Dalits have backed the winning horse in the last three elections in Uttar Pradesh
In the last three elections in UP in 2007, 2012 and in 2017, the eventual winners BSP, SP and the BJP respectively had won 62, 58 and 78 seats out of the 86 'reserved' seats in the state
The trend in the past three assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh indicate that whichever party bagged the ‘reserved seats’ eventually won the election. Dalits are said to constitute 22% of the electorate in the state. An overwhelming percentage of them, 55%, are said to be Jatavs who have been the core supporters of Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP). Jatavs are dominant in Western UP, Pasis in eastern and central UP and Dhobis, Koris and others found in larger numbers in Sultanpur and Ghaziabad.
As many as 86 assembly constituencies in the state are reserved for Scheduled Caste candidates. In 2007, BSP bagged 62 of these seats. In the next election, however, BSP’s tally went down to 15 while the Samajwadi Party bagged 58 of these seats. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which won just seven and three of these seats in 2007 and 2012 respectively, however, bagged a whopping 78 of these seats and won a landslide victory. BSP had managed to win just two seats.
A simplistic reading of the results suggest that a swing in Dalit votes in these 86 seats could give an advantage to one of these three parties; another inference is that Dalits in Western Uttar Pradesh have a better sense of which way the wind is blowing and backed the winning horse each time. Yet another conclusion drawn is that Dalits rise above caste and party to vote for the party which has the momentum and is seen as the winning horse. If Jat and Muslim landlords tilt to one side in Western UP, it is difficult for Dalits to tilt to the other.
Added to this enigmatic situation is the general silence of the Dalit voters and the late appeal by BSP chief Mayawati to her supporters to rally round the Bahujan Samaj Party. The consensus in Western Uttar Pradesh is that one section of the Dalits, Jatavs, are firmly with Mayawati and will overwhelmingly vote for BSP candidates. BJP, which had made a dent in the Jatav votes in 2017, would hope to retain some support but cannot hope to get the kind of support it received from them last time. Votes of non-Jatav Dalits in Western UP are likely to get splintered in favour of other parties.
Many Dalit voters admit that they have benefitted from the free ration scheme. But they are worried about the future, having lost livelihood and because of the runaway inflation. They seem to blame Narendra Modi and the BJP for their plight and seem to be conscious that free rations would cease after the elections get over.
“So, who will you vote for this time?”
“We have not decided yet.”
“Will you be voting for Behenji?”
“We will vote for whoever is in a position to defeat BJP.”
The conversation was interrupted by an onlooker, also a Dalit, whose faith in Prime Minister Modi seemed to be intact. “Trust Modi, he will do something.”
No such confusion is discernible among Muslim voters in the region though. Even in Muslim majority Deoband, where BSP has fielded a Muslim candidate and Samajwadi Party’s candidate happens to be a Rajput, Muslims seem determined to vote for SP. BSP has fielded 40 Muslim candidates out of 107 in the first two phases; and the conventional wisdom holds this is done to divide Muslim votes. It will weaken the SP and benefit the BJP. But the ploy does not seem to be working. Says Anwar Alam, “Muslims are standing firmly with the SP-RLD alliance this time.”
BSP chief Mayawati, who joined Twitter only in 2019, has today 2.4 million followers. And her public meeting in Agra on February 2 and her appeal on February 9, the day before the first phase of polling in the state, appear to have energised BSP supporters.
Political observer and analyst prof Ravikant also believes that Dalit voters this time will be returning to the BSP’s fold. While some Dalit votes, he says, would undoubtedly be polled by both BJP and SP, by and large Dalits have been the worst sufferers of inflation and the poor economy; they need a strong leader to take up their cause. Free ration, gas cylinder and houses notwithstanding, he believes BSP will regain much of its vote share even though it may not bag too many seats.
Akhilesh Yadav, he says, made a tactical mistake by banking on Jatav voters. Had he tried to mobilise the nonJatav Dalits in his favour, he would have reaped a better harvest.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)