Why the Samajwadi Party failed to draw non-Yadav OBC votes away from the BJP

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters celebrate the party’s victory in the 2022 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, outside the party’s office in Lucknow. While the BJP won fewer seats compared to the 2017 state elections, the party increased its vote share from 39.7 percent to 41.3 percent. SANJAY KANOJIA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
10 March, 2022

On 10 March 2022, the Bharatiya Janata Party won the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and set a few records in the process. The BJP became the first party to win two consecutive assembly elections in the state since 1985, and Ajay Singh Bisht, popularly known as Yogi Adityanath, will become the first chief minister in the state’s history to complete a full tenure and win a second successive term. While the saffron party won fewer seats this time—255—compared to its tally of 312 in 2017, it increased its vote share from 39.67 percent in 2017 to 41.29 percent. This is a signal that the power equation in the state heavily favours the BJP despite the fight put up by the Samajwadi Party, which emerged as the principal opposition party, with a vote share of 32.06 percent, as compared to its previous tally of 21.82 percent.

The enthusiastic participation of huge crowds in the SP’s campaign rallies seemed to suggest that its electoral planks of social justice and unity would provide tough competition to the Hindutva politics of the BJP. The results, however, raised several questions. Why were the pertinent issues of unemployment, inflation, the mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the menace of stray cattle, communal polarisation and the farmer’s protest not reflected in the populace’s electoral choices? 

The fact is that, over the years, the BJP has given more importance to caste equations in Uttar Pradesh than any other party. It has assiduously courted, drawn and consolidated the votes of non-Yadav Other Backward Classes and the non-Jatav Dalits. In a previous piece in The Caravan, I wrote that, despite right-wing analysts attributing the BJP’s victories in 2014 and the 2017 state elections to the “Modi wave,” those results owed more to the decentralisation of the state’s OBCs. The results of the 2022 election confirm my assertion.

Before the results were announced, various experts speculated that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for the BJP to return to power. Besides Muslim voters, who are traditionally anti-BJP, they cited the resentment of the Yadav, Jat, Gurjar and Brahmin communities. These communities had also accused the state government of Thakurwaad—reign of the Thakurs—referring to Adityanath’s caste. The Thakurs, who are part of the Rajput community, account for around seven percent of the state’s population, but almost half of them fall in the top wealth quintile of Uttar Pradesh.