politics
How BJP doubles down on caste symbolism in run-up to UP polls?
Oct 31, 10:10

As Uttar Pradesh gears up for the Assembly elections in February, BJP's all caste-push, with special emphasis on Other Backward Castes (OBC), seems to be gaining momentum.

The forward movement is all encompassing. It includes holding over 200 caste rallies throughout the state to woo OBC voters. The rallies, which began around Navaratri, will continue till the end of November, when the festival season comes to an end.

“Election is a game of numbers and it is clear now that virtually half of the population in UP – and indeed India – is OBC. BJP's social engineering from a Brahman-Baniya upper caste party to a political party of backwards, is complete. It has managed to sew together a coalition of more than 200 OBCs in UP, which no party ever thought was possible, awarding them with ministerial berths and other government perks,'' political commentator Amitabh Tewari said.

Naming and renaming is a favourite tool for the ruling BJP. Eight out of nine new medical colleges in Uttar Pradeh, set up with an investment of Rs 2,319 crore and inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bear names clearly chosen with local caste and religious equations in mind.

What's in a name? A lot

The latest attempt comes two months after the Yogi Adityanath government had decided to name a new university in Aligarh after the Jat King, Mahendra Pratap Singh who, for all practical purposes, was as far removed from the old Jan Sangh ideology as the Left is from the Right.

The other names are not necessarily backward castes, but represent a melange of all castes, which is significant to the prospects of the BJP in Uttar Pradesh seeking to build a rainbow coalition.

The Madhav Prasad Tripathi Medical College in Siddharth Nagar is named after a BJP veteran. Tripathi was the first state president of the party and was instrumental in establishing BJP in eastern Uttar Pradesh. He was an MLA from the late 1960s to the 1970s and was elected to Parliament from Dumariyaganj in 1977. The naming of the college hints at BJP's aim for the Brahmin votebank.

A medical college in Pratapgarh has been named after Sone Lal Patel, who founded Apna Dal, which banks on the backward and influential Kurmi votes of eastern Uttar Pradesh. Part of the ruling coalition at the Centre, Apna Dal has tied up with BJP for the 2022 polls.

In the latest Cabinet reshuffle, BJP gave a ministerial berth to Patel's daughter Anupriya Patel.

Next on the line is the Virangana Avantibai Lodhi Medical College, Etah, named after a freedom fighter. The area surrounding Etah is dominated by backward Lodhi Rajputs and BJP recently lost its popular Lodhi face, former CM Kalyan Singh, whose son Rajveer represents Etah in the Lok Sabha.

To consolidate the mighty Thakurs, BJP has christened Jodha Singh and Dariyao Singh Medical College, Fatehpur, after two 1857 mutineers and the Umanath Singh Medical College, Jaunpur, after a former Jana Sangh leader. Many of the powerful Thakurs from the state are already in the BJP camp.

The Maa Vindhyavasini Medical College, Mirzapur, is named after Goddess Vindhyavasini, whose temple is a revered pilgrimage site. The region is also known for the Vindhya mountain range, which runs across the heart of India dividing India's north and south.

In Deoria, the Devraha Baba Medical College was named after a seer widely followed in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and could count on Congress leaders like Rajiv Gandhi, Lal Bahadur Shastri and Arjun Singh as devotees.

The Maharishi Vishwamitra Medical College, Ghazipur, draws attention to BJP's attempts to woo Kshatriyas and the backward Yadavs. The naming of the institution after the famed Maharishi Vishwamitra, known for his contribution to the Vedas, seeks to address both caste and religious sentiments in a region where the BJP lost the Lok Sabha seat in 2019.

Caste equations at play

Uttar Pradesh BJP OBC Morcha in-charge and party's state vice-president, Dayashanker Singh, was candid about his party's approach. Leaders of particular castes would be roped in and if need be, caste leaders from other states would also be called in, he said.

The venue of each meeting will be fixed keeping in mind the presence of a particular caste residing in the area, Singh said.

Therefore, sammelans (meetings) of Prajapatis, Nishads, Mallahs, Maanjhis, Kashyaps, Telis, Kushwahas, Charasias, Sahus and Darjis – to mention only a very few – are being organised.

The move also comes as a counter to some influential backward castes joining a Samajwadi Party-led coalition, which has the potential to pose a substantial challenge to incumbent BJP.

Caste symbolism works, says Amitabh Tewari. It is surely something that BJP is banking upon as Uttar Pradesh goes to polls.