The X-Factor: Homework Done, Non-Upper Caste Groups Pose Surprise Test for Parties in Western UP
The non-upper caste Hindus are the most sought-after vote bank for both the BJP and the opposition alliance. In the last general elections and the 2017 Assembly polls, a large section of this base had shifted to the saffron party.
Combination photos of SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and UP CM Yogi Adityanath
Lucknow: As the electoral battle intensifies in the crucial state of Uttar Pradesh, the focus for now has shifted to eight important seats in the western region that will vote on April 11. On March 28, Prime Minister Narendra Modi sounded the poll bugle here with his first rally in Meerut. He is expected to address one more rally in the region, which is likely to be in Saharanpur on April 5.
Two days later, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party will organise a joint rally in Saharanpur in a massive show of unity. Akhilesh Yadav’s SP and Mayawati’s BSP, along with the Rashtriya Lok Dal, are contesting the Lok Sabha polls together.
It appears to be an intense battle between “Brand Modi” pitched by the BJP and the caste arithmetic of the opposition alliance. However, the non-upper caste Hindu vote bank could emerge as the decisive X-factor in the region. As the Congress only appears to hold significance in the lone seat of Saharanpur, an analysis of past results and the prevailing political situation shows that the backward classes and the Dalit Hindu vote bank could have a considerable say in the outcome. Their swing alone could decide the electoral outcome.
In the first phase, the eight seats going to polls are Ghaziabad, Gautam Buddh Nagar, Bagpat, Saharanpur, Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnor and Kairana. The BJP currently holds all the seats, barring Kairana, which it lost to the SP-BSP-RLD alliance in last year’s bypolls.
With the Congress mostly missing from action in this region, the analysis suggests that a majority of the Muslims will remain with the alliance. Minorities form a strong vote-bank in these parts. With the Congress a distant third in this phase, the voting choice seems to be clear. Upper-caste Hindus, on the other hand, are largely expected to remain with the BJP – barring Saharanpur, where the Congress’s Imran Masood is in the electoral fray.
The Muslim vote bank, around 38% in Saharanpur, stands a chance of getting divided between Masood and alliance candidate Hazi Fazlur Rehman, fighting on a BSP ticket. Masood was the runner-up in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Muslims make up 32% of the vote bank in Bijnor, 31% in Meerut and Muzaffarnagar each, 26% in Kairana, 20% in Baghpat, 18.5% in Ghaziabad, and roughly 14% in Gautam Buddh Nagar.
Although the Congress has fielded Naseemuddin Siddiqui from Bijnor, he is considered an outsider and is not a local factor, unlike Imran Masood in Saharanpur. So it remains to be seen how Siddiqui’s candidature affects the minority vote. The minorities will likely throw in their lot with a candidate who could emerge as a direct contender to the BJP. Alliance candidate Maluk Nagar hails from the Gujjar community, while the current BJP MP and candidate, Kunwar Bhartendra, is a Jat. For now, it appears to be a direct fight between the two.
The BJP is banking on continued loyalty of the upper-caste voters, who have traditionally supported it. The saffron party has fielded four upper-caste candidates in this phase -- General VK Singh from Ghaziabad, Mahesh Sharma from Gautam Buddh Nagar, Raghav Lakhanpal from Saharanpur and Rajendra Agarwal from Meerut. All of them are sitting MPs.
The non-upper caste Hindus are the most sought-after vote bank for both the BJP and the opposition alliance. In the last general elections and the 2017 Assembly polls, a large section of this base had shifted to the BJP. Jats and Gujjars make up most of the OBC population in these seats — on an average, it ranges over 20% in each of these seats.
According to data, Gujjars and Jats constitute 38% of the population in Bagpat, with the latter making up 23.8% of this. Jats also make up 12% of the population in Muzaffarnagar and 10.8% in Bijnor. While the Jats are concentrated in a few constituencies in this region, the Gujjar population is evenly scattered – around 7% in Kairana, 6.5% in Gautam Buddh Nagar, 5.5% in Meerut, Saharanpur and Ghaziabad each, and 6% in Bijnor.
The Scheduled Castes in the region comprise the Chamar or Jatav community. The Chamar vote bank ranges from 9% in Kairana to nearly 17% of the total 20% of Dalit votes in Saharanpur. Traditionally, this section has voted for the BSP. But the BJP made a big dent in this segment in both the previous elections in 2014 and 2017. However, there is a noticeable absence of “Modi wave” this time around.
Questions remain: Can the BJP create a decisive dent in the Dalit and OBC votes? Can it replicate its success from the previous two elections and address the crucial “Jat factor”? It also remains to see which way the Gujjar vote will swing. The two communities have been on the opposite ends of the voting spectrum due to the friction among the sub-castes.
In Bagpat and Muzaffarnagar, the Jat-OBC factor will be the most decisive one. RLD chief Ajit Singh, a Jat by caste, is the alliance candidate from Muzzafarnagar and will be up against BJP MP Sanjeev Baliyan, who is also a prominent Jat leader. Ajit Singh’s son, Jayant Singh, is the alliance candidate from Bagpat and will fight against another Jat, Union minister Satyapal Singh. The Congress has not fielded candidates from these constituencies in a show of support. Whichever party garners the biggest chunk of the Jat vote will define the game.
In Meerut, the opposition alliance has fielded Haji Yakoob Qureshi. While the sitting BJP MP can expect 25% of the upper-caste vote, the winning candidate will get the bigger chunk of OBC and Dalit votes (and the 14%-plus Chamar vote in this segment).
In Gautam Buddh Nagar and Ghaziabad, the OBC-Dalit combination will play a decisive role as well. Although the alliance hasn’t fielded well-known faces from these seats, the caste and political equation will matter the most.
Can “Brand Modi” replicate its earlier success and dilute the caste consciousness and its arithmetic in 2019? While this challenge has amplified in the face of opposition unity, a lot will depend on how the campaign pans out and the X-factor of the OBC and Dalit votes.
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