The Allahabad High Court has ordered an immediate end to caste based political rallies in UP, throwing sand in the gears of parties that have been keen on moving beyond their traditional catchment areas to lure other large untapped social groupings. The Lucknow bench of the court on Thursday issued notices to central and state governments, the Election Commission and four major political parties — BJP, Congress, BSP and SP — in the state and asked them for their views. It will next hear the case on July 25. The order came in response to a PIL that argued that caste-based rallies were against the constitution, which states that all caste and communities are equal before the law.
The ruling spells trouble for major regional players — BSP, SP and JD(U) — that are trying hard to move beyond their traditional base and cobble alliances with communities that have largely remained unaffiliated to political entities. The order comes days after Mayawati’s BSP organised a ‘Brahmin Bhaichara Sammelan’ in 40 districts of the state, including in state capital Lucknow.
“This could impact the efforts of parties that use caste as a mobilising route in the political space,” said Badri Narayan of the Govind Ballabh Pant Social Science Institute. Narayan saw the ruling affecting more the likes of Mayawati, Mulayam Singh and Nitish Kumar as the success of their electoral strategy depends on their ability to negotiate with identity aspirations of various communities.
While Brahmins, who account for 10% of the electorate in UP, are being wooed aggressively by both BSP and SP, Kumar has been attempting to define MBC (most backward caste) and Mahadalit vote-banks to further his party’s interests. Kumar has created a quota in civic bodies for MBCs, most of which are non-Yadav OBCs, and implemented health schemes for them, and allotted land to Mahadalits (non-Paswan, non-Jatav Dalits) for free.
“Probably, these parties will now have to look for new nomenclature — a garib rally or something on those lines,” Narayan said. The growth of parties such as BSP has shown the power of caste-based mobilisations. BSP’s political clout increased when it moved beyond an exclusive platform of Dalit mobilisation to embrace castes that were earlier branded as “Manuwadi” by its leaders. The tactic adopted since the 1996 election — it had more backward MLAs than Dalits and a generous sprinkling of upper castes in that election — has made it a dominant force in UP.
Political observers feel the High Court order, if implemented, could ensure a level-playing field for Congress and BJP. “Congress no longer has a caste base in the state. Similarly, BJP will need to consolidate a Hindu vote bank around Modi. The order of the High Court can bring comfort to these parties,” said a political observer.