Eyes on the Prize

How the BJP is catering to non-Yadav OBC voters in Uttar Pradesh

On 19 January, the Apna Dal and the Nishad Party agreed on seat-sharing at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in Delhi. SONU MEHTA/HINDUSTAN TIMES
31 January, 2022

As the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections approach, there has been a flurry of activity among political parties. On 19 January, the Apna Dal and the Nishad Party, both regional parties with mainly Other Backward Class constituencies, agreed on seat-sharing at the Bharatiya Janata Party headquarters in Delhi. The BJP’s national president, JP Nadda, tweeted a picture of the meeting and wrote, “Uttar Pradesh mein phir ek baar, NDA 300 paar”—Once again in Uttar Pradesh, the National Democratic Alliance will cross 300 seats. The non-Yadav OBC castes are numerically decisive in the state. In the last decade, the BJP has made deep inroads among these castes.

Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh’s current chief minister, also tweeted to express his confidence that the alliance would help the BJP win two-thirds of assembly seats and form the next government. “Apna Dal has been part of the NDA alliance for a very long time,” Anupriya Patel, the national president of Apna Dal and a union minister, said at a press conference after the Delhi meeting. “Uttar Pradesh needs both social justice and development, and our coalition has proved itself on both these issues.”

Social justice and caste have always been big issues in Uttar Pradesh elections. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party rose to power and consolidated their positions in the state on the basis of these issues. More than forty percent of voters in the state belong to OBC communities. Of these, a majority are from non-Yadav castes.

Many believe that issues of social justice are a necessary antidote to counterbalance the BJP and its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s virulent Hindutva agenda. Since 2002, even as the BJP was at the centre of the Sangh’s Ram Janmabhoomi movement, the party’s position waned in the state because of mobilisation among the lower castes. But in the 2014 general election, it contested in alliance with Apna Dal and other non-Yadav OBC parties and won an unprecedented victory. The NDA coalition took 73 of the state’s 80 Lok Sabha seats. Pro-Modi right-wing analysts described the BJP’s victory that year, and then in the state elections of 2017, as a miracle of the “Modi wave.” But the reason for these victories had more to do with the decentralisation of OBC castes in the state.