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  India   Caste in stone New alignments on the cards

Caste in stone New alignments on the cards

Published : Oct 30, 2016, 12:42 am IST
Updated : Oct 30, 2016, 12:42 am IST

The caste cauldron in Uttar Pradesh has been boiling since the past three decades, but with the emergence of personality-based politics, especially with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, the mould coul

The caste cauldron in Uttar Pradesh has been boiling since the past three decades, but with the emergence of personality-based politics, especially with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav, the mould could be broken in the 2017 Assembly elections.

The Muslims, other backward classes (OBC) and the upper castes, who have been deciding the political fate of the state since 1989 when ‘Mandal-Kamandal’ turned into the key factor, are now visibly yearning for a change.

The OBCs, dominated by the Yadavs who constitute almost 40 per cent of the OBC population in UP, have been solidly supporting the Samajwadi Party led by Mulayam Singh Yadav since the early nineties.

However, growing allegations of nepotism in the Yadav clan, apparently did not go down well with the community and a large section of them voted for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, leaving the Samajwadi Party with just five seats. Though SP president Mulayam Singh Yadav remains the undisputed leader of his community in UP, his son and chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has refused to cultivate himself as a caste leader.

He is popular as a youth leader-cutting across caste lines-but is definitely not known as a Yadav leader. Akhilesh has also taken care not to cultivate the Yadav leadership around him — except the family, of course — and this could prove disappointing for the community.

Besides, the recent war in the Yadav family could lead to a split in Yadav votes, as not many feel that the crisis in the first family will get over anytime soon. “A split in the family and the party is imminent, whether it comes before or after the elections. The Yadav community is definitely doing serious rethinking on the matter and we will go with the SP only where it is in a winning position,” said Ram Ugrah Yadav, a school teacher in Azamgarh.

The Yadavs are dominant in about 37 Assembly segments in districts like Etah, Etawah, Ferozabad, Mainpuri, Badaun, Kannauj, Aurraiyya and Azamgarh. With non-Yadav OBCs already with the BJP, even a slight shift in Yadav votes could drive the SP out of power in 2017.

The BJP will surely try to take advantage of the ongoing SP crisis and make a renewed effort to win over the Yadavs, although it does not have a leader from the community to lead such a drive.

The most crucial votebank in UP continues to be the Muslims, who are majority in more than 124 Assembly seats. The SP crisis has left Muslims in a dilemma.

They are unsure if the party, weakened by the infighting, will be in a position to defeat the communal forces. Muslims are also wary of the BSP, which thrice formed government in UP with BJP support. “What is the guarantee that the BSP will not go with the BJP again if it falls short of majority The party is not trustworthy and the Muslims may vote for the BSP only in those seats where the candidate is strong enough to defeat the BJP,” said Zahoor Baksh, a trader in Meerut.

The upper castes, meanwhile, could prove to be a gamechanger in these elections. The Brahmins, who constitute 13 per cent of the population, and the Thakurs (9 per cent) have traditionally voted for the BJP since the Ayodhya movement. But with the BJP now focussing more on OBCs and Dalits, the upper castes seem a little disillusioned with it.

Moreover, the BJP’s upper caste leadership in UP has either migrated to national politics or has gone into semi-retirement.