Saturday, June 22, 2024

Lucknow: The complex web of caste dynamics and political intrigue

In Lucknow, the complex interplay of caste dynamics has a significant impact on electoral outcomes and is central to the major political parties’ strategy. The city embodies the broader socio-political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, given the influence wielded by the leading caste groups. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

The fifth phase of the election in India ushers a lot of uncertainties with the upcoming contest of Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, standing out as the key event. Lucknow, one of the most populous cities of India, is known for its convoluted socio-economic implications and fervid political intrigue and is one of the most crucial constituencies in the Indian elections. It is poised to be a closely watched episode, with the political observers and stakeholders keenly monitoring the dynamics play out.

Lucknow had been a bastion for the Indian National Congress(INC), post-independence, being the party that played a pivotal role in the freedom struggle. Since then the Congress leaders have dominated the political landscape and elections in Lucknow. A city known for its complex interplay of caste dynamics led to the birth of several regional parties gaining prominence over time. These include Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and later, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) who became strong contenders, not just in Lucknow but across the state.

Lucknow called the city of Nawabs and is named after the hero of the Hindu epic Ramayana, Lakshmana, has a large pool of dominant caste groups namely Brahmins, Thakurs, and Yadavs. Each has perceptible allegiances and expectations keeping the political landscape in constant flux. On a larger demographic, the votes of the Muslim electorate are further divided into the Shia and Sunni.

The past few years saw the Bhartiya Janta Party(BJP) gaining considerable ground in Lucknow. Their ascent can be accredited to strategic leadership, appealing to Hindu nationalist sentiments, and capitalizing on anti-incumbency factors against the ruling parties. The BJP’s prominence in national politics also helped consolidate its position in Lucknow, turning it into a strong contender and probably a permanent one in the region.

Role of caste dynamics

The key candidates for the 2024 Lucknow Lok Sabha election are Rajnath Singh from the Bharatiya Janata Party and Ravidas Mehrotra from the Samajwadi Party. In the 2019 General Elections, Lucknow saw a fiercely contested battle with a voter turnout of 53.30%. 

In Lucknow, the complex interplay of caste dynamics has a significant impact on electoral outcomes and is central to the major political parties’ strategy. The city embodies the broader socio-political landscape of Uttar Pradesh, given the influence wielded by the leading caste groups.

The Brahmins, who constitute about 9-10% of the population in Uttar Pradesh, are the largest chunk among the ‘general category’ voters. Numerically inconsequential, the community remains very pivotal in the political landscape. Traditionally having an affinity for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Brahmins constitute a substantive vote bank in Lucknow. Historically, this community has aligned with the BJP because of ideological affinity and the party’s policies that favored the upper-caste Hindu sentiments. Yet, of late, there are indications that the Brahmins are getting increasingly discontented with the perceived apathy and lack of adequate representation and concern for their welfare. The simmering anger is a challenge that the BJP is trying to tackle hard to retain their loyalty. Its ability to address the grievances and reaffirm its commitment to the Brahmin community will determine its continued support to the party in the upcoming elections.

The Brahmins have ruled the state as UP chief minister eight times since the 1950s – starting from Govind Ballabh Pant to Narayan Dutt Tiwari – though there hasn’t been a Brahmin CM since 1989. Yet, their vote holds sway in UP politics.

According to UP-based political analyst Dr. Shilp Shikha Singh, “Brahmins are a defining caste in UP, and their voting preference is very crucial for the BJP and SP. The elections could get skewed if they turn against the BJP this time. Discontent has been there in bits in recent times, but a large chunk going against the BJP is not expected. Historically, Brahmins did not go with the SP, and their alliance with the BSP is now ancient history. Without a clear alternative, they may tactically vote for SP’s Brahmin candidates in pockets of Purvanchal.”

Thakurs (Rajputs), also form a significant portion of voters in Lucknow and have traditionally been loyal supporters of the BJP. Under the leadership of Yogi Adityanath himself, Thakur, the community has only come closer to the party. This has given rise to the perception of “Return Of Thakurvad”- giving the people of this caste undue prominence- something the officials of the ruling party vehemently confute. Their support, however, does not remain an arithmetic factor but rather translates into strategic significance for the BJP.

The Thakurs’ votes are important when the party takes final calls on its decisions, especially in ticket distribution during elections. Beyond their vote, they have a leadership role that reflects their active involvement in shaping the political fabric.

According to a paper published in the Economic & Political Weekly, 47 percent of Thakurs fall in the top 20 percent wealth-owning class in UP. The paper explains, “In the negotiation between parties and castes, powerful groups appear to augment their bargaining capacity by their economic clout. Political parties give undue weightage to these groups which represent a minuscule portion of the electorate.”

