National parties wake up to UP reality, embrace caste game

In change of approach, Congress and BJP woo OBCs and MBCs aggressively.

Akshaya Mishra January 16, 2012 21:12:37 IST
National parties wake up to UP reality, embrace caste game

As far as voting behaviour goes, caste matters a lot in Uttar Pradesh. But castes are not monolithic, homogeneous entities as poll experts would suggest. As an earlier article on Firstpost says, such an assumption ignores the nuances of intra-caste hierarchy and tends to simplify the complexities of electoral politics too much. The article tries to elaborate that the solid, indivisible Muslim or caste vote bank is neither solid nor indivisible as believed.

The frenzied efforts from all parties to rope in the support of the OBCs (Other Backward Caste) and MBCs (Most Backward Caste) in the run-up to the assembly polls confirms the argument. After the Mandalisation of the UP politics in early 1990s, the national parties, at a loss with the spurt of caste equations and aspirations, have virtually been marginalised in the state.

While the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party have held sway by getting the caste arithmetic right, the Congress, which refused to play the caste game, has been reduced to an insignificant player. The BJP, which raked up the Babri Masjid-Ram Mandir issue to offset the Mandal impact, has not gone far after initial gains. The party, like the Congress, was uncomfortable in caste politics. But this time, both seems to have come to terms with the ground reality. Led by Rahul Gandhi, the Congress is aggressively wooing the OBCs and MBCs; the BJP has followed suit.

National parties wake up to UP reality embrace caste game

In UP, it requires a thorough understanding of the complexities of the caste grid to play the numbers game successfully. Reuters

No wonder, smaller castes and castes within castes are in heavy demand. These groupings, which remain at the bottom or thereabouts of the heap in the social structure and are yet to solidify as a vote bank, could make or mar the fortune of parties in the fray, particularly the national ones. Constituting more than half of the total population in the state, they have not been tapped by the SP and the BSP, which primarily rely on Yadav and Yatav votes respectively, fully yet. That is where the Congress and the BJP smell a chance.

It is similar — as the earlier article mentioned — to Nitish Kumar's successful experiment in Bihar. For the Congress, it had paid in the general elections of 2009. Though the character of the general elections and the assembly polls are different, the party wants to take the experiment forward. It is targeting Kurmis, and MBCs such as Mallahs, Nishads and Gaderiyas, besides trying to target the second rungs among the Yadavs and Yatavs.

They could be good for electoral calculations but it is hardly easy to unite them into a vote bank. According to an article in the Times of India, The OBCs and MBCs are neither homogeneous, nor do they vote as a block. They are also scattered across the state, often in small pockets, which probably explains why they have not evolved as a unified political entity.

It requires a thorough understanding of the complexities of the caste grid to play the numbers game successfully. The BJP tried once and failed. Now the Congress, spurred on by Rahul Gandhi, has jumped in. It's a radical gambit but a risky one as others have discovered, including the Mandal messiah VP Singh.

The trend might lead to a fresh churn in the UP society and leave it more fragmented along caste lines. It’s difficult to judge whether it is a negative development. When people voting don’t talk about real issues — there are plenty in the areas of economy, development, industry, agriculture and corruption — it does not augur well for the democracy. But looking at it from another perspective, if political mobilisations along caste throw up more interest groups and more beneficiaries in the democratic process, it is not such a bad idea either.

It brings more players to the bargaining table that is democracy and creates more groups asserting their rights. Moreover, it breaks the dominance of a few castes on the governance process and makes the social base of the government wider.

Caste being the only reality in the state, there's no other go for national parties. The developments also indicate that vote banks and caste equations — both intra-caste and inter-caste — in relation to politics are always in a state of flux. They cannot be solid or indivisible.

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