Edit/Op-Ed

General Election 2014: 13% Brahmins of Uttar Pradesh Hold the Key

Ashish Shukla for BeyondHeadlines

One often hears that “the way to Prime Ministerial seat of Delhi goes through Uttar Pradesh (UP).” This is because, UP has the highest number of parliamentary seats. After visiting UP last week, I realised that the situation on the ground is quite different from what is being told by mainstream electronic and print media. In most of the opinion poll surveys, conducted by big/small media houses, Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is shown far ahead of its rivals. Indian National Congress (INC), as per these polls, is heading for the biggest defeat of Indian history. Many even claim that the era of INC in Indian politics is over and after this election, the party may broke up from within. BJP has set a new trend in the history of parliamentary democracy, by Declaring Narendra Modi, much before the general elections, its Prime Ministerial Candidate. It is beyond doubt that Modi has energised party cadres across India which would certainly increase BJP’s vote share everywhere, especially in North India, including the most important state of UP. However the increased vote-share doesn’t mean that BJP would be able to easily convert it into seats.

Now a days, “Modi wave” is something which is discussed and widely debated in both the electronic and print media. It reminds me of a similar wave in Pakistan’s general elections, which took place in December 2013, where cricketer turned politician Imarn Khan’s “Tsunami” was to hit the entire Pakistan. But when the results were announced, Imaran Khan was nowhere close to form the federal government at the centre. Only time can tell if BJP, riding on the “Modi wave” would be able to lead the country or meet the same fate as Imran Khan in Pakistan. Apart from BJP, it is INC by default, being the ruling party at the centre, which gets a fair attention in the media. However, surprisingly nobody is talking about the regional players—Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) with a clear grip on Dalit (23%) votes and Samajwadi Party (SP) with loyal Yadavs (9%) and some Other Backward Castes (27.5%). In majority of the parliamentary constituencies, BSP and SP are engaged in a neck-to-neck fight and BSP, in any case, is not going to loose a single seat in comparison to the last general elections. At present, BSP has 20 seats with it and the tally is expected to go up.

Samajwadi Party (SP), despite being unpopular is absolutely not going to be decimated. It has successfully retained the support of Yadavs and some OBCs who haven’t abandoned the party. One can understand the commitment of Yadavs to the Samajwadi Party with the fact, which many Yadavs would approve, that when a Yadav goes inside the polling booth, his finger touches the cycle only.

Muslims, especially after Muzaffarnagar episode, are clearly disappointed with SP. However, in any case they are not going to re-consider their anti-BJP voting pattern. In fact, Muslims in UP and elsewhere in India are the shrewdest voter. They always vote against BJP. Though, they are considered close to INC and SP yet, in case if there is a direct contest between a BJP and BSP of for that matter any other party’s candidate, they prefer defeating the BJP candidate by voting his/her nearest rival. If BJP is not in a direct fight and there is a Muslim candidate (preferably from INC or SP) in the constituency, they show their strength by voting to the Muslim candidate. They never come out early (when the polling begins in the morning) to vote. They first observe the voting pattern of others and after being convinced about the trend, they come out and cast their vote.

Having said that, it is obvious that SP’s tally in upcoming election is definitely going to decrease but claiming that SP would be wiped out would certainly be foolish and a gross mistake. The only party which is going to loose badly in UP is INC. Still, it would be able to win at least ten seats.

In UP, caste is the most important factor which largely determines the outcome in each and every election. Almost all parties distribute tickets on the basis of caste equations in the constituencies. Brahmins in UP are very vocal and considered to be a loudspeaker which swings the floating votes in favour of the candidates of their choice. Thirteen per cent Brahmins, while going alone, don’t make any real difference but when they tactfully go with others certainly make a huge difference. Brahmin votes traditionally has been divided between INC and BJP (especially in the wake of Ram Mandir movement and Babri demolition). However, at least since, last two general elections, a substantial chunk of them voted in favour of BSP. The reason of this change was BSP’s social engineering and ticket distribution strategy. As part of its social engineering, BSP gave party tickets to a number of influential Brahmin candidates. Brahmins, who were marginalised and sidelined in most of the political parties, sensed the opportunity and sent most of their community members to the parliament by electing them. They definitely didn’t vote to BSP on every seat. But they unquestionably voted for those seats where BSP’s Brahmin candidates were in a one-to-one fight with their rivals. Dalit-Brahmin (23% + 13%) coalition worked well. When Brahmin loudspeakers played the tune of BSP, many others joined them and results are known to everyone. Following the same pattern, BSP has given 21 tickets to Brahmins this time. Most of them, like before, would win if Brahmins along with Dalits vote for them.

