Debating India


Consolidation in Uttar Pradesh

Saturday 23 October 1999, by RAMAKRISHNAN*Venkitesh

The results in Uttar Pradesh, where the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party fared exceedingly well, show that, contrary to speculation, "Mandal politics" may not have run out of steam.

THE remarkably good performance by the Samajwadi Party (S.P.) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh proves two things. First, that the politics of backward classes-Dalit assertion has not waned despite conjectures to the contrary. Second, the tendency among Muslims to see the prominent political forces representing the backward classes and Dalits as their natural allies and to forge tactical alliances with them to defeat the upper-caste-oriented Bharatiya Janata P arty has become sharper.

The voting pattern in U.P. shows that substantial sections of Dalits and members of the backward classes and minorities continue to be committed to the politics of social justice - or Mandal politics, as it is termed - and will settle for nothing less th an a real share in power. Their message is that attempts to accommodate them in systems that serve only to perpetuate the hegemony of the upper castes are doomed to fail.

In the run-up to the elections, many media commentators claimed that with the revival of the Congress(I) in the State, the practice of "umbrella politics", which ensured a measure of external harmony among the various castes and communities, had re-emerg ed; in their perception, the "caste politics" of the S.P. and the BSP would not be as successful as it has been in the past. This theory had it that the Congress(I)’s revival was being made possible by a shift in allegiance of Muslims, Dalits, Brahmins a nd backward castes from the S.P., the BSP and the BJP to that party.

But what U.P. ultimately witnessed was a reassertion of caste politics as practised by the S.P. and the BSP. So much so that even within the BJP and the Congress(I), supporters from among the backward classes ended up supporting S.P. candidates at the lo cal level. Former BJP member of Parliament Sakshi Maharaj, who was denied the party ticket, campaigned for the S.P. There were indications that this campaign, conducted under the auspices of an organisation that represented Lodh Rajputs, a backward commu nity, was supported by backward class leaders within the State unit of the BJP, including Chief Minister Kalyan Singh, who belongs to that community.

Although S.P. president Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kalyan Singh denied that they were working in tandem, the voting pattern in at least 15 constituencies point to a measure of cooperation between them. Kalyan Singh’s refusal to campaign in the Mathura-Faruk habad region, where Sakshi Maharaj canvassed extensively for the S.P., was telling. In fact, in many constituencies people belonging to the backward classes claimed that both Kalyan Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav were their leaders. "Mulayam Singh Yadav for Prime Minister, Kalyan Singh for Chief Minister", was their slogan. Across the State, in meeting after meeting of these groups, one point was reiterated over and over again: that the struggle between backward classes and upper castes was far from over , and that people belonging to the upper castes in the BJP and the Congress(I) were out to undermine the influence of politicians from among the backward classes.

In Unnao, the BJP’s candidate, Devi Bux Singh, complained that the official administration helped members of the backward classes to rig the polls in favour of the S.P. She later claimed that her complaint had not been acted upon following instructions f rom a senior BJP leader - an obvious allusion to Kalyan Singh.

This backward class consolidation helped the S.P. get near-total support from Yadavs and Lodhs and substantial backing from other backward classes such as Kurmis and Keoris. Members of certain Scheduled Castes such as Pasis and Malhas also joined hands w ith the S.P., swayed by the influence of dacoit-turned politician Phoolan Devi. Yadavs and Lodhs are estimated to account for nearly 10 per cent and 6 per cent respectively of the State’s population. Mulayam Singh Yadav wields near-total influence among Yadavs and Kalyan Singh over Lodhs.

Muslims evidently supported this combination wherever it seemed capable of defeating the BJP. The apprehension that the support extended to the S.P. by Sakshi Maharaj, who had been identified with the Ayodhya Ram temple movement, would drive away Muslim voters was found to be misplaced. In Agra, Farrukhabad and Firozabad, Sakshi Maharaj’s supporters and Muslims made common cause with the S.P. Clearly, Mulayam Singh Yadav’s political gamble paid off in this region.

However, the S.P. did not make uniform gains across the State. For instance, in western Uttar Pradesh, the Jat belt that includes Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Kairana and Saharanpur constituencies, the S.P-led backward class combination was not the natural cho ice of the minorities. In earlier elections the S.P. had derived its strength in this region solely from the minorities, and that was clearly insufficient to defeat the BJP. This time the minorities backed the resurgent Congress(I), which drew support al so from among Jats, Gujjars and a section of Brahmins. Evidently, a section of the minorities was unhappy over the S.P’s failure to back a Congress(I)-led government following the collapse of the Vajpayee government in April.

The S.P’s support base among Muslims in this region was seriously eroded, as was evidenced in Meerut where it polled only 13,050 votes this time against 2,70,363 votes in 1998. In Saharanpur too the S.P. finished fourth, polling over a lakh votes fewer t han it did in 1998. In Meerut, the Congress(I) benefited from tactical voting by the minorities. Such wholesale shifts of support from the S.P. in some constituencies brought down its vote share from 28.69 per cent to 24 per cent.

THE BSP improved its strength by retaining its support among Dalits and winning over support from a few other communities in some constituencies. The new votes were won by means of a judicious choice of candidates. As it did in two previous elections, th e BSP won the votes of even Brahmins in constituencies where it fielded Brahmin candidates.

The BSP’s vote share has gone up steadily in the past decade - from 8.32 per cent in 1991 to 20.60 per cent in 1996 to 20.90 per cent in 1998 and further to about 22 per cent this time. Studies conducted by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societie s show that alongside this, the BSP’s share of vote among upper-castes voters is also going up - it went up from 3.6 per cent in 1996 to 10.2 per cent in 1998. This may have gone up further, by three or four percentage points in this election.

In Amroha, Basti, Saharanpur and Shahbad constituencies, the BSP gained from the perception among Muslims that it stood the best chance of defeating the BJP. According to party supremo Kanshi Ram, the BSP finished a close second to the BJP in nine consti tuencies this time and will win these next time.

See online : Frontline


Volume 16 - Issue 22, Oct. 23 - Nov. 5, 1999.

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