1. Uttar Pradesh
Charge of the OBC Brigade
The BJP is banking heavily on Lodh leader Uma Bharti to tap this vote bank, writes Brijesh Pandey
CHARKARI, CHOSEN as Uma Bharti’s constituency, is an oasis in drought-ravaged Bundelkhand. This region, called the “Kashmir of Bundelkhand”, was included in Uttar Pradesh at the special request of Govind Ballabh Pant, a leading light of the post- Independence regime.
In election time, it is said that whoever holds the key to Charkari holds the key to Bundelkhand. This time, the BJP’s social engineering faces its litmus test as it fields the party’s Other Backward Caste (OBC) face. The community to which she belongs — Lodhs — are 60,000-strong in an electorate of over 3 lakh. Formerly a reserved seat, it has become a general one after delimitation. A win here might be a validation of a carefully scripted caste strategy.
Overall, the BJP seems to be banking heavily on Bharti’s ability to lead a Lodh march to the Vidhan Sabha. While most parties have given 60-70 tickets to OBC candidates, the BJP has allocated more than 150 tickets to them, nearly 40 percent of the total 403 seats.
Party insiders say that Bharti has the potential to emerge as the leading face of the non-Yadav backward communities. With every party desperately wooing these numerically strong backward castes, her candidature might result in these groups falling into the BJP kitty.
It is not for nothing that the party is betting this big on the OBC vote. The party had gained massively and come to power in Uttar Pradesh riding the OBC wave that swept the state in the 1990s. However, the decline of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh was also a result of the desertion of the party by the OBCs.
How desperate the BJP is to make inroads into this OBC and Most Backward Caste (MBC) vote bank can be gauged from the near suicidal induction of Babu Ram Kushwaha, a BSP dropout charged with corruption. A party banking on the Anna Hazare campaign against corruption was seen as indulging in doublespeak. The incident forced Bharti to say that if Kushwaha remained in the party, she will not campaign. The situation was salvaged only when he was dropped from the party.
Has that put paid to the Kushwaha episode for the BJP? A party leader smiles and says, “While the induction of Kushwaha got us bad press, it is not that he is not working for us. Kushwahas are 4.5 percent of the population and spread across from Saharanpur to Devariya.
“In Kushwaha stronghold areas, Babu Ram is organising sammelans and telling the people how this 4.5 percent reservation for Muslims is bad for them and how voting for the BJP might ensure a turnaround. Recently, he conducted one such sammelan in Padurna, which was attended by close to 35,000-40,000 Kushwahas. Since he is doing this away from the media glare, we might end up gaining on this.”
It was therefore not unnatural that the decision of 4.5 percent sub-quota reservation for Muslims was met with a lot of glee by the BJP. Even a Congress leader admits, “Only two parties stand to gain from this: one is the Congress, the other is the BJP. The BJP was quick to cash in on this announcement by reaching out to OBC communities, telling them about how their share in the reservation pie will be further divided.”
The BJP has allocated more than 150 tickets to OBC candidates, nearly 40 percent of the total 403 seats
In an interview to TEHELKA (‘The Ram temple issue is still on agenda, but not part of vote politics’, by Brijesh Pandey, 11 February), Bharti blasted Rahul Gandhi and resolved to oppose the 4.5 percent quota for Muslims. “I think this quota announcement proves that Rahul Gandhi does not believe in himself. Despite travelling so much, he couldn’t win the trust of the electorate; therefore he had to take refuge under Muslim quota. What he is not telling is that this quota is impractical and intends to make a fool of Muslims. The quota can’t be of more than 50 percent and we won’t allow any reduction in the OBC quota. Then how will he do it? They will have to amend the Constitution and they don’t have a majority. This announcement is a betrayal of the Muslim community.”
BUT WILL Bharti’s effort to revive the OBC formula in Uttar Pradesh be successful, especially in her own seat, where the threat of former BJP leader Kalyan Singh looms large? Dr Ramesh Dixit, a political analyst, says, “One of the biggest problems that Uma will encounter is that Kalyan Singh also has the same social base. He might not be a national leader or a big state leader anymore but he is still a big leader of his caste and has considerable influence in the Lodh-dominated areas. To say that he won’t matter or hurt the BJP’s chances too much is wishful thinking, in my view.”
Others disagree. A BJP leader says, “The Lodh community is not foolish that it can’t see that in case of a keenly fought election, Uma has the potential to reach the top spot. What will people get by voting for Kalyan Singh? Absolutely nothing.”
Party insiders also point out that this Assembly election is as crucial for Bharti as it is for the BJP. As someone who returned to the party fold after a five-year hibernation, the importance of this election cannot be lost on her. Will she be able to script a turnaround for the BJP? Nobody can predict for sure but what is surprising is that there are many now in the BJP who believe that she can.
So will the Bharti factor work for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh? When you put this question to BJP leaders, a majority of them agree that she brought a certain degree of vibrancy when she took charge of UP but infighting remains the biggest worry.
When the Congress announced the Muslim sub-quota, the BJP was quick to fan the fears of the OBC community
A senior party leader says, “We don’t need Maya or Mulayam or Rahul to defeat us. We have our own Rajnath Singh, Kalraj Mishra and Yogi Adityanath to sabotage the party prospects. Before Rahul, Kalraj called Uma an outsider. Though he later backtracked, the intent of the statement was not lost on others.”
“Yogi is busy playing his own game. He is openly sulking and threatening to sink the official candidates in his area. Rajnath is not happy because his son couldn’t get a ticket. Now his son’s appointment as general secretary is causing a mini rebellion within the ranks. Is this how you fight elections? And if this continues, even five Umas will not make a difference,” he adds.
However, Bharti denied that there is any infighting within the ranks.
WHEN YOU ask BJP leaders whether they will win more seats, lose or maintain status quo under her leadership, they say the word victory stands redefined for the BJP. Status quo is the new victory and 10-20 extra seats will be a bumper harvest.
“Please have a closer look at the party,” says one leader. “When we started, we had more CM candidates than total candidates and everybody was busy grinding their own axe. Ever since she came, after initial heartburn, people are responding to her. If nothing untoward happens and if the polling percentage is high, who knows, we might even have a shot at power.”
Brijesh Pandey is a Special Correspondent with Tehelka.