Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections: How exit of OBC leaders from BJP could impact its electoral future

Although OBC leaders left the BJP after the announcement of the MCC, their exit was not sudden, because the possibility of their exit had been doing the rounds in Lucknow since June 2021

Arvind Kumar January 26, 2022 13:45:22 IST
Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections: How exit of OBC leaders from BJP could impact its electoral future

Representational image. ANI

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Uttar Pradesh has recently seen the exit of several high-profile OBC leaders such as Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini who have been serving ministers in the Yogi Adityanath government. Along with them, several MLAs have also jumped ship from the BJP to the SP.

The exit of these leaders from the BJP has raised debate whether such moves would impact the electoral outcome of Uttar Pradesh. Taking the analogy of West Bengal, several commentators have cast aspersion whether the jumping of these leaders would impact electoral outcome. It should be noted that the BJP had successfully engineered high-profile defections in the Trinamool Congress (TMC) during the West Bengal Assembly election, despite that the BJP could not sail through to form the government in that state.

I argue why the situation in Uttar Pradesh is not like West Bengal, and why the exit of OBC leaders can impact the electoral prospects of the BJP negatively.

Uttar Pradesh isn’t West Bengal

There are two reasons why the defections of West Bengal cannot be compared with Uttar Pradesh. First, the demographic composition of voters varies in West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Bengal has approximately 27.01 percent Muslim population, whereas UP has about 19.3 percent Muslim population. Muslims are one of the strongest anti-BJP voting blocs, which has made impossible for the saffron party to sail through in the West Bengal Assembly election. Second, unlike West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh has a strong legacy of caste and religion-based ethnic voting. This is the only state where all three identity-based discourses of Indian politics — Hindutva nationalists, Mandalites, and Ambedkarite — have been able to form majority governments. The caste-based leaders always play a significant role. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to reveal his backward caste identity in the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

The exit of the OBC leaders from the BJP can impact the electoral outcome of Uttar Pradesh in three following ways:

Consolidation of OBC voters towards SP

Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Saini have played long innings in Uttar Pradesh politics; hence, they enjoy strong support among Maurya, Kushwaha, Shakya, Saini, and Nonia (Chauhan) voters who are found in eastern, Awadh, Bundelkhand, Braj, and western regions of Uttar Pradesh. In fact, Swami Prasad Maurya, who started his political career in the Janata Dal and was in the BSP before switching to the BJP in 2016, is credited for playing a pivotal role in creating political awareness among Mauryas, Kushwahas, and Shakyas. Besides, he is also credited with creating a section of political and economic elites among these castes who follow his footsteps. Therefore, Maurya enjoys political and emotional support among the voters of his caste/community. Likewise, Dara Singh Chauhan and Dharm Singh Saini have high stature among Nonia (Chauhan) and Saini voters. Therefore, the exit of these leaders from the BJP will have a significant impact.

The SP has already been mobilising backward caste voters, particularly the most backward caste (MBC) voters, through the formation of electoral alliances with small and marginal parties. The voting pattern of the MBC voters is argued to be the deciding factor in the formation of government in Uttar Pradesh. Therefore, the joining of backward caste leaders can further strengthen the consolidation of whole backward caste voters.

Exposing BJP’s Yadav versus non-Yadav strategy

UP’s poll arithmetic suggests that the BJP benefits from not just Hindu-Muslim communal tension, but also internal caste tension among Hindus, which enables the party to form an electoral alliance of the dominant upper castes with non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Scheduled Castes. The candidate nomination strategy of the party also reveals this fact. To make this strategy successful, the party needs non-Yadav leaders who can reiterate Yadav versus non-Yadav binary among their castes. However, the leaving of backward caste leaders, particularly non-Yadav leaders, gives the impression among the masses that there does not exist such a binary.

To mobilise backward caste voters, the BJP needs leaders from those castes who can communicate the message of the party among the voters of their castes. The exit of stalwart backward leaders disables communication networks. It also creates a perception that the party is antithetical to the interest of backward castes. To rebuild the communication network and avoid such allegations, the political parties are forced to increase nomination of candidates from those castes. The BJP would also be pressured to increase the nomination of candidates from backward castes. However, the increasing nomination of backward castes has potential to anger dominant castes, because ultimately their share is going to be reduced in the nomination.

The BJP has already been under pressure from Brahmins that the party has ignored them in the regime of Yogi Adityanath. To thwart this criticism, the party has imported Jitin Prasad and appointed him cabinet minister. In addition to this, the party has also formed a committee for increasing outreach among Brahmins. The reduction of nomination endangers such efforts.

Although OBC leaders left the BJP after the announcement of the Model Code of Conduct, their exit was not sudden, because the possibility of their exit had been doing the rounds in Lucknow since June 2021. Therefore, it cannot be said that the BJP leadership has completely been unaware about such possible developments. The real issue is to see how the party responds to these developments.

Arvind Kumar is PhD Scholar of politics at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. Views expressed are personal.

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