UP Election 2017: Caste dynamics too fickle to rely upon, development will drive polls in post Mandir-Mandal era

If caste equations were as static and as immutable as they are believed to be then predicting results of Uttar Pradesh elections would be easy and the party that could manage to win over the biggest caste groups would always be victorious.

That, however, as the history of elections in the state suggests, is not the case.

While the caste of leaders has remained more or less same, the dynamics on the ground have been fluid, impacting results in different ways in different elections. Parties maybe identified with a specific core social group - the Samajwadi Party with the Yadavs, the BSP with Jatavs or the RLD with Jats for instance - but the dynamics of voting goes far beyond simple arithmetic of caste. And that makes Uttar Pradesh elections complex.

 UP Election 2017: Caste dynamics too fickle to rely upon, development will drive polls in post Mandir-Mandal era

Representational image. AFP

The twin themes of Mandal and Mandir dominated the political narrative of the state from the early 1990s. The interplay of the two themes plus the parallel one of Dalit mobilisation shaped electoral outcomes for over two decades. The new narrative saw the Congress receding to the margins as a political force and the emergence of regional power houses such as the SP and the BSP. As the state gets ready for another election, UP's politics appears to have entered a new phase. The themes of Mandal and Mandir have weakened to some degree. This means that today neither serve as the sole riveting point for voter consolidation, unlike earlier. The same is the case with the Dalit theme. That is one reason we notice a shift in voting behaviour every election.

Besides this, even Dalit, OBC and upper caste voters keep changing their preference. In 2002, Samajwadi Party emerged as the biggest party in a hung assembly; in 2007, the BSP was the big winner while in 2012, the Samajwadi Party again took the lead. The general election of 2014, on the other hand, saw a wave in favour of the BJP, with the party coming first in more than 320 of the 403 assembly constituencies.

Therefore, the construct that caste or community votes for parties are constant do not stand up to scrutiny in view of these shifts. Take the case of Samajwadi Party. It is believed that the given its Mandalite credentials the party is the natural magnet for all OBCs. But that has not been case over the last few elections. Only Yadavs remain a steady support base for the SP while other non-Yadav OBCs have not been averse to making independent choices when the right option is available. In 2014, this group, including Kurmis, Jats and others had voted overwhelmingly in favour of the BJP. Not surprisingly, all other parties apart from SP, particularly the BJP, want to make it their vote bank, a counterweight to the Yadavs.

Moreover, all Yadavs don't vote for the Samajwadi Party as believed. According to a survey, in the 2007 assembly elections, 72 percent of them voted for the party and in 2012, the number was 66 percent. Despite the minor dip, the SP secured a brute majority in 2012 state polls. In 2014 general election, the number of Yadavs backing the SP shrank a bit more with the BJP taking away 27 percent of their votes.

Even assuming that all members of the caste vote for the SP, there's still no way the party can win the state on their strength. Yadavs form about nine percent of the population of the state and about 20 percent of OBCs. To win, it has to rope in other social groups, including non-Yadav OBCs, upper castes and Dalits. This goes for all parties.

The post Mandal-Mandir phase of politics in the state thus necessitates that political players develop strategies that underplay caste and communal identities and touch overarching topics. It's no surprise that Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav wants to be seen as a development messiah and the BJP would downplay some of its pet topics and flaunt Prime Minister Narendra Modi as its development icon. It is for the same reason the Congress would talk more on demonetisation.

Updated Date: Jan 20, 2017 18:01:28 IST