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Caste to the fore


Mulayam Singh Yadav is going all out to broaden his backward caste vote bank by official fiat, reports Avinash Chandra Mishra
AVINASH CHANDRA MISHRA | Issue Dated: September 8, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : Samajwadi Party | Mulayam Singh Yadav | Caste politics | 2014 Lok Sabha polls |

Keeping the 2014 general elections in mind, Mulayam Singh Yadav is working on several fronts, other than mobilizing the minority community. Wooing the extreme backwards in his state for instance, is the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) latest move to neutralise the threat posed by Narendra Modi, Bahujan Samajwadi Party (BSP) and others. In the last couple of months, the SP chief has made several crucial appointments and effected policy decisions that are aimed at getting a grip on the significant backward caste vote in UP.

The SP move to reserve seats for backwards in the state public service commission ran into rough weather with virulent opposition from upper caste youth and the high court. Though the move has been scuttled for the time being, the way in which the chairman of the commission was sacked, made it clear that Mulayam was not in a mood to annoy the higher castes – not when elections are due next year.

But that has not deterred him from effecting changes in a recent UP cabinet reshuffle – the third since the SP government came into power last year - inducting and promoting several backward caste leaders. Ramurti Verma, minister for state has been accorded cabinet status and the elevation of state minister Gayatri Prasad Prajapati to independent charge along with others who have been given red lights on their cars, are all efforts to capture a slice of the most-backward caste (MBC) vote bank, under equal consideration of the BSP and the Congress.

There are other inductees as well. MLA from central Ballia, Narad Rai and Kailash Yadav from Ghazipur have been taken in as cabinet ministers. Mulayam has studiously ignored the claims of former minister and ‘mafia’ don Raja Bhaiyya, who had to quit in the wake of the murder of DSP Ziaul Haque, and is not willing to take any chances with the Muslim vote bank which have been aggrieved by the inaction in the murder by virtually according a clean chit to the Thakur leader from Kunda in eastern UP.

In all out attempts to take the backwards in their fold, the wife and brother of SP leader Baburam Kushwaha, currently behind bars over corruption charges, have been taken into the party. Despite the opposition from some of his own cadres, Mulayam has stuck to this decision, keeping the future in mind. In UP, Kushwaha, Maurya, Kachi, Murav and Shakyas constitute nearly 4 percent of the total vote; coupled with the Yadav vote, it becomes a fairly formidable vote bank.

Not all within the SP believe it is the right move, but Mulayam or netaji is persisting with it nonetheless. Some SP leaders have said that if this most backward caste vote bank is actually so effective than how come Baburam Kushwaha has not contested elections so far? According to party insiders, there is a strong move to give Kushwaha’s wife the party ticket from Ghazipur, even though the seat is currently held by SP’s Radhe Mohan Sahi.

The intense caste based mobilisation in the state which began with the Mandal Commission nearly three decades ago has refused to die down – what has acted as the spanner in the works is the recent Supreme Court judgment which has banned caste-based rallies in the state as being unconstitutional and against the very idea of a united India, a decision that has been backed by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. Observers say but for this directive, the state would have been littered by caste specific rallies in run up to the 2014 elections.

In fact there was a race between the main political parties to woo dominant castes. Before the court order stunned the parties and stopped them in their tracks, BSP chief Mayawati had planned to organize a bhaichara (brotherhood) rally, its USP being the presence of 21 Brahman and 17 Dalit candidates and preparations had begin in right earnest at the residence of BSP national general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra. Mulayam had by then already organized the extremely backward castes rally in which the main proposal was giving Dalit-like reservations for 17 castes which fall in that category. On the occasion of Parshuram Jayanti, a meeting of Brahmans was organized at the SP headquarters in Lucknow. The BJP too has organized a backward caste rally and there were a slew of other caste-specific rallies in the state.

For the SP, even though their formidable Yadav-Muslim vote bank is more or less intact, efforts by others including the Congress, to break into this combination have become a cause for worry as far as Mulayam Singh Yadav is concerned. The SP chief is sharply aware that this vote bank has stood by his party since the beginning but the four-cornered contests in UP has been giving the Yadav chieftain sleepless nights. Hence this late flurry to add more castes to his already well-entrenched vote bank.

In the last elections, Mulayam Singh had gone all out to woo backward Lodhs by including BJP leader and Kalyan Singh in his so-called front but the defeat at the hustings have left him with little option but to widen his caste net. The induction, elevation and promotion of backward castes in the UP cabinet and other state government bodies have to be seen in that light.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017