By Amitava Mukherjee
The suggestion by Prashant Kishore, the poll strategist engaged by the Congress for the coming elections in Uttar Pradesh(UP) and Punjab, that Sonia Gandhi’s party must rope in the Brahmins if it wants to win the UP election has attracted wide attention particularly in the wake of the BJP’s attempt to stitch up a coalition of Thakurs, non- Yadav Other Backward Castes(OBC) and non-Jatav Dalits. Observers of UP politics are of opinion that the Brahmins, in spite of their numerical inferiority, enjoy disproportiotely large political space in the state and have successfully influenced results of the 2007 and 2012 assembly elections.
Although the Brahmins comprise 10 percent of Uttar Pradesh population, they constitute 20 percent of votes in eastern UP. Therefore almost all the political parties are now organizing Brahmin Sammelans in various parts of UP, particularly its eastern half. It is noteworthy that heeding Prashant Kishore’s advice Congress has already unofficially floated the me of Sheila Dixit, a Brahmin and daughter-in-law of former UP Congress stalwart Uma Shankar Dixit, as a front runner for the post of the next UP chief minister. Even Mayawati, the Bahujan Samaj Party(BSP) supremo, has expelled one Sanjay Bharti, an important Dalit leader of the BSP core group and a Vidhan Sabha president, for posting disparaging remarks about Brahmins on his Facebook account.
In the 2007 UP state assembly poll which was literally ‘conquered’ by the BSP, Mayawati, the party supremo, had given nomitions to 139 upper caste candidates out of which 89 were Brahmins. In 2012 the total number of Brahmin candidates in the BSP list was 74. If political grapevines are to be believed then in the 2017 assembly election too the BSP is going to nomite at least 50 Brahmin candidates.
In spite of being a Dalit leader Mayawati has correctly understood the importance of the Brahmin community in UP political scerio. At least in UP the Brahmins do not generally vote en bloc and instead pick up their own caste candidate but influence other downtrodden sections like the Most Backward Castes(MBC) and a section of the Dalits by dint of their social power emating from huge land holdings. Due to this reason BJP had given tickets to 13 Brahmin candidates in the 2014 parliamentary poll which included heavyweights like Murli Manohar Joshi and Kalraj Mishra. Congress had also nomited 11 Brahmins and among them were Rita Bahugu Joshi, Jitin Prasada, Nirmal Khatri and Lalitesh Pati Tripathi.
But BJP’s hold over the Brahmin segment of the state is waning and it is the reason behind its sudden love for a Thakur-OBC-Dalit combine. In the 2002 assembly poll BJP pocketed 50 percent of the total Brahmin vote in the state. In 2007 the share came down to 44 percent and in 2012 it further plummeted to 38 percent.
BJP leadership is worried that it has not been able to throw up any strong Brahmin leader from UP. Murli Manohar Joshi is too much engrossed with central level politics. Both Kalraj Mishra and Lalji Tandon have not been able to live up to expectations. It was even widely rumoured before the last union cabinet reshuffle that Kalraj would be divested of ministerial responsibility. Perhaps absence of any other worthwhile Brahmin me from UP had saved the day for him.
Unless the BJP has any other unexpected ammunition up its sleeves, a leadership vacuum may haunt it in the days to come. Rajth Singh, the only heavyweight BJP persolity from the state, is a Thakur and this community do not enjoy good rapport with the Brahmins.
Congress will perhaps try to build up a combition of Brahmins, Muslims and Dalits. Muslims constitute 20 percent of UP population and with this end in view the party has appointed Raj Babbar, who enjoys good equations with different segments of Muslim leadership in UP, as the state party president. But it will be a million dollar question as to what extent the BJP and the Congress can break through Mayawati’s absolute control over Dalit community which constitutes 19 percent of the state population.
So electoral equations are hazy except almost every alyst putting a premium on Brahmin votes. An interesting aspect of it is the fact that in the 2007 assembly election, when Mayawati had returned with a thumping majority, only 17 percent Brahmins had voted for her but their over all tilt towards the BSP had proved vital in influencing other communities like the Most Backward Castes(MBC) vote for Mayawati.
In 2012 Brahmins had switched over to the side of the Samajwadi Party (SP) led by Mulayam Singh Yadav and the SP won 224 seats and 29 percent of votes. That the Brahmins left Mayawati was due to the latter’s excessive compulsion to retain Dalit votes and therefore helping the Dalits to regain their rightful lands which were illegally occupied by upper castes. There is a strong possibility that the Brahmins may no longer support the SP this time and this may put Akhilesh Yadav in a tight spot.
But the Yadavs with 9 percent votes among the Other Backward Castes(OBC) are committed to the SP. Similarly the Jatavs among the Dalits are whole heartedly tied to the BSP. The BJP and the Congress are targeting 27.5 percent OBC votes and 19 percent Dalit votes knowing fully well that the Yadav and Jatav components among them respectively are as good as lost.
( Amitava Mukherjee is a senior jourlist and commentator. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)