UP Elections: Why are OBC leaders quitting the saffron party?

UP Elections: Why are OBC leaders quitting the saffron party?
Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini joined the Samajwadi Party in the presence of Akhilesh Yadav, citing the state government’s “gross neglect” of Dalits, backward classes, farmers, educated unemployed youth, and small traders as the reason for his decision.

Just ahead of Uttar Pradesh elections – three major OBC leaders and ministers in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet – Swami Prasad Maurya, Dara Singh Chauhan, and Dharam Singh Saini resigned from the party this week.

Swami Prasad Maurya and Dharam Singh Saini joined the Samajwadi Party in the presence of Akhilesh Yadav, citing the state government’s “gross neglect” of Dalits, backward classes, farmers, educated unemployed youth, and small traders as the reason for his decision.

So far ten MLAs, including three sitting ministers, have resigned from the BJP in the run-up to the 2022 Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.

Who is Swami Prasad Maurya?

Swami Prasad Maurya, a five-term MLA from Uttar Pradesh, is a significant non-Yadav OBC leader. Maurya served as the labour and employment minister in Yogi Adityanath’s cabinet. He won the last three assembly elections from Padrauna in the Kushinagar district.

Maurya was previously with the BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party) – where he won the assembly election and was the national general secretary and leader of the opposition from 2012.

Maurya was known as Mayawati’s number two during his two decades in the BSP. 

He was a poster boy of OBC in the BSP. He served as a minister and an opposition leader and was also appointed as the party president. Maurya was also regarded as a major leader in the BSP.

In June 2016, months before the Uttar Pradesh elections, Maurya resigned from the BSP alleging corruption in the party. Two months later – He joined the BJP, and in March 2017 he was appointed as the cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government. 

In the 2017 assembly elections, Maurya was given a ticket from the assembly seat of Padrauna. After the Yogi government came into power, he was made a cabinet minister and given the labour and employment portfolio.

In BJP, Maurya remained second to other OBC leaders like deputy chief minister Keshav Prasad Maurya, Swatantra Deo Singh, and Anil Rajbhar. 

Will Maurya’s exit impact BJP negatively?

Forward to 2022 – in his resignation letter, Maurya cited the BJP’s neglect of Dalits, backward classes, farmers, educated unemployed youth, and small traders, as the reason for his decision.

Maurya wields significant power in the OBC Maurya-Kushwaha-Shkya-Saini communities, and many believe that his departure will harm the BJP while broadening the Samajwadi Party’s appeal to the OBCs. 

According to political analyst Amitabh Tiwari, “Samajwadi Party realises that they can’t win elections with M-Y combination (Muslims-Yadavs), if (M-Y) Muslim-Yadav population is 30%, and if SP (Samajwadi Party) gets 100% votes, the M-Y will still remain 30%.” 

“SP cannot win a triangular contest with 30 percent vote share when the other party has 40% vote share,” 

“SP cannot win a triangular contest with 30% vote share, where the other party (BJP) has 40% vote share. SP has to snatch some votes from BJP because BSP (Bahujan Samaj Party)  more or less have bottomed out to 15-16% as per poll survey,” Tiwari said to Maktoob.

Tiwari believes that the SP is attempting to erode the BJP vote bank by utilising non-Yadav OBC vote blocks.

He also asserts that “nobody talked about M-Y seats before 2017, and it’s not a single caste, it’s hundreds of sub-castes, so SP is trying to pull leaders in the hope that the leaders who represent these communities will get some non-Yadav vote bank.” 

Tiwari isn’t convinced that Maurya’s shift will have a greater impact on the BJP’s OBC vote bank. “SP will get an extra vote share, but remember that the BJP has been developing OBC – Maurya leadership for the last five years, and the BJP has a Maurya as a deputy CM, and it has groomed its own leaders.”

WITH MAURYA’S EXIT, THE BJP IS LOSING A PROMINENT NON-YADAV FACE

BJP won the majority of votes in the 2017 UP elections, they pitted non-Yadavs against the ‘upper’ backward classes, which were represented by the Samajwadi Party. 

“The non-Yadavs OBC voters constitute the largest voting bloc in UP, accounting for 30 to 35% of the state’s population,” Amitabh Tiwari stated. 

Yadav voters account for about 10% to 12% of all votes cast, but they are the most powerful caste in the OBC category. In elections between 2014 and 2019, the BJP focused on the remaining 25% of OBC votes. Samajwadi Party (SP) also has a dedicated vote bank. 

Apart from SP Maurya, other BJP leaders who left the party include Dara Singh Chauhan of the Nonia Chauhan community, Brijesh Prajapati of the Banda district, and Dharam Singh Saini of the Saini community from the Saharanpur district. All of these leaders are from different OBC communities. 

Though the SP claims to champion the cause of the backward classes, the party’s excessive Yadavisation over the years has irritated the non-Yadavs OBCs, who have been under-represented in both the administration and the legislature, Tiwari stated in The Print.

Is Thakur domination one of the reasons?

According to journalist Aditya Menon, “Maurya will definitely get some votes in the Samajwadi Party’s vote bank, but the bigger damage SP Maurya has caused is in terms of narrative – Maurya’s exit followed by the exit of other BJP MLAs belonging to different OBC castes has created a narrative that the OBC support BJP had built is now falling apart, in this context Maurya’s exit will harm BJP.” 

Menon also stated that these communities are alienated from the BJP due to Thakur domination in the Yogi government, so it might harm the party. 

Independent filmmaker Nakul Singh Sawhney and founder of ChalChitra Abhiyan says: “BJP has lost seven MLAs; it is unavoidable that there will be more defections; with each defection, one should not be overjoyed; Maurya’s departure is of enormous significance. Western Uttar Pradesh does not have a large Thakur population, but eastern Uttar Pradesh does, and many non-Yadav OBCs have witnessed Thakur dominance over the last 5 years, so Maurya’s shift, as well as OP Rajbhar (OBC leader) aligning with the SP, represents how the caste is dissatisfied with the BJP. Leaders like Maurya and Rajbhar will undoubtedly have an impact on the entire vote bank, as they will consolidate large numbers of votes from eastern Uttar Pradesh.”

Sawhney also stated that the BJP made a significant effort in reaching out to various OBC leaders in the previous elections, which is one of the reasons they received the 2017 result. 

“This is the kind of micro-social engineering they did very effectively,” says Sawhney, “but the fact is that there was Thakur and Rajput dominance since yogi came to power, and other castes have been neglected; leader shifting is representative of caste shifting as well.”

Maurya’s entry into SP will most likely dispel the party’s image as a Muslim-Yadav bastion. 

Arshi Qureshi is an independent journalist based in Delhi.