In the Hindi heartland of Uttar Pradesh, people don't cast their vote. They vote their caste.
In the ongoing Vidhan Sabha or the state assembly elections, the caste factor has been dominating the campaign because there is no major issue before the parties.
Even social activist Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption seems to have been forgotten. The impact of the crusade has been rather short-lived.
Caste is a social reality and has always played an important role in elections, says Dr Ramesh Dixit, Professor in Political Science Department, Lucknow University.
In the absence of any issue - like the Garibi Hatao slogan in 1971, the Emergency in 1977 and the Ram Mandir(Ayodhya controversy) wave in 1991 - castes become important, he says.
The rise of the BSP contributed largely in consolidating the Dalit vote bank of Chief Minister Mayawati, whose caste dynamics enabled her to capture the state's hot seat four times. She earned the distinction of becoming CM four times and she completed her five-year tenure this time.
Now once more, the four key players in the state - BSP, Samajwadi Party, BJP and Congress - are totally dependent on their respective caste vote banks.
The rise of the regional parties - the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party - witnessed the rise in division of votes on caste lines.
Caste complexities in the state can be identified from the very fact that besides the upper castes, there are a total number of 66 groups belonging to the Scheduled Castes and another 79 Other Backward Class groups.
The Khatiks among the Dalits number nearly 650,000, while the Sonars are at 415,000.
While there are an estimated 8.7 per cent Yadavs, the Dalit population is nearly 21 per cent. Brahmins comprise 9.2 per cent of the population, Thakurs 7.2 per cent, Muslims 18.5 per cent and the Other Backward Classes make up 27.5 per cent.
Now, the guessing game has begun in the state: How will these votes be divided?
Political party leaders are trying to figure out which caste will vote for them. Though the criteria has now changed because almost none of the castes vote en bloc.
The upper caste votes are divided between the BJP, Congress, the BSP and SP to a certain extent.
Questions are being asked whether the Most Backward Castes such as the Kushwaha, Kahar, Kewat,Kumhar, Koeri Gadaria will support the BSP or SP.
The BSP rode to power on its Dalit agenda, but gradually broad based itself from Bahujan Samaj to Sarva Samaj, thereby giving a fair share of representation to all sections of society including Brahmins, Thakurs and Muslims.
Similarly all the parties are bracing up to lure the 18 per cent odd minority population.
Most of the parties field candidates according to the caste-wise population in the particular constituency. For instance, if the Muslims population is predominant, all the parties put up Muslim candidates. Obviously the strongest one bags the largest share.
In the past, Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was popularly known as Maulana Mulayam because of his support to Muslims. The minority vote bank was earlier reportedly with the Congress, but the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya changed everything, and the SP gained the upper hand. During the Samajwadi Party government regime, Mulayam had even ordered firing in Ayodhya to safeguard Babri Masjid.
However, when the BJP former chief minister and Ayodhya's poster boy Kalyan Singh was ousted from the BJP he joined hands with Mulayam. This step was watched with suspicion and the minorities lost trust in the SP.
The Muslim vote split - Some went to BSP while others returned to Congress. Now, once again, the SP is aiming to lure the minorities back to its fold.
Linkages on caste and creed lines has become so firm that the voters often refer to the BJP as as the Hindu Party, the BSP as the Dalit, SP as Yadav and Congress as a mix of all castes.
Recently the Election Commission had conducted a baseline survey which revealed that at least 30 per cent voters, especially the youngsters felt that the politics of caste should be discouraged and that the parties should draw up topical issues affecting the common man instead of banking on caste equations for their victory.
The result of the five-month old survey was released in the last week of December 2011.
The cornerstone of the survey was that the majority of voters favoured that tickets be given to honest candidates as also persons with criminal antecedents be left out.
However it has been found that the politics of caste is here to stay as we find that the main political parties while drawing up their support base identify votes of particular castes to enable them to march to the victory stand in the coming elections.
The caste cauldron may not find favour with our voters but the calculations of the political parties’ shows that it is caste which helps you to gain the desirable number of seats in order to reach the magic number to form a government in the state.
Says Dr AK Singh, Director of Giri Institue of Social Sciences in Lucknow: "Political and social mobilisation on caste lines is a transitory phase. If the caste factor is predominant, then the voting pattern would be the same for all elections. But this is hardly the case. The performance of the candidates also counts."
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