votes.”
Rajbhar, who also served as a minister in the Yogi Adityanath government before resigning, further claimed that he not only enjoys the support of his community but also of the others such as the Prajapatis, Banjaras, Chauhans, and Vishwakarmas, among others.
Arun Rajbhar, the SBSP general secretary and Om Prakash’s son, is confident that their votes will be transferred to SP “the way” they did to the BJP in 2017.
“2017 me humne unko satta ka raasta dikhaya tha, lekin iss baar Purvanchal mei BJP ka safaya hoga (in 2017, we showed them the way to power but this time BJP will be wiped out in Purvanchal),” Arun told ThePrint.
The BJP, however, said it too now has a stake in the Rajbhar community.
“We don’t believe in caste-based politics; we work for all. As far as the Rajbhars are concerned, it is correct that in 2017 we did not have our own leaders from the community but the situation has changed over a period of time,” said UP BJP vice-president Vijay Pathak.
“Anil Rajbhar is a minister in UP and Sakaldeep Rajbhar is a Rajya Sabha MP. We have been conducting samajik sammelans and people have responded well to them,” Pathak added.
(Edited by Arun Prashanth)