Thirteen Lok Sabha constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh vote in the last phase of the ongoing polls on 19 May. The Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies won all 13 seats in the 2014 general election, as a “Modi wave” swept aside caste equations. This year, the candidate selection of the BJP and the gathbandhan—an alliance between the Samajwadi Party, the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Rashtriya Lok Dal—show that both are banking on caste arithmetic to win the polls.
The Apna Dal, a BJP ally, is contesting two of the thirteen seats—Mirzapur and Robertsgunj, and the ruling party is challenging the opposition in the remaining 11 seats. The BJP has nominated six upper-caste and three non-dominant Other Backward Class candidates in the unreserved constituencies, and one non-Jatav Dalit in the reserved constituency of Bansgaon. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is contesting from Varanasi. The social support base of the BJP consists primarily of these three communities, as reflected by the distribution of tickets.
Among the upper castes, four tickets have been given to Brahmins—in Gorakhpur, Kushinagar, Deoria and Chandauli. Ravi Kishan Shukla, a popular Bhojpuri singer and actor, is the BJP’s Brahmin candidate in Gorakhpur and the Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath has been camping in the city to ensure a BJP victory. Manoj Sinha, from the upper-caste Bhumihar community, is contesting from Ghazipur, while Virendra Singh, a Thakur, is the candidate from Ballia. That the majority of the upper-caste tickets have gone to Brahmins is an indication that that the party is trying to woo the community, who are upset that party stalwarts such as Murali Manohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra have been denied tickets. Moreover, the appointment of Adityanath, a Thakur, as chief minister had led to a rift between the party’s Thakur and Brahmin voter base.
To counter this the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are relying on their combined vote bank of Yadavs, Muslims and Jatavs. The Yadavs are a dominant OBC community and the Jatavs are the largest Dalit sub community in Uttar Pradesh. In addition, to disrupt the BJP’ s caste arithmetic the gathbandhan has also given tickets to candidates from upper castes and non-dominant OBCs. In Gorakhpur, Rambual Nishad is the gathbandhan candidate from the Samajwadi Party and is expected to get a large number of Nishad votes—a community that comprises several non-dominant OBC sub-castes. The community traditionally votes for the BJP. Meanwhile, the Congress has fielded a Brahmin, Madhusudan Tiwari, which could eat into the BJP’s Brahmin vote bank.
In Deoria, a constituency neighbouring Gorakhpur, the BJP’s candidate is a Brahmin, Ramapati Ram Tripathi, while the gathbandhan has given the ticket to a Bania, Vinod Kumar Jaiswal. The Banias traditionally form part of the BJP’s voter base. The Congress has nominated a Muslim Niyaz Ahmad, who may divide the Muslim votes between the gathbandthan and the Congress.