While at this juncture of time it is hard to predict who will finally form the government after assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh – a country of sorts with over 200 million people – it is quite easy to say that once again, like 2007, we will encounter hard surprises.

The assembly election of 2007 was exceptional. Exceptional in the sense that after 1991, when in a surcharged atmosphere Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) achieved the magic number, UP once again saw a government with full majority under the leadership of Behan Kumari Mayawati ji (as she is called by her supporters, here in UP). Political scientists claimed that it was “Social Engineering” – a new phenomenon where two extreme poles of Hindu caste hierarchy, Brahmins and Dalits came together – that had enabled Km. Maywati to form the government.

Point to notice here is that Km. Mayawati was able to form a government with just 30 percent votes, Samajwadi Party (SP) of Shri Mulayam Singh Yadav got 25 per cent , BJP got around 18 per cent while Indian National Congress, despite so much of sweat shedding by Shri Rahul Gandhi, was virtually devastated with just 8 per cent. Conditions have changed, there has been a realignment of caste equations and there is a visible anti incumbency factor against BSP. Development and corruption are still not the foremost issues with both been overtly overtaken by irrational factors such as caste and religion. Let’s see how different parties stand as far as caste equations are concerned.

With around 20 per cent scheduled caste voters, BSP is one party which has the most number of committed voters – votes on which the party can easily bank upon. With so much being done for the “Swabhiman” of depressed classes, and the conspicuous advances of the community socially and economically, it would be safe to assume that alleged corruption and inability of government at the law and order front would not make much effect on most of these loyal supporters of BSP.

Brahmins had voted unexpectedly for BSP in 2007. This is one group which is for sure going to fritter away from the party. There is a wide spread belief, among them, that only associates of a certain stalwart of BSP were appointed to “important” posts and were granted “important” portfolios in the council of ministers. Another factor which may result in the exodus of their votes is the sacking of many ministers of Brahmin community by Km. Mayawati. Though most of them were sacked on corruption charges, there is a general belief that those charges were just an excuse to remove them, so as to rally the core voters of BSP, on the very eve of such an important election.

So who is going to gain by this shift of votes? Brahmins have two choices – BJP and INC. INC had remained their natural choice till 1991. After 1991 most of them changed their loyalties and started to vote for BJP. It is expected that this time, their votes will get divided between BJP and INC with former getting a larger chunk. Fielding of a large number of Brahmins candidates by BSP will also bring votes, though on a smaller scale, for BSP. It is this disaffection of Brahmins that, the political observers say, will emerge as a major obstacle in the path of power for BSP.

There is a race among SP and INC for Muslim votes. Raking up the issue of 4.5 or 8 or 18 per cent reservation for minorities in general and Muslims for particular, just before the elections, is quite an irrefutable proof that both these parties will go with full vigour for their votes. Batla House encounter is another emotional issue, which is getting unfortunately exploited by these parties. The real issues such as backwardness of Muslims in education and other socio economic problems are still missing.

There is a feeling, well fabricated, popularised and engineered by some vested interests, among the community, that Batla House encounter was fake and that Muslim youth is unnecessarily targeted everywhere by police and administration. Who can blame them, when a general secretary of national party is on record questioning the veracity of the incident. The birth of small Muslim political outfits such as Peace Party and Ulema Council is a direct consequence of this well spread false propaganda. There is no doubt that these small parties which have great support in Azamgarh and surrounding areas will definitely turn a bête noir for SP, INC and too some extent for BSP. BJP naturally will gain from the division of Muslim votes caused by these smaller outfits.

The announcement of 4.5 per cent reservation for minorities has come as a face-saver for BJP. It has given an opportunity to the party to organise itself, which was, till a month ago, in a complete dis array. The induction of a tainted minister who is an accused in National Rural Health Mission (NRHM), and his virulent tirades against other parties on the issue of quota within quota, is a clear indicator that political expediency and a quest for votes of Most Backward OBCs has made BJP compromise with their principles. This political gamble seems to be paying for them.

The “fear”, shown to Most Backward Caste (MBCs) by BJP that their natural right has been taken away by Congress with active support of SP, may pay dividends to them. The other castes on which the party may rely at present are Kshatriyas (Thakurs, as they are known in UP) and Baniyas. The return of MBCs and Brahmins, if translated into votes, may turn out to be a jackpot for BJP. The Anna factor, the scams, too may consolidate the middle class and urban voters which may in turn bring rich gains for the party.

SP will rely mainly on the forward OBCs such as Yadavas and Muslims for votes. Akhilesh Yadav, a well-educated Engineer, may turn out the anti-incumbency factor against BSP in the favour of SP. Another factor which is quite visible is the association of youth with SP through Yadav Jr.

With his emphasis on issues such as reservation and Batla House, as discussed before, there are ripe expectations that SP may repeat the performance of 2002, when they won 142 assembly seats with an active support of Muslims. Return of Azam Khan, the biggest leader of Muslims in the state, and separation of Kalyan Singh from party will definitely attract Muslims towards the party. By this, SP, will make things miserable for Congress, which with an unprecedented support of OBCs, Brahmins and Muslims in 2009 had emerged as a major force in 2009 Lok Sabha elections.

INC looks all set to double their seats. Congress is mainly relying on the dissidents of other parties and their own ex MPs and MLAs, some of whom last won an election in 1980s. There is an effect of Anna Hazare movement, with people in rural region too, knowing about 2G and CWG scams. Congress will mainly rely on upper caste, Muslims, OBCs, and youth from educated middle class which, though superficially, see Mr Gandhi as a ray of hope in this corrupt system. Dissidents of Congress are getting recruited by Trinamool Congress (TMC) and other smaller parties which will definitely make a dent in their core votes.

The most positive thing for them is that their performance in 2002 was so bad that even if they manage to get 50 odd seats, it will turn out to be a big morale booster from them. Their alliance with Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) of Chaudhary Ajit Singh may play an important part in the next non-BJP government in the state. Whatever the politicians say, according to political pundits this alliance may go with SP, if they emerge as the single largest party, after the elections. Alliance with BSP too may not be ruled out completely.

Election in Uttar Pradesh is a complex procedure with tons of smaller issues. But caste is still the most prominent factor among them. That political party which could garner even 27 per cent votes may emerge as a winner. Sad to say, the politics in UP is still mired in the puddle of castes and religion. Is this the most suitable time to learn lessons from Bihar?

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Shekhar Sengar

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