Assumptions are being made about the crucial role that caste polarisation could play in the upcoming 2017 UP Assembly elections. During the elections, we may see a 'game' of caste mobilisation in the background of slogans of development, good governance and an efficient law & order system, and also through the medium of caste representation.
This condition has led political parties and analysts alike to turn their attention towards the 'Thakur' votes in the forthcoming UP elections.
The meaning of Thakur votes
The Thakurs account for almost eight per cent of the total population of UP. Though they are not a large caste numerically, politically, they held an important position till the 90s.
Former UP CM Veer Bahadur Singh, former PM Vishwanath Pratap Singh and current Home Minister Rajnath Singh are a few of the main Thakur leaders significantly involved in UP politics, besides many other second and third tier Thakur leaders.
The main reason behind the strong political position of the Thakurs is the fact that they have enjoyed socio-economic dominance for a long time. They have been the rural elites – possessing muscle power – and are considered to be the opinion makers. During the elections, they have been one of the leading and influential castes involved in booth management, owing to their muscle power and social dominance.
The Thakur caste made its mark on society because of its leaders, who enjoyed influential positions by being members of influential political parties. Post the 90s, the Thakurs lost their significance when numerically larger castes like Yadavs, Kurmis, and Chamars became more influential in the electoral politics due to their wealth, power and voice.
The Congress party – in which many Savarna leaders held prominent positions – gradually weakened with the passage of time. BJP is yet another such party where Savarna leaders are still significant and hold important positions.
Thakur faces like Rajnath Singh, Yogi Adityanath, and Sangeet Som are currently an active part of BJP politics in UP. Amar Singh, a Thakur face of the Samajvadi Party, has also made a comeback; while Raja Bhaiya, already features as an influential Thakur face for SP.
Who will get the benefit of Thakur votes
There may be a division of Thakur votes between the SP and BJP in the forthcoming UP elections. The shift of a section of Thakur votes in favour of SP would depend on the number of meetings and campaigns organised by Amar Singh and Raja Bhaiya in UP.
Though Amar Singh’s health may not permit him to actively participate in the campaigns, his involvement would no doubt benefit the party. If BJP project Rajnath Singh as its chief ministerial candidate for UP in the forthcoming elections, then a large section of the Thakurs could move towards the BJP.
If he is not projected as the CM, however, then the Thakurs may vote for any party where a Thakur candidate is in a winning position. Caste will be given preference over party while voting. It seems that Rajnath Singh and Sangeet Som will become active in Western UP, while in Eastern UP, BJP may get the benefit of Thakur votes due to Yogi Adityanath’s solidarity with Rajnath Singh.
The comeback of Amar Singh
If Amar Singh and Raja Bhaiya organise aggressive and active campaigns in favour of SP in Western UP, then it may attract Thakur votes from various regions of Central UP, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal.
Amar Singh is known to be a centre of attraction for the media, so, in this case he would attract the Thakurs not only from the above mentioned regions but also from other regions of UP.
Congress and Thakur concord
Bundelkhand has many Thakur leaders under the Congress umbrella which would help the party to get their share of Thakur votes in the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha elections. Being a socially dominant caste group in Bundelkhand, the Thakurs are believed to be able to influence the elections in their own way. A section of the Thakurs will also incline towards the Congress in Central UP, especially in regions like Raebareli, Amethi, Lucknow.
Thakur influence still prevalent
The influence of Thakurs in the politics of UP is still residual. Socially, their dominance has decreased but still prevails in some regions of the state. With influence in areas of agriculture, service and contractorship, they give birth to attraction as well as repulsion in the polarisation of the votes at the grassroots level.
Due to their influence, often the votes of other castes incline towards the political parties of their affiliation. On the contrary, another possibility could be that the castes that feel let down by the Thakur domination, would not cast votes in their favour.
It remains to be seen what role the Thakur votes would play in the upcoming 2017 UP elections, and what strategy will be adopted by the BJP to lure the Thakur votes.