Caste continues to play a decisive role in Uttar Pradesh politics and any attempts to view the election verdict in India’s most populous state may be flawed, a study of post-poll surveys indicates. Immediately after the election results became clear, ensuring a record second consecutive full term for Yogi Adityanath as CM, the Bharatiya Janata Party termed its win as a death blow to caste politics. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and CM-elect Yogi Adityanath credited the BJP’s win to its development-oriented policies and termed it a stamp of approval to its model of good governance.
However, caste arithmetic, when coupled with the impact of Centre’s welfare schemes, formed an impenetrable combination that the Opposition failed to breach. According to the post-poll data by CSDS-Lokniti, published by The Hindu, the BJP has not only managed to consolidate its traditionally staunch upper caste base even further, netting over four-fifths support from the Brahmins, Thakur and Vaishyas, it has also managed to hold on to its recently cultivated support of non-Yadav OBCs, a segment which constitutes around 40 per cent of the state’s electoral population.
Analysts believe that the social engineering the BJP effected in 2017 and the welfare schemes announced by the government helped the party cement its support base in the lower strata, primarily of backward classes, and increase its overall vote share by 4 percent. This rise in overall vote share also comprises an increase of 6% among Brahmins, 17% among Thakurs, 12% among Vaishyas, 16% among Jats and 4% among other OBCs.
‘BJP had perfected caste arithmetic in 2017’
“Caste is cast in stone in north Indian and UP politics, it cannot be ignored,” says political commentator Amitabh Tiwari, adding that the BJP had perfected the state’s caste arithmetic in 2017 itself and only bettered it this time by amalgamating it with welfarism.
“While it was believed that Hindutva will be a strategic factor in 2017, the BJP beat caste-based parties in their own game. 2017 (elections) was not a victory of Hindutva in UP because the verdict (Ram Mandir) was not delivered back then. It was a victory of the innovative social engineering, it was a victory of the small alliances which it did — Apna Dal, SBSP, Nishad Party — and it created the non-Yadav OBC vote bloc,” Tiwari told FinancialExpress.com
“BJP had perfected caste equations in 2017 itself, because its addressable target market was 20% Brahmin, 30% non-Yadav OBCs and 10% non-Jatav. It created the non-Yadav OBC vote bloc which never existed. It includes 76 different caste groups, but the BJP combined the leaders and the aspirations of these caste groups, which was divided in 30% per cent each earlier.” Similarly, among Dalits, the BJP created a bloc of non-Jatav and Jatavs similar in the case of Yadavs. “The BJP had 60 per cent of that vote bloc in 2017 itself,” he added.
So, while the Samajwadi Party tried to take on the BJP over caste equations this time, the ruling party had already moved a step ahead coupling its social engineering with welfarism, which benefitted a large proportion of the lower strata of the state.
Sanjay Kumar, co-director at Lokniti-CSDS, agrees that the BJP managed to improve its vote share this time because of its welfare schemes. “These schemes are mainly for the lower sections of the society and there is a huge overlap among the Dalits and the lower OBC — large numbers in the lower section belong to these two categories. It is because of those welfare schemes, the BJP managed to hold on to the lower OBC vote bank; not only did they hold on but increased its vote share among the Dalits. The BJP’s support increased enormously both among the Jatav and non-Jatav Dalits,” Kumar told FinancialExpress.com.
‘Labharthis’ and women voters
Labharthis or group of beneficiaries, a term which resonated time and again in the BJP’s electoral campaign, emerged as a new vote bloc in Uttar Pradesh. This majorly comprised of women voters who seem to have rallied behind the party over free ration for the past two years and an improved law and order situation. The CSDS-Lokniti poll-poll data further shows that the BJP secured a huge lead of 13 percentage points over the SP-RLD alliance among women voters. Among men voters, the BJP’s lead over SP was only 5 percentage points.
This proved to be a major driving force for the BJP as it managed to convert, even if inadvertently, specific caste groups into labharthis. “Welfarism was an icing on the cake for BJP which had already cemented a caste vote bloc which they got in 2017. This was the reason the BJP’s vote share increased; non-Jatav and Jatavs voted for the BJP as ‘labharthis’,” said Tiwari.
