By Sagarneel Sinha
West Uttar Pradesh consisting of Rohilkhand and Braj region, which accounts for 29 Lok Sabha seats, remains a battleground for polarisation based on caste and religious identities. Already, 8 seats of the region had voted in the first phase held on April 11. During the last Lok Sabha elections, the region was heavily polarised between Hindus and Muslims after the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots — ultimately benefiting the BJP — which won a big mandate in the state.
The region has a substantial population of Muslims — who account for 26% — more than the average 19% of the state’s population. The other significant community in this region are the Jats — who make up around 17% in the region. Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) led by Ajit Singh has been a major player in the region banking on the Muslim-Jat combination. After the 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots, social alliance between the Muslims and the Jats broke — with the polarised Jats shifting towards the BJP for the cause of Hindutva and the Muslims voting mainly for BSP and SP. As a result, RLD, which contested in alliance with the Congress in 2014, failed to open its account — even party supremo Ajit Singh losing in the traditional Baghpat seat and his son Jayant Singh losing from the Mathura seat.
However, this time the picture in the region is different with SP and BSP joining hands and RLD too joining the alliance. Out of the 29 seats in the region, SP, BSP and RLD are contesting on 15, 11 and 3 seats respectively. The region also has a population of around 15-17% Jatav Dalits — the core vote bank of the BSP. The region also consists Lok Sabha seats — Agra, Mainpuri, Firozabad and Etawah — identified as the Yadav belt — which are regarded as the strongholds of the Samajwadi party. The SP-BSP-RLD is actually banking on social alliance of Jats, Jatavs, Yadavs and Muslims — means the alliance is banking on both caste and religious polarisation.
The social combination of the alliance looks strong in the paper which has made the contest in the region an uphill task for the BJP. Plus, 2019 election is not similar with the 2014 election — when the Muzaffarnagar riots played a crucial role in deciding the outcome of the polls. The opposition alliance is hopeful of the repetition of the Kairana model where RLD candidate Tabassum Hasan backed by SP and BSP defeated the BJP’s Mriganka Singh in the Kairana Lok Sabha seat bypoll held last year.
According to some reports, in the first phase of elections held in the 8 seats — which were all won by the BJP — of the region, Hindu polarisation was not so visible unlike 2014 polls and there appears a strong caste polarisation of Jats and Jatavs plus a religious polarisation of Muslims keeping the alliance ahead of the BJP. The assumption is based on decrease in voting percentage in comparison to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In the last 2014 elections, the rise of voting percentage was attributed to the charged situation after the Muzaffarnagar riots. However, there is only an average 2% drop in the 8 seats of the region in this election comparison to 2014 polls. So, assuming that this 2% drop will only harm the BJP may be a flawed political conclusion. The voting pattern in the first phase indicates that the voters of both the BJP and the SP-BSP-RLD alliance are polarised in the region.
It must be noted that BJP in west Uttar Pradesh is relying on social alliance of upper castes — Brahmins, Thakurs, Kayasthas and Banias — and small but substantial OBC groups — Lodhs, Kurmis, Nishads, Kushwahas, Kashyaps, Rajhbhars etc and smaller Dalit castes by weaving them together in the thread of Hindutva and nationalism. Brahmins account for 17% in the region.
In the joint SP-BSP-RLD rally in Deoband, BSP supremo Mayawati’s appeal to the Muslims not to divide their votes and to vote in favour of the alliance is a clear attempt to polarise the Muslims fully in favour of the SP-BSP alliance. The alliance is worried of division of Muslim votes as Congress is also contesting in the region. On the other hand, UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath’s comment of Ali vs Bajrangbali in Meerut is also a similar tactic of the BJP to polarise the Hindus against the alliance. Truth is polarisation remains a key factor in the west Uttar Pradesh where both the BJP and BSP-SP-RLD alliance are desperately trying to polarise the electorates by playing the cards of casteism and religious favoritism.