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Not the BJP, but the Opposition Has Fielded More OBCs and Dalits in UP This Time

The INDIA bloc’s caste-wise distribution of candidates will not quite follow the ‘Pichda, Dalit, Alpsankhyak’ formula that Akhilesh Yadav promised – but will be a bold political manoeuvre where for the first time in a decade, the BJP will be on the backfoot.
Opposition leaders at a rally in Uttar Pradesh. Photo: X/@INCIndia.

New Delhi: The Samajwadi Party (SP)-led INDIA bloc in Uttar Pradesh is set to field more backward caste and Dalit candidates than the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

This is considered a step in the direction of dismantling the BJP’s unchecked hegemony among the marginalised but numerically-dominant Hindu communities.

The SP has not been completely honest with its election slogan of PDA – Pichda, Dalit, Alpsankhyak – as it has fielded Muslims much below their representation in the state population.

Illustration: Pariplab Chakraborty

However, through a greater share in candidate selection for OBCs and Dalits, it has fulfilled its strategy of matching the BJP in wooing the critically-important Hindu ‘Bahujan’ vote.

OBCs and Dalits together represent at least 60 to 65% of the state’s population and have been pivotal in helping the Narendra Modi-led BJP come to power and furthering its saffron politics.

UP has 80 Lok Sabha seats. So far, the BJP-led NDA has named its candidates in 77 seats. The INDIA bloc – the SP, Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) – has declared its candidates in 75.

An analysis of the castes of the candidates by The Wire shows that the BJP and its allies have fielded 29 backward caste candidates and 32 from the ‘upper castes’ (UCs).

The party has declared Dalit candidates only in reserved seats.

There are 17 reserved seats in UP. So far, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) has named candidates in 16. The NDA, staying true to its majoritarian Hindutva agenda, has not declared a single Muslim candidate.

Uttar Pradesh has 80 Lok Sabha constituencies, 17 of which are reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. Photo: Furfur/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0.

What’s striking is that although the BJP claims to best represent OBCs and Dalits, the single largest communities to benefit from its ticket distribution are dominant Hindu groups such as Brahmins and Thakurs.

Out of the 32 UCs in the fray for the NDA, a whopping 17 are Brahmins and 11 are Thakur. That (28) is almost as many as the number of OBCs fielded by the party, even though OBCs are estimated to be more than three times their combined population.

The NDA has also nominated two from the Bania community and one Bhumihar.

The number of UCs fielded by the BJP is expected to go up. The party is yet to declare candidates in Kaiserganj and Rae Bareli, where it has traditionally fielded UCs.

The third seat where the NDA is yet to nominate a candidate is Robertsganj – a reserved constituency.

Polarising the non-Yadav OBCs against the Yadavs and consolidating their scattered votes has so far been the BJP’s central strategy in UP. The main opposition party in the state, the SP, has for years been battling a perception, partly due to media propaganda and party due to its own inadequacies, that it only represents the interests of the Yadav community, to which its top leadership belongs.

The BJP has projected the SP as a party that appeases Muslims and Yadavs at the cost of other communities, especially non-Yadav backward castes.

To cement this theory, the BJP has not only formed alliances with smaller non-Yadav OBC-based groups – the Nishad Party, the Apna Dal (Sonelal), the Rashtriya Lok Dal and the Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party – but also projected its star campaigner, PM Modi, as a backward caste face.

Also read: Projecting the Opposition as Anti-Hindu Remains Modi’s Main Strategy

The BJP has peddled a theory that Yadavs have cornered the 27% OBC quota even though various government reports show that other dominant backward castes such as Kurmis, Jats and Gurjars also secured shares of government jobs and political representation that are disproportionately higher than their population share.

To counter this narrative, the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP has increased representation for non-Yadav OBCs and Dalits in candidate selection in 2024.

The SP is contesting 62 seats on its own symbol. The party has so far fielded 29 OBCs, of which only five are Yadav.

The SP’s OBC figure could hit 30 as the party, sources indicated, is likely to field another OBC (Kurmi) in Fatehpur.

The SP is contesting 14 seats reserved for Dalits but is set to field 16 Dalits this election, as it has declared two Dalit candidates – Sunita Verma in Meerut and Awadesh Pradesh in Faizabad – on general seats as part of the PDA experiment.

