UP Polls 2022: The twilight of Mandal-Kamandal politics

UP Polls 2022: The twilight of Mandal-Kamandal politics

Since SP mistakenly believes it will benefit from the TINA factor, it is now for Congress to be the martyr to the cause and strategise a BJP defeat

The post-Covid-19 period is witnessing some changes in UP, and all experiments have run their course. Credit: PTI File Photos

Uttar Pradesh is witnessing its most intriguing elections of the last four decades. All socio-political permutations and combinations experimented with during this period have reached their respective limits, and the resultant confusion makes it difficult for political pundits to predict the results.

The 1980s saw the peak of the upper caste domination of UP politics. The period also saw the fatal mistake of the Congress playing soft Hindutva and also pandering to Muslim fundamentalists. The misplaced strategy gave rise to both the Mandal and Kamandal politics, and the Congress lost control of both the Hindu and Muslim electorates, and it is yet to get either back.

The 1990s saw the rise of the Mandal power, a necessary social churning, the most dramatic manifestation being the coming together of Mulayam Singh Yadav and Kanshi Ram. Kamandal came as an upper caste reaction, and they flocked to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Bowing to the Mandal impulses, the BJP played a sophisticated strategy of keeping a non-Yadav OBC, Kalyan Singh, as a front. 

Also read: Akhilesh Yadav signals truce with Shivpal ahead of UP polls

Both experiments reached their limit in no time. The dominant middle caste, the Yadavs, could not tolerate Dalit leaders, and the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) alliance broke. Similarly, upper castes in the Sangh Parivar could not digest Kalyan Singh, and he was gradually dumped and marginalised. To replicate the Congress's historical social alliance in UP, the Sangh Parivar repeatedly propped up Mayawati.

The above scenario was the beginning of confusion in UP politics that has reached its pinnacle now. UP has experimented with everything, at least in socio-political terms. Amid the churn, however, misgovernance has remained static, resulting in UP remaining an underdeveloped state. The BSP came to power in 2007 with the help of numerically stronger Brahmins as a reaction to the Thakur domination of the BJP. Then came the turn of the SP in power in 2012 thanks to a reasonably significant unity of the OBCs, including non-Yadav OBCs, who were unhappy with the rise of Dalits.

But 2014 was a game-changer. The corporate communal nexus came to power with an OBC face at the top. It succeeded phenomenally to build a powerful Hindutva narrative encompassing the upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs and a good section of Dalits, mainly non-Jatavs. The Congress party's failure to stick to the substance of the Nehruvian economic model had taken its toll. The momentum has continued in 2017 and 2019 as well.

Also read: SBSP chief Rajbhar meets Mukhtar Ansari, cooks up new equation ahead of UP polls

However, the post-Covid-19 period is witnessing some changes in UP, and all experiments have run their course. The following factors seem to be operating in the state and may contribute to interesting results in the forthcoming elections. Based on conversations with political and social activists at the ground level, let us assume that the BJP might gain a majority in UP. But this majority is likely to be with a minuscule margin. The current approximation is 220 to 225 seats for the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). With three months to go for the polling, it looks too thin a majority and must be of some discomfort for the BJP.

There are sure signs of political polarisation in UP, with the BJP and SP being the two poles. But this polarisation is not like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhatisgarh, etc. Unlike those states with primarily bipolar politics, the BSP and Congress continue to drag the BJP and SP down in UP. We cannot rule out a scenario where neither the BJP nor SP secures a majority.

While caste and communal factors should still dominate UP elections, the Covid-19 mishandling, steep price rise, and farmers' agitation do not allow the BJP to succeed in communal polarisation. With the Supreme Court decision on the Ram temple and overplaying of the Hindu-Muslim, India-Pakistan and aggressive nationalism cards, the BJP's attraction among a good section of the OBCs is diminishing.

Also read: Congress in Uttar Pradesh: Flattering to deceive since 2007

Considering the current caste sentiments, the vast majority of the upper castes, including Brahmins, continue to be with the BJP. Muslims are fragmented between the SP and BSP but primarily drawn towards the SP. So, of course, are Yadavs and most Jats. Rajbhars (around 10 to 20 per cent in 40 assembly constituencies of Eastern UP) are also mainly with the SP, especially as the SP has aligned with Om Prakash Rajbhar-led Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party.

Jatav Dalits are by and large back to the BSP. OBCs such as Kurmis, Kushwahas and Mauryas are still with the BJP. So are sizeable sections of the most backward castes, or MBCs, in Western UP. Social groups open to wooing are the non-Jatav Dalits, such as Pasis, many of whom had gone to the BJP post-2014, and some sections of the MBCs. They are disenchanted with the BJP, particularly UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, but do not know where to align. This "open to wooing" section is almost 30 per cent of the electorate, making the UP elections unpredictable.

The need for strategic understanding

The fluidity of the political situation in UP can be mitigated if there is a strategic understanding between the SP and Congress. However, one should not expect SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and SP leaders to take any initiative in this regard. Mistakenly in my view, but they seem to believe that Akhilesh Yadav would be the beneficiary of the TINA (there is no alternative) factor and already imagine themselves in power. 

Therefore, it is expected of the Congress to take unilateral steps to ensure the defeat of the BJP by devising an electoral strategy that brings it a respectable number of seats without hurting the SP. The Congress needs to draw up an incisive and thorough plan as a facilitator and not one of the principal players if it wants the BJP defeated in UP.

The Congress' emphasis on women voters is far more potent than is being perceived. Despite the organisational weaknesses of the Congress in the state, it has the potential of hurting the BJP unpredictably. The Congress could consolidate this by fielding many women candidates belonging to Brahmin, Thakur, Kushwaha, Non-Jatav Dalit and Gujjar communities. The Congress should focus its campaign on MBCs, women, non-Jatav Dalits, Kushwahas and Gujjars. In terms of the regional expanse of its campaign, the Congress should concentrate on the assembly constituencies in Eastern UP, the urban centres of Awadh, Bundelkhand and Terai areas.

The Centre's privatisation of national assets is likely to be a big issue for the opposition parties in UP since it makes reservations in government jobs redundant. Price-rise, farmers' plight, and women's safety are likely to comprise other planks of the campaign. Election strategists of the Congress could identify districts where it can make good gains without hurting the SP.

(The writer is a political analyst)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.