AS THE election shifts from communally sensitive western UP to central, Bundelkhand and eastern regions — known for rigid caste-based political loyalties — the BJP’s tactical caste calculations in selection of candidates and promotion of leaders will face its first test on Sunday. The rural belts dominated by Dalits and backward castes surrounding Lucknow and Kanpur cities had not elected any BJP MLA in the 2012 state polls. The region is often interpreted as BJP’s weakest. The 69 constituencies going for polls on Sunday include 20 seats reserved for the Scheduled Castes, or nearly one-fourth of 84 such seats in the state. These are from an area with largest concentration of Dalits, especially non-Jatav castes like Pasi, who can swing the results in most constituencies of Sitapur, Hardoi, Unnao, Barabanki and Lucknow districts.
In the 2012 polls, BJP had won only one seat in Lucknow and four in Kanpur — all in urban areas. On the other hand, while BSP had won six and SP 55, Congress had won two. One seat had gone to an Independent. For the last one year, the BJP has been trying to woo castes like Pasi, Kori, Balmiki and Sonkar. It has chosen its Mohanlalganj MP, Kaushal Kishore, as the head of its state SC Morcha. A former communist, Kishore had joined the BJP before the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. He has been leading the campaign to woo Pasis — the second largest Dalit sub-caste in UP.
“Not a single person from our community has converted to Islam… But it is the sour truth that while Muslims call us Hindus, Hindus call us Dalits. Unless you stop using caste-based titles, our slogans of Hindu unity are of no use. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and RSS are working in this direction,” Kishore had said in Lucknow at a programme organised by the Hindu Front For Justice, a right-wing group, last year.
Shahjahanpur MP Krishna Raj, also from the Pasi caste, was included as a minister of state in Modi government. She has been campaigning for the party across the region. Of the 75-odd candidates that BJP has named for seats reserved for Dalits, 23 are from the Pasi caste, followed by 15 Jatavs, eight Dhobis, eight Koris, and five Khatiks.
The BSP is also facing a strong challenge to woo non-Jatav Dalits to improve its performance in the region, where Jatavs — the party’s loyal supporters — are outnumbered by the Pasis. The BJP has forged an understanding with BSP founder-member R K Chaudhary, who left the party last year after accusing Mayawati of selling party tickets. Chaudhary, a known Pasi leader, is contesting from Mohanlalganj in alliance with the BJP.