The non-Yadav OBCs in UP aspire to political domination like the Yadavs but also harbour a feeling of relative deprivation vis a vis both Yadavs and Dalits. The only OBC caste exception to this trait are the Jats of western UP who are in a relatively better economic position. However, a tinge of jealousy against the Yadavs is a factor in their demand for a separate State.
Roughly comprising a third of the State’s population, the non-Yadav OBCs are trapped in this aspiration-anxiety axis, and swing between the discourses of Hindutva, Mandal and Bahujan from election to election. Their frustration at having to play second fiddle to the Yadavs in the Samajwadi Party, the Dalits in BSP and the upper castes in the BJP has sometimes resulted in the formation of caste parties, albeit with dismal electoral success.
A majority of these castes like Pal, Nishadh, Kahar, Kumhar, Rajbhar have failed to utilise the reservation policy to their advantage. The BJP tried to woo them in 2001 by earmarking a separate quota for them within the existing OBC reservation but the move was struck down by the judiciary. It was denounced as a conspiracy against the Yadavs by the then leader of the opposition Mulayam Singh Yadav, and the Samajwadi Party leadership responded in 2005 by putting many OBC castes into the SC category.
This time all the parties are coming up with focused programmes for non-Yadav castes: BJP has been holding Pichhda Varg Sammelan (Backward Caste Conclave) across the State; SP has recommended the inclusion of 17 OBC castes in the SC category; BSP has been holding caste-centric ‘Bhaichara Sammelans’.
How the non-Yadav OBCs respond to these offers will influence the outcome of the coming Assembly election. Our field work revealed three distinct but interrelated electoral articulations among the non-Yadav OBC caste groups: (i) they would vote for a candidate from their respective castes, and therefore (ii) their vote would be scattered and divided; however, (iii) in the absence of any candidate from their respective castes, they are more likely to vote for the BJP.
However, a significant number of non-Yadav respondents also prefer SP or BSP due to secular and development considerations, which in the final analysis turns out to be contingent upon the caste profile of the candidates fielded in their constituencies.
The BJP seems to have an advantage over SP and BSP as far as the non-Yadav OBCs are concerned. To woo their votes, BJP appointed an OBC, Keshav Prasad Maurya, a Kushwaha, as its State party president. It took a series of follow up measures such as inducting dissident OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya from other parties, especially the BSP; inducting various OBC caste leaders like Om Prakash Rajbhar, Sanjay Rajbhar and merging their insignificant but symbolically important caste parties; appointment of Anupriya Patel (a Kurmi) as a Union minister besides organising around 200 Pichhda Varg Sammelans in 403 constituencies.
The SP government’s decision to include 17 OBC castes in the Dalit category on the eve of the election was intended precisely to reverse this shift of non-Yadav OBCs to the BJP besides putting BSP in a dilemma. Of the 17 OBC castes so recommended, the Kahar, Kumhar, Nishadh and Rajbhars constitute significant voting blocs in many constituencies and their support to any party depends upon their local caste leaders.
These caste leaders have chosen the Hindutva ideology whenever they joined the BJP, the Mandal ideology when they join hands with SP and Bahujan when aligned with BSP.
The BJP has the tough challenge of retaining the massive support it gained from non-Yadav OBCs in the 2014 election while BSP and SP are competing to win them over. This is likely to scatter the non-Yadav caste votes among the three main contenders with a slight edge to the BJP.
(Sajjan Kumar, a Ph.D from Centre for Political Studies, JNU is associated with People’s Pulse, a Hyderabad based Research Organisation that specialises in fieldwork-based political and electoral studies).