The on-going Lok Sabha election campaign is proof that politicians may have found it easy to “mess around” with Muslim voters, but to bully the Dalit voter in the same way is getting tougher today. The Dalit vote in Uttar Pradesh (UP) is more than 20 percent, a large chunk of which has gone to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in the past.

Watching the election campaign swing away from a kamandal (religious) spectacle earlier this year to concentrate on Mandal (caste) based issues, a Pasi from the Scheduled Caste (SC) community questioned The Citizen, “You think I don’t know why the ruling party wants more than 400 seats in the Lok Sabha? It is because it wants to amend the Constitution and to abolish reservation”.

Adding to this suspicion of Dalits, the Samajwadi Party (SP) main opposition party too has been sharing its fears publicly with voters. Calling for unity between the Other Backward Castes (OBC) and Dalit voters, SP chief Akhilesh Yadav cautioned that the goal of the ruling party is to end the constitutionally guaranteed reservation of Dalits once it comes to power for a third term.

While the first phase of voting took place in the Jat belt of west UP, the third phase of voting on May 7 will take place in the OBC belt where the Yadav community is strong.

The Yadavs are about seven percent of UP’s population and along with Lodh, Shakh and Kushwaha, the OBC have a sizable influence in at least 15 parliamentary seats.

The OBC are the single largest bloc in UP, estimated to be between 40 and percent of the population. Dalits make up 21.5 percent of the population while Muslims are 19.5 percent. Elite castes such as the Brahmins, Thakurs, Baniyas, Kayasthas and Khatris make up the rest.

Caste politics has crawled closer to centre stage in UP today as the politics of religion seems to take a back seat. For Dalits the Constitution of India is more sacred than any holy book in the world and Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, architect of the Constitution is holier than any god.

The message of the Opposition parties that the government, if voted again for a third term, will change the Constitution and end caste-based reservation and the quota in education and jobs for the Scheduled Castes (SC), Scheduled Tribes (ST) and the OBC has made voters sit up.

Saving The Constitution

In the hinterland of UP, the country’s largest populated state that sends 80 legislatures to the Lok Sabha it is increasingly perceived that the ruling party poses a threat to the Constitution of India.

The Opposition parties seem to have succeeded to a considerable extent in showcasing an image of the ruling party that does not care about the everyday problems of Dalits, tribals, OBCs, minorities and the poor of the country in general and wants to tamper with the Constitution. The only thing that the ruling party wants from citizens is their vote.

However, the voter realises that issues that matter most to him are unemployment, education, safety, security and clean drinking water. Aware of the power of the one man one vote magic formula, the poor want their pound of flesh.

In return for every vote cast in election after election, they now want empowerment in the true sense of the word. They want an equal share of power and resources, an idea regarded by the upper caste and the elite, with utter disgust.

More Mirch Masala

Adding more mirch to masala to the rising murmur of the oppressed, is the straight talk of BSP chief Mayawati’s successor and nephew 34-year-old Akash Anand. Anand’s speeches around the state are concentrated on the lack of employment and education for the youth and skyrocketing inflation.

Anand has called the ruling party, an organisation of “dhanna seth ( rich people)” that benefits from donations from the world of businessmen.

“We need jobs, not charity and the next time someone comes with a sack of free ration, throw it back on his face. Do they consider us fools?” Anand asked at an election rally.

After Anand said this was a “‘gaddaron ki sarkar’ (government of traitors)” and advised the public to hit back with shoes, sticks and slippers, the police booked him for allegedly promoting hatred and enmity.

Amidst thunderous applause Anand said “where children go hungry, where women and girls suffer abuse, where youth are jobless, and where people are exploited under the guise of free rations, the government is of terrorists run by the Taliban like in Afghanistan.

“When people come asking for votes, let them know they took away our right to education and give them a stick in return,” he said.

Chandrashekhar Azad ‘Ravan’, 37 is yet another Dalit icon in the making. His Azad Samaj Party (ASP) is in competition as leader of Dalits in UP.

Azad is contesting for his first Lok Sabha seat from Nagina this election. His revolutionary desire for the rule of the poor is increasing his followers. Azad has promised concrete homes to villagers.

Many in the countryside have taken to growing a twirled moustache in imitation of Azad. Rural people are organising events and collecting money for Azad to contest the elections. Muslims who total about seven lakh out of 17 lakh voters in Nagina are also tempted to empower Azad.

Ramnath Singh Sikarwar is another pro-poor people candidate who will contest from Fatehpur Sikri on a Congress ticket. Sikarwar is loved by the local people who call him ‘Fauji Baba’.

Sikarwar has a family in a nearby village but he prefers to sleep at a local temple. He makes his own roti and when in need of money he puts an empty bucket beside him to collect donations from his followers.

He owns two sets of clothes and talks of a more fair and just society. Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi will travel to Fatehpur Sikri in support of a roadshow for Sikarwar.

The Star Attraction

Aditi Yadav, 21, the older daughter of Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh and Dimple is attracting crowds with her youthful presence in Mainpuri.

Aditi is a student in London and has been seen often in Mainpuri with her mother. Dimple is contesting the Mainpuri seat in this Lok Sabha election. The poll is on May 7.

At first Aditi would sit quietly as her mother talked to the people. But in the last few days, she has been asking people to vote for her mother. While her political views are still unknown, Aditi does have an active presence on social media with 405k followers on Instagram and 317.1k followers on X.

Dimple is seeking a second term from Mainpuri which was a seat held by her father-in-law Mulayam Singh Yadav, founder of the SP more than three decades ago.

Shyam Rangeela In The Spotlight

Comedian Shyam Rangeela will contest the Lok Sabha against Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi from Varanasi, the hottest seat in UP. Twenty-nine-year old Rangeela became a household name in 2017 when he mimicked the PM to a T.

Varanasi will go to the polls in the seventh and last polling phase on June 1. Originally from Rajasthan’s Hanumangarh, Rangeela’s mimicry skills took him to the television show Great Indian Laughter Challenge.

The Akhil Bharat Hindu Mahasabha (ABHM) candidate Kinnar Mahamandaleshwar Himangi Sakhi, a transgender, will contest the same seat in Varanasi. The Congress’ candidate is the UP unit chief Ajai Rai.

Cover Photograph- Aditi Yadav, Akhilesh Yadav’s daughter enters the public domain