Was it a trickle or a deluge for Uttar Pradesh’s ruling BJP, which saw over a dozen MLAs leaving it days before the party announced its first list of candidates for the assembly polls?
The answer varies, depending on whom one asks. For the BJP, these MLAs were rejects from its list of candidates. But the opposition, most crucially the Samajwadi Party to which most of the defecting MLAs have gone, believes this is the end of the BJP’s multi-caste vote base that flipped it to power in the 2017 elections.
The truth is more nuanced. Most of those who quit were not BJP veterans. The three ministers—Swami Prasad Maurya, Dharam Singh Saini and Dara Singh Chauhan—were in the Bahujan Samaj Party before the 2017 polls. Strictly from an ideological viewpoint, the Samajwadi Party’s socialism is a closer fit for those who have been Ambedkarites. Again, not all defectors belong to OBC (Other Backward Class).
Identified on the basis of socio-economic backwardness, Uttar Pradesh has 76 castes in the OBC list. While there is no exact figure for their numbers (as caste census has not been carried out), they account for about 40 per cent of the state’s population. As a bloc, they outstrip any other caste. Within this bloc, the Yadavs are the most prominent politically, even though the Samajwadi Party does not identify itself as a caste outfit. Political power to the Yadavs has been an offshoot of their dominant status in the local caste hierarchy where they have traditionally owned land and cattle.
But when denied social and/or economic power, castes seek political power for upward mobilisation. One prominent example of this is the Apna Dal (S) formed in 1995 to garner the Kurmi votes. The rise and importance of that party can be gauged by the fact that its leader, Anupriya Patel, is currently Union minister of state for commerce and industry.
Thus, political power is both a means and an end.
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