It has declared 11 UC candidates: three each from the Thakur and Brahmin communities, two Banias, two Kayasthas and one Bhumihar.

Although Muslims are 20% of the state’s population, the SP has fielded only four in this election.

The SP’s ally, the Congress, has nominated a larger percentage of UCs. Assuming that it fields UCs in Amethi and Rae Bareli, in nine out of the 17 seats the Congress is contesting – almost 53% – its candidates would be UCs.

The Congress has nominated two Muslim candidates – in Amroha and Saharanpur – and three Dalits on reserved seats.

Also read: BJP’s Rise Has Meant a Shrinking Number of Muslim Lawmakers in India

Three others are non-Yadav OBCs – Gaderia, Kurmi and Teli.

The INDIA bloc has left the Bhadohi seat in Purvanchal for the TMC, which has fielded a Brahmin.

We found that across 80 seats, the NDA is expected to field 34 UCs, 29 OBCs and 17 Dalits (all on reserved seats). This is based on the presumption that the BJP will field UCs in Rae Bareli and Kaiserganj, two general seats where it is still undecided.

On the other hand, in the 75 seats declared by the INDIA bloc, 32 are OBC, 19 UCs, 18 Dalits and six Muslims.

As per our estimate, when all 80 candidates are declared, the INDIA bloc’s figures will read as follows: 33 OBC, 22 UCs, 19 Dalits and six Muslims.

Not quite the Pichda Dalit Alpsankhyak formula that Akhilesh Yadav promised – what has emerged is the Pichda Dalit Agda (UC) version of the PDA – but a bold political manoeuvre, where for the first time in a decade, the BJP is on the backfoot.

Notably, the SP has invested a lot this time in middle OBC castes linked to farming and horticulture. The party fielded Kurmis in nine seats (expected to increase to ten, as per sources) and candidates of the Shakya-Saini-Kushwaha-Maurya group in six seats.

In comparison, the landed dominant OBC groups of west UP – Jats and Gurjars – have got only one candidate each.

All five Yadavs fielded by the SP are from the clan of SP founder Mulayam Singh Yadav. Akhilesh Yadav’s wife Dimple is the candidate in Mainpuri, while his cousins Dharmendra Yadav, Akshay Yadav, Aditya Yadav and Tez Pratap Yadav are in the fray in Azamgarh, Firozabad Budaun and Kannauj, respectively.

The SP has also given four tickets to the riverine Mallah/Nishad caste groups and one each to the Gaderia, Lodhi and Rajbhar communities.

The INDIA bloc’s figures are not quite the ‘Pichda, Dalit, Alpsankhyak’ formula that Akhilesh Yadav promised – but are nonetheless a bold manoeuvre. Photo: X/@samajwadiparty.

The BJP’s caste breakdown is slightly different. The party and its allies have declared three candidates from the Gurjar community, four Jats, four Lodhis, four from the Nishad/Kashyap castes, seven Kurmis and three from the Shakya-Saini-Kushwaha category.

The NDA has also fielded two Telis (including Modi in Varanasi) and a Rajbhar. The BJP has fielded a lone Yadav candidate, Bhojpuri star Dinesh Lal Yadav aka Nirahua, in Azamgarh.

Successive defeats have forced Akhilesh Yadav to rope in Ambedkarite OBC and Dalit leaders from the Bahujan Samaj Party while increasing the representation of these communities in the party structure as well as in candidate selection.

Some of these backward caste leaders who are in the fray this time are senior Kurmi leader Lalji Verma in Ambedkar Nagar, Gaderia leader Raja Ram Pal in Akbarpur and Babu Singh Kushwaha in Jaunpur.

What’s also notable about the SP in this election is that out of the 62 seats it is contesting on its own symbol, only nine belong to its traditional social base of Muslims and Yadavs. That is less than 15%, which is half of the total population of Muslims and Yadavs in the state.

The final battle as well as the result may be hinged on multiple factors, including the opposition’s reluctance to showcase a PM face against Modi and issues of Hindutva, Hindu polarisation and resources.

However, by surpassing the BJP in ticket distribution to OBCs and Dalits, the SP has taken a step in the right direction in signalling to these communities that it is willing to give them hissedari as per their abadi (representation as per population).

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