NEW DELHI: The poll bigule has been blown in UP and the nominations for Phase I & II have started. The Yadav family feud (drama) has settled down. The SP and INC have formalized their alliance. All parties have announced candidates for most of the seats. The stage is set for an exciting triangular contest and it is very difficult to predict the winner.

Caste and religion have always played a key role in UP politics. Primarily because unlike most other States, the leading caste groupings are very large (Brahmins, Thakurs, Muslims, Jatavs and Yadavs each constitute more than 8% of the State’s population). Most of these groups have traditionally voted for one of the major parties – Upper Caste (BJP), Dalits (BSP), Muslims and Yadavs (SP) as shown below.

Average community support for parties in last three assembly polls & 2014 central elections:

Source: CSDS Reports.
Note: >65% support is categorized as hardcore, 50%-65% as dedicated, 35%-50% as vulnerable and <35% as non-aligned.

We categorize the support of parties from caste groups into:

  • Hardcore / Rigid – Yadavs and Jatavs fall under this category. Historically, more than two-thirds have voted for SP and BSP respectively. These are rigid and anchor vote segments difficult to poach.
  • Dedicated – Upper caste (Brahmins and Rajputs) fall under this category. More than half have voted for BJP in recent times. In 2014 central elections more than 70% voted for BJP. In these polls also they have firmed up their support and will largely stay with BJP.
  • Vulnerable – Muslims and Non-Jatavs fall under this category. They have largely supported SP and BSP respectively. However, in the past Muslims have also supported other parties like BSP and Congress for larger cause.

    As per recent trends, Muslims support party better placed to defeat BJP. Mayawati has been wooing them and trying to forge a Dalit-Muslim alliance. The alliance of SP and Congress has given a blow to her efforts and they are expected to largely remain with SP.

    In 2012, a section of non Jatav Dalits fed up with Brahimanization of BSP moved away from Mayawati and supported SP and Congress instead. This was one of the primary reasons for BSP’s defeat. In 2014, large section supported BJP attracted by Modi’s development agenda. This is a floating vote in these elections.
  • Non-Aligned – Non-Yadav OBC voters fall under this category. Their votes have been split among the top four parties in last three state elections, BJP has got highest support but only 29%. In 2014, they voted overwhelmingly for BJP.

Firstly, these voting blocks are not homogenous, rather they can be further broken down into smaller caste groups. Second, none of the parties expressly represent them, though various parties have done their best to accommodate leaders from these two caste groups.

In 2014 BJP received unprecedented support from Non-Yadav OBCs (60%). Modi is an OBC himself which helped in this consolidation in favour of the party. BJP also overtook BSP as the number one preference of Non-Jatavs. While BJP bagged 45% of their votes (+34%), BSP recorded 29% (-16%).

Non-Yadav OBCs consist of 200 plus sub-caste groups like Kurmi, Koeri, Lodh, Gujjar, Rajbhar etc. and account for approx. 30% of population. These groups have different dynamics and do not vote en-block. While, Yadavs are SP supporters, other sub-groups have not exhibited rigid caste loyalties. Smaller parties like Apna Dal and SBSP also have good influence among a section of OBCs, specifically Kurmis and Rajbhars respectively.

Non Yadav OBC Voting Pattern

Non Jatav Dalit Voting Pattern

Dalits consist of Jatavs (Chamars) and non-Jatavs. Jatavs account for 12% of population. Mayawati belongs to this caste group. The balance 9% include Dom, Dhobi, Pasi, Kori, Valmiki etc are collectively called non-Jatavs. Both these groups have historically supported BSP. But the level of BSP support has been lower among non-Jatavs (half) than Jatavs (three-fourth) for BSP as shown above (Chart 1).

All the top three contenders will be vying for a sizeable chunk of OBC vote. BJP has made Keshav Prasad Maurya its state president. It has poached some OBC leaders like Swami Prasad Maurya from BSP. It has also formed an alliance with SBSP and Apna Dal.

BJP will need to retain majority of the support it received in central elections. The quantum of Non-Yadav OBC support to BJP may ultimately make or mar its plans in UP. BSP and SP are also trying hard to regain their lost vote share amongst Non Yadav OBCs. A 20%-25% support translates into 6%-7.5% vote share which is handsome. The sheer size of this group means it can ally with another caste group (upper caste / dalits / yadavs & muslims) to become a disruptive force in this election.

Post Lok Sabha polls, opposition parties including BSP have raised issue of Rohith Vermula suicide and Unnao managing to create a perception that BJP is anti-Dalit. This has negated the inroads made by BJP in the non-Jatav vote bank. BJP had given up on this vote bank and was fully concentrating on upper castes and non Yadav OBCs.

However, the alliance of SP with Congress has forced BJP to have a re-look at non-Jatav votes and maintain its 2014 show which will be crucial. BJP is likely to play up the notion that all the benefits of Maya Govt. and important posts in her party have been grabbed by Chamar / Jatav community. This could help them wean away a sizeable chunk which could add 2%-4% to its overall vote share. SP & Congress will also be targeting this vote bank of Mayawati. A section of disgruntled non-Jatavs voted for Congress and SP in 2012 state polls contributing to Maya’s defeat.

To sum up, even if BJP receives three-fourth upper caste support it could get max 15% vote share. Same for BSP if it gets three-fourth Dalit votes. SP could get max 20% vote share even if it gets 75% of MY support. This means every party needs to attack and maintain its lead among the non-aligned (non Yadav OBC) and vulnerable voting groups (non Jatav Dalits).

SP-Congress alliance has meant that Muslims are likely to stick with Akhilesh and ignore overtures from Mayawati’s BSP except in seats where BSP candidate is strong. This leaves only two sub-caste groups, non-Jatavs (vulnerable vote bank of BSP) and non-Yadav OBCs (non-aligned vote bank) who will need to be actively wooed by all and whose support in the end may well determine the ultimate winner.

(This article has been co-authored by Amitabh Tiwari and Subhash Chandra. They are independent political consultants and the authors of ‘Battle of Bihar’)