Eight regional parties of Uttar Pradesh have formed an electoral alliance, named the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha, to take on the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, in the assembly polls scheduled for 2022. Led by members of backward caste groups, these parties include: Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party, Jan Adhikar Party, Apna Dal (K), Bhartiya Vanchit Samaj Party, Bhartiya Manav Samaj Party, Janata Kranti Party (R), Rashtriya Bhagidari Party (P) and Rasht Uday Party.
Leaders of these parties are members of communities which fall in the Other Backward Classes category. They said that they were optimistic of their chances of forming, or at least aiding the formation of, the state government in 2022. Om Prakash Rajbhar, of the SBSP, is the national convenor of the united front and was a minister in the current government led by chief minister Ajay Singh Bisht. “Our front has leaders from backward castes, who wield influence within their communities,” Rajbhar told me.
However, over the past six years, the BJP—which has traditionally been considered an upper-caste party—has cemented its hold over OBC groups. Yadavs, who are categorised as OBCs, and Jatavs, who are a part of the Dalit community, are considered the core voters of the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, respectively, in Uttar Pradesh. Under the leadership of the SP and the BSP, Yadavs and Jatavs became more dominant than other OBC and Dalit caste groups. With its ascent to power at the centre in 2014, the BJP tried to bring non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits within its fold.
The BJP claimed that it won the 2017 state elections by reaching out to sections which were deprived of representation by its adversaries—non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits—among other reasons, according to an analysis published in the Scroll.in. Notably, the representation of OBCs did not increase in the newly formed state government. In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, too, the BJP drew a significant percentage of votes from the OBCs. According to another analysis, “As many as 80% of Kurmis and Koeris, two major castes within the OBC bracket, voted for the BJP. Other OBCs (which exclude Yadavs, Kurmis and Koeris) saw a 72% turnout for the BJP.” Political commentators have opined that the BJP’s efforts to form subcategories in OBCs—which will split the 27-percent quota granted to the category—may also help the party appeal to non-dominant OBC communities.
The formation of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha indicates rumblings of discontent within the backward castes in Uttar Pradesh. While a couple of the parties of the front have themselves previously allied with the BJP, all of them expressed staunch opposition to the ruling party when I spoke to them in August.
Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party was a BJP ally in the 2017 state elections. After his victory, Bisht—commonly known as Yogi Adityanath—had appointed Rajbhar as the minister of the backward classes welfare and disabled people development. As a minister, Rajbhar publicly criticised the BJP several times, including for the non-implementation of a report that an Other Backward Classes Social Justice Committee had submitted to the government in October 2018. Rajbhar’s SBSP and the BJP could not agree upon a seat-sharing ratio for the Lok Sabha elections and had a falling out in 2019. In December, Rajbhar announced the formation of the Sankalp Bhagidari Morcha.
The alliance’s primary demand is the implementation of the OBC Social Justice Committee’s report. The committee was formed in May 2018, under the chairmanship of the former judge Raghavendra Kumar. Ashok Kumar, a member of the committee, told me about its findings. “Seventy-nine castes were classified in three groups—other backward classes, more backward classes and most backward classes,” he said. “The 27-percent reservation was split between these three categories—7 percent, 11 percent and 9 percent, respectively.”