The BJP, however, views this differently. Speaking to FinancialExpress.com, Mos Skill Development and BJP MLA from Muzaffarnagar, Kapil Dev Aggarwal, said that these welfare schemes were never meant to target any specific vote bank, but for all those who belonged to the poor and backward community.”If we are in power and the people have given us the opportunity to work, then we have our responsibility towards the poor, which we call ‘labharthi’. We gave them ration, insurance card, health card, toilets, electricity. Since the government gave all these, it sought votes from them. This is not to be seen as give and take,” Aggarwal said.
“There were several others who we knew don’t vote for us, we gave these benefits to them too. If we were providing these schemes just for the sake of votes, we would have given to those specific classes who vote for us. Even then, we got very less votes from them, but gradually they will understand that this government is working for their betterment,” he added.
BJP Rajya Saya MP Ashok Bajpai also argued that the economic condition of the poor, and not their caste, was the factor considered by the government while formulating these schemes. “The economic condition of people was considered when providing these welfare schemes. Obviously, Dalits and other backward communities were majorly the beneficiaries of these schemes. But there was no intention of tapping a specific vote bank, instead the schemes were for everyone. Caste was not a considering factor to provide these welfare schemes,” he said.
Caste was always in focus
Across two months of campaigning and elections in seven phases, the parties focussed extyensively on issues like COVID-19 management, law and order, price rise and farmers’ protest, reflecting a perception that caste will no more be a decisive factor in UP politics. However, the strategy and selection of candidates by the parties reflected otherwise — social engineering was always in focus. In the run-up to the 2022 assembly polls, almost all parties, including the BJP, SP, BSP and Congress, looked to consolidate the OBC community in their favour as this bloc accounts for over 40-45% of UP’s voting population. Not surprisingly, all political parties (BJP included) fielded between 120 and 160 OBC candidates in state elections.
And the strategy did yield results. The 2022 UP election results showed that a significant chunk of Jatavs, over and above the upper caste, non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav SCs, voted for the BJP this time. Jatavs have been the traditional core vote bank of the Bahujan Samaj Party, which now stands decimated with just one seat.
With its non-Yadav OBC vote intact, and a new bloc of Jatav voters added to its basket, this new social combination helped the BJP not just win seats but also increase its vote share by at least 4 per cent. However, the party also suffered reverses in some pockets where the core Samajwadi Party voter– Muslim-Yadav –was the deciding factor. The OBCs emerged as a strong pressure group against the socio-economically strong Yadavs, by rallying behind the BJP in 2017. Around 58 per cent non-Yadav OBCs had voted in favour of the BJP in the previous assembly polls. This figure went up in 2022 as around 65 per cent OBCs voted for the BJP, as per the CSDS survey.
Political analysts believe that the BJP stepped up its efforts to woo the OBCs after being hit by a series of desertions by OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharam Singh Saini. However, the SP could not draw many benefits from these defections as Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini lost their respective seats.
BJP alliance with 7 lesser-known parties
Not just candidate selection, the BJP’s alliances with smaller caste-specific parties shows how caste calculus was always on the BJP’s mind. Perceived as a “pro-upper caste” party in the electorally crucial state, the BJP roped in seven smaller OBC-specific parties in counter to Samajwadi Party’s alliance with Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) and Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal leading up to the elections. The idea was straight and simple — expanding vote share by forging alliance with parties who have their electoral base amongst most backward communities in the Purvanchal region of UP.
The seven small parties, which the BJP tied up with, are part of the Hissedari Morcha which was founded earlier this year with an aim to give communities a bigger voice, with representation from various OBC groups, including Bind, Gadariya, Kumhaar, Dhivar, Kashyap and Rajbhar. These seven parties are: Bharatiya Suheldev Janata Party, Shoshit Samaj Party, Manavhit Party, Bharat Manav Samaj Party, Musahar Andolan Manch, Manavhit Party, Prithvi Raj Janshakti Party and Bhartiya Samta Samaj Party.
While the BJP won 255 of the 403 seats, its allies — Apna Dal (S) and Nishad Party — helped increased the seat share to 273 with the two caste-specific parties bagging 12 and six seats, respectively.