As the election travels further east in Uttar Pradesh, both the BJP and the Gathbandhan are attempting to consolidate their support base while trying to chip away a section from the adversarial vote bank.
A common refrain in media discourse these days is about whether BJP will be able to wean away SP’s Yadav and BSP’s Jatav votes. Not many political parties have been able to do that since SP-BSP took roots in UP. Opponents have found it difficult to sway cadre base and committed support of these parties which have built their politics around caste identities.
The 2004 general elections were perhaps the only exception.
Mayawati formed the government in alliance with the BJP in UP in 2002. The alliance collapsed and Mulayam broke away a section of BSP to come to power. It was said that the realignment happened with tacit concurrence from the BJP, which was in power at the Centre.
The next Lok Sabha elections were held with SP in power in UP and BJP under Atal Bihari Vajpayee at the Centre.
Mayawati interestingly experimented with a new social combination in the state. She fielded some strong Yadav satraps or caste leaders in constituencies where community population was substantial to influence the poll outcome.
Brothers Ramakant and Umakant Yadav whose name had propped up in the infamous Lucknow VIP guesthouse assault case on Mayawati were fielded from Azamgarh and Machlishehar.
Bhalchandra Yadav, another Yadav strongman contested on BSP ticket from Khalilabad. Mitrasen Yadav, the CPI leader who had switched sides to SP, was BSP candidate from Faizabad.
The outcome of the elections surprised everyone. Mayawati demonstrated her ability to transfer BSP votes to Yadav candidates and won from all these seats in a direct contest with the SP.
In another constituency in East UP, another SP rebel Baleshwar Yadav challenged Mulayam Singh Yadav to win on the symbol of a little known regional party.
So a total of 10 Yadav MPs entered Lok Sabha from UP in 2004. Four on BSP symbol, one independent and five on SP ticket - Mulayam Singh and Akhilesh Yadav from Mainpuri and Kannauj, and three others from Jhansi, Jaunpur and Etah.
SP-BSP in 2019 polls have given tickets to a dozen Yadav candidates. BJP, though it is looking to make inroads into SP’s Yadav vote base, has in comparison fielded just one candidate from the community - Bhojpuri film star Dinesh Lal Yadav Nirahua from Azamgarh against SP president Akhilesh Yadav.
Interestingly, Congress has inducted two Yadav strongmen, Bhalchandra Yadav and Ramakant Yadav. The two are contesting from seats that have gone to BSP in the alliance. In both seats, Mayawati has fielded strong Brahmin leaders. And in both seats it would be challenge for the SP to transfer its Yadav votes to BSP candidates.
Which is why, in an interview to a news agency recently, Akhilesh Yadav accused Congress of prioritizing its 2022 assembly bid over attempts to forge larger understanding to challenge BJP in UP.