Why a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in UP remains elusive: Akhilesh-Mayawati cold war and the tangled caste politics

It has gradually emerged as a fact that challenging the BJP will turn out to be a daunting task for the two major Opposition parties, the SP and BSP. 

Why a ‘Mahagathbandhan’ in UP remains elusive: Akhilesh-Mayawati cold war and the tangled caste politics
It has gradually emerged as a fact that challenging the BJP will turn out to be a daunting task for the two major Opposition parties, the SP and BSP.

Given that the countdown for the assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh scheduled next year has already begun, hectic political activities in the politically crucial state have ramped up with each party in the fray making electoral moves.  

It has gradually emerged as a fact that challenging the BJP, which holds a three-fourths majority in the assembly, will turn out to be a daunting task for the two major Opposition parties, the Samajwadi Party and its arch-rival Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). 

The possibility of an alliance between the two seems bleak, owing to the unending cold war between SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP supremo Mayawati and the failed 2017 bid when the two longtime rivals joined hands to take on the BJP. The Samajwadi Party had forged an alliance with the Congress only for both the parties to regret the decision later.     

Speaking to, Samajwadi Party MP Naved Siddiqui said that the party’s gates were open for smaller parties who wanted to join hands in defeating the BJP, but BSP and others were busy in figuring out their own political arithmetic and not at “saving democracy”. 

“We have to fight the BJP to save democracy and to do so, our party chief has clearly said that all small and big parties should come together. But he has also clarified that other parties don’t seem intended to fight the BJP. The BSP is also busy in its own arithmetic,” said Siddiqui. 

“The people of Uttar Pradesh have decided to defeat the BJP this time. We have formulated our strategy for the polls and we are already working on it. Obviously, we cannot share that but its impact will be clearly visible in the election results,” he added. 

SP chief Akhilesh Yadav, who had initially ruled out any tie-up with BSP or Congress, recently seemed to have a softened stand as he indicated about going for an alliance only with smaller parties. He credited this to the party’s bitter experience of aligning with major parties – the BSP in 2019 and with the Congress in 2017. 

Mayawati, on the other hand, has declared her party will go it alone in the assembly polls in UP as well as Uttarakhand. She has been targeting the Samajwadi Party, often likening its methods to those adopted by the current UP government. 

Asked about the possibility of BSP aligning with the Samajwadi Party for the upcoming polls, party’s national spokesperson Sudhindra Bhadoria told, “The Samajwadi Party have said they are going it alone and so are we. They have not asked for any alliance then how can we ask for any alliance.”

About the party’s poll preparations, he said that the party is active 24/7 and 365 days a year on the ground and not only at the time of elections. “We are taking the elections very seriously and we have been active for the last many months and in the result, we have shown that we are doing mass mobilisation, dharnas and protests. We have been raising the issue of farmers, unemployment and price rise which are the biggest concerns of the people of Uttar Pradesh.” 

Contrary to these two major opposition parties, the Congress seems to be eager to have a pre-poll alliance again, particularly with the Samajwadi Party. This was clearly indicated in party’s general secretary Priyanka Gandhi Vadra’s meeting with two SP women workers last month, who were allegedly assaulted during the block pramukh election. 

After the visit, Priyanka said this was a “fight for democracy”, and later added that the party is “open-minded” for an alliance. 

Political observers believe that instead of a formal alliance, any tactical understanding between the Congress and the SP will be more beneficial to both the parties.  

If the Congress contests on all seats of the state, it might eat into the BJP vote bank, particularly those who were looking for an alternative to the saffron party but are not willing to vote for the SP and BSP. However, both the SP and BSP have shown their disinterest in aligning with the Grand Old Party, which has only seven MLAs in the state. 

Brahmins, OBCs and non-Yadav OBCs: The tangled caste politics

To understand the game of caste politics in the state, let us first understand the population distribution in the state. OBCs account for roughly 45-50 per cent of the population thereby making the single largest voting bloc, Dalits and Muslims comprise 20 per cent and 10 per cent of the population respectively, another 10 per cent is formed by the Brahmins while Kshatriyas account for 9 per cent of the population. 

With the UP Elections just months away, Brahmins are again the apple of the eye of all political parties owing to the prevalent belief in state politics that the party which the Brahmins support forms government.

Despite accounting for 10 per cent of the votes, it is believed that they can influence elections on their own in about 100 constituencies but with a combination with other castes like Dalits and backwards, the upper caste can influence elections in 223 seats.  

In 2007, the BSP implemented the strategy of combining the Brahmin and Dalit votes which worked for the party overwhelmingly. In 2012, Brahmins again took centrestage in ensuring victory for Akhilesh Yadav as they combined with Backwards. In 2017, this upper caste voted en bloc for the BJP, which won over 325 seats in the 403-seat Vidhan Sabha. 

Even the Congress, which claims that it does not believe in caste politics, initially projected former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, a Brahmin, as the party’s face before it forged an alliance with the SP in the 2017 assembly polls.    

This time, both BSP and SP have been holding their respective ‘Prabudh Sammelans’ and ‘Prabudh Samaaj Goshthi’ in an attempt to woo Brahmin voters. These are part of their electoral strategies which helped the two parties come to power in 2007 and 2012 respectively. 

These meetings are a well-thought strategy of the parties, who want to capitalise on a preconceived notion that people of the state see the Yogi government as anti-Brahmin and pro-Thakur.

On the other hand, the BJP has already inducted Jitin Prasada, a prominent Brahmin leader who was mobilising the community to protest against alleged atrocities.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi inducted Ajay Kumar Mishra, a Brahmin from Uttar Pradesh, in his council of ministers this month. Adityanath too is expected to induct Prasada in his ministry.

This is seen as the saffron party’s bid to quell the discontentment in the community which feels that it has been sidelined by the current government. 

In 2017, when BJP won 312 seats in a 403-member House, 58 Brahmin lawmakers won on the party’s tickets. The number is more than the combined strength of SP (47), BSP (19), and Congress (seven) in the assembly.

Meanwhile, the BJP is running a parallel campaign to woo the non-Yadav OBC voters who account for 35 per cent of the state population. If political experts are to be believed, non-Yadav OBC votes were a major reason behind the BJP’s thumping victory in 2017. 

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. 

To the saffron party’s advantage, its allies include the Kurmi-dominated Apna Dal while it 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. 

The Samajwadi Party, meanwhile, launched its OBC sammelans on 9 August. The Congress, on its part, has already held several OBC conventions.

Though the BSP is not making any such moves, party supremo Mayawati had appointed Bhim Rajbhar as party’s state president a few months ago.

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First published on: 19-08-2021 at 13:13 IST