This time, BSP’s social engineering is challenged by “Modi Wave.” This “Modi wave” has at best confused the Brahmins. At present, they are indecisive and giving mixed signals. Some of them are ready to ride on this “wave” however, there are many experienced and influential members of the community who hold a quite different view. Their argument is that BJP neither have enough Brahmins, as far as its top leadership is concerned, nor has it given enough tickets to the members of the community. Rajnath Singh, the BJP President, is notoriously known for his anti-Brahmin stand and is quite unpopular among the community. There is a feeling in the community that Rajnath Singh is sidelining important Brahmin leaders in the party and strengthening his Thakur constituency. Lalji Tandon and Murli Manohar Joshi both were forced to vacate their safe seats for Rajnath and Modi respectively. Kesari Nath Tripathi, a prominent member and a BJP stalwart, was denied ticket from Allahabad. Majority of Brahmins, at present, don’t associate themselves with Rajnath and his team.

BJP has given about 13 tickets to Brahmin candidates including Dr. Murli Manohar Joshi (Kanpur), Kalraj Mishra (Deoria), Varun Gandhi (Sultanpur) and Menka Gandhi (Pilibhit) while Congress has given only 11 tickets to Brahmins including Jitin Prasad (Dhaurahra) Sonia Gandhi (Rae Bareily), Rahul Gandhi (Amethi), Dr. Rita Bahuguna Joshi (Lucknow), Dr. Nirmal Khatri (Faizabad) and Lalitesh Pati Tripathi (Mirzapur). As per some recent newspaper reports, Amit Shah, BJP’s General Secretary,  has secretly requested top BJP leadership to change candidates on at least 20 parliamentary seats. If the report is true and BJP decides to change candidates some of the Brahmins may also loose their tickets. It is important to note that in the current candidate list, most of the Brahmin candidates are not in position to win because of the caste equation in their constituency and other factors that doesn’t favour them. The electoral battle is event not easy for BJP stalwarts like Murli Mahohar Joshi (Kanpur) and Kalraj Mishra (Deoria). Deoria has a history of electing local candidates only so Kalraj Mishra’s fight is not going to be an easy one. Dr. Joshi is pitted against a local chap and three time MP from Kanpur—Sriprakash Jaiswal. Mr. Jaiswal is known for his polite behaviour, developmental work and most importantly his accessibility to the people of Kanpur parliamentary constituency. Contrary to that, Dr. Joshi is notorious for his inaccessibility. One can ask people from Allahabad and Varanasi about this very issue. BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi himself is fighting from Varanasi. INC has not announced its candidate on this very strategically important seat. Digvijay Singh, Rashid Alvi and Prof. Vishwambhar Nath Mishra, son of late Prof. Veer Bhadra Mishra, are the some names being discussed at the moment. Although, there is enormous pressure on Prof. Mishra, who is the Mahant of the Sankat Mochan temple, not to contest against Modi on INC ticket but, if he agrees to do the same Modi would be in a great trouble, as the Brahmins won’t have any other choice but to vote for Prof. Mishra.

Now the most important question is what the 13% Brahmins shall do in this election? Now, Brahmins have four options—(1) they can ride on the “Modi wave” and vote entirely for BJP, (2) they can vote for INC or SP. (3) they can continue with the social engineering path and vote with Dalits and others for BSP, and (4) they can vote according to candidates. If Brahmins decide to go with BJP, the party would definitely win over 30 seats but many of the winners won’t be Brahmins meaning the community won’t have enough Brahmins to represent them in the parliament. If they show their support to INC, which is highly unpopular at the moment, or SP they won’t make much difference. If they decide to go entirely with BSP, they would see most of their community members sitting in the parliament. And, if they decided to vote according to candidates, they still will be able to send many of the community members in the parliament. It is important to note that, if Brahmins go for option no. 1, BSP would suffer but BJP won’t be able to win more than 35 seats, as in that case Muslims (18.5%) would entirely vote against all the BJP candidates. If Brahmins chose option no. 2, they won’t be able to make much difference but INC or SP or both would gain some more seats. If they go for option no. 3 or 4, Muslims and some others may also join them. This would be disastrous for BJP and the clear winner in that case would be the BSP. Only time will tell how Brahmins plan to go in this election!

(Author is Ph.D. Candidate, South Asian Studies, School of International Studies in JNU, New Delhi.) 

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