Will a united front of small parties dent the BJP’s success among the backward castes of UP?

31 August 2020
A photo of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha's rally in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj in March 2020. The formation of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha indicates rumblings of discontent within the backward castes in Uttar Pradesh.
Courtesy Arun Rajbhar
A photo of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha's rally in Uttar Pradesh's Prayagraj in March 2020. The formation of the Bhagidari Sankalp Morcha indicates rumblings of discontent within the backward castes in Uttar Pradesh.
Courtesy Arun Rajbhar

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.” 

“We found that even now, the backward castes are far behind others—or you can say that they are regressing each day,” Kumar told me. He gave an example to explain that the split in reservations was aimed at smoothening the inequalities within the OBC category. “Both Thathera and Chaurasia communitees do not have a huge population, but their numbers in government jobs is very high as compared to other castes. This is why they are in the first category.” But, as Rajbhar pointed out, “It is about to be two years but the government has still not implemented the report. This is a betrayal of the most-backward castes.”

Rajbhar, as well as other leaders of the Sankalp Bhagidari Morcha, said that their priority is to ensure that the report is implemented. Apart from this, he said that the front wanted “free education—from first standard to post-graduation—to be provided for children from backward castes and poor families.” He added that the alliance wants to set up coaching centers to prepare students from these communities for the civil service examination, and medical and engineering courses. Ramdhani Bind, the president of the Bharatiya Manav Samaj Party, told me that the party has been raising the slogan, “Jiski jitni sankhya bhaari, uski utni hissedaari.” This slogan, which was earlier used by the BSP, means that reseverations should be provided as per the numerical strength of a community. 

“Till now, no political party has done justice to the most backward castes,” Rajbhar told me. While describing why they had joined the alliance, leaders of other member parties echoed this thought. 

Most leaders told me that successive governments have hindered backward classes from making progress. Babu Rampal, the national president of the Rasht Uday Party, is from the Gadariya community. According to Rampal, members of his community—who traditionally rear sheep for a living—are spread across Uttar Pradesh, but have not progressed socially or economically. The October 2018 report categorised the community as a more backward class. “All governments have done injustice to us, people from backward castes,” he said. “Some castes of these classes have progressed, but the landless people from backward castes have been left behind.” Rampal said that the front will change this. “The front will give equal opportunities, eliminate inequality.”

Premchand Prajapati, the national president of the Rashtriya Bhagidari Party (P), is from the Kumhar caste, which is traditionally associated with making earthen pots. “This government created the Maati Kala Board”—whose purpose is to revive pottery and hand-crafted earthenware—“but we do not have land in our village to get the clay.” Prajapati told me that most people in his community are largely landless. “It will be difficult to find someone in my community who owns some land,” he said.

Sunil Kashyap is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Uttar Pradesh Other Backward Classes