The Thakurs lining up behind the BJP under Yogi Adityanath only attests to the deep-seated trust and ideological confluence, further concretizing their position as the bedrock of the party’s vote bank. This relationship underscores the need to foster and nurture this alliance for assured political success in Uttar Pradesh.

The Dalit voters, who are equally essential in the political scenery of Lucknow, have been a stronghold for BSP under the leadership of Mayawati. The party, under the leadership of Mayawati, has been instrumental in garnering Dalit support by standing up publically for their rights and welfare. This managed to secure them a large-scale allegiance by focusing on social justice, empowerment, and representation thus making it a formidable force in state politics.

However, there has recently been a shift in dynamics. Sections of the Dalit electorate are gravitating towards the BJP and SP, primarily because of target-oriented outreach efforts and promises of socio-economic development made by these parties. The BJP having realized the critical importance of the Dalit vote, implemented several schemes meant to improve the lives of marginalized communities. Significant initiatives, like the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana for providing affordable housing and other such social welfare programs, are appealing to the Dalit voters and enhancing the appeal of the BJP among this electorate.

The SP has been also working to get the support of Dalits by focusing on their agenda of growth and social justice. The party’s attention on creating opportunities for all and addressing systemic inequalities has found favor with some of the Dalit voters seeking tangible improvements in their socio-economic condition.

Both the BJP and SP understand the electoral significance of the Dalit vote. Therefore, they have aligned their political strategies accordingly to address the aspirations and concerns of Dalit communities. Thus, the competition for the Dalit vote has led to a more nuanced and inclusive political discourse with parties competing to demonstrate their commitment toward the welfare and advancement of the Dalits in Uttar Pradesh.

This shifting political ground underlines dynamic voter allegiance and the importance of Dalit voters in determining election outcomes within the state. The efforts of the BJP and SP to woo Dalit voters symbolize a wider trend of political engagement and outreach to ensure a more inclusive and representative governance model in Uttar Pradesh.

The complicated caste dynamics are such that each major political party in Lucknow has prepared different strategies. The BJP tries to consolidate upper-caste votes, especially Brahmins and Thakurs while wooing Dalit and OBC communities through extensive welfare schemes and outreach programs. The SP, on its part, rests on its traditional Yadav-Muslim alliance and tries to win over Dalit voters by emphasizing its commitment to social justice and all-round development, and by making reservations and welfare schemes for the backward communities part of its manifesto. The BSP remains focused on its Dalit base while trying to draw other marginalized communities with an emphasis on the legacy of Dalit empowerment and policies aimed at the socio-economic upliftment of the underprivileged. In this complicated electoral battleground, caste dynamics are a basic determinant of party strategies and voter behavior, molding the political future of Lucknow.

The Muslim vote banks

The electoral landscape of Lucknow is markedly influenced by the demographics and voting patterns, specifically by the large number of Muslim voters from the Shia and Sunni communities (around 21%). Historically, the Muslim vote has been garnered by the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party because of their secular and inclusive policies. Shia Muslims, largely concentrated in Old Lucknow, have tended to vote along lines of issues that affect their localities. On the other hand, the more diffuse Sunni Muslims have tended to vote in a block for parties perceived to be the greatest protectors of minority rights.

Historically, the SP has had robust support from Muslims based on its perceived commitment to secularism and minority rights. At the same time, the BSP has received significant Muslim support for its positioning as a protector of the interests of minorities. However, political circles have been talking about the possible split in Muslim votes because of the Bahujan Samaj Party’s Muslim candidate Sarwar Malik. The Samajwadi Party, which used to get the lion’s share of Muslim votes, has started taking potshots at the BSP for fielding a Muslim candidate from Lucknow.

SP candidate from Lucknow, Ravidas Mehrotra. Photo: Sahid Faris/Maktoob

SP candidate from Lucknow, Ravidas Mehrotra claimed: “The BJP and BSP are two sides of the same coin. They are working together to defeat the Samajwadi Party that follows the PDA line”.

Recent political developments such as protests against CAA and NRC have further affected Muslim voting behavior. The community assertions and anti-Hindutva sentiments have increased, and the need to vote for parties opposing these policies is greater. Widespread protests against CAA and NRC have galvanized the Muslim community and raised a sense of urgency to vote for parties that are seen as protectors of their rights. SP and BSP have also opposed CAA and have tried to reassure Muslim voters of their commitment to safeguarding minority interests.

In response to these developments, major political parties are tailoring their manifestos to address the concerns of Muslims. SP’s campaign promises encompass ensuring the safety and security of Muslims, opposing the divisive policies of CAA and NRC, and promoting education and economic development within the community. The party also emphasizes the representation of Muslims in political and administrative positions. 

Similarly, the BSP centers its interest on inclusive development, promising to address socio-economic disparities faced by Muslims and points to its record of maintaining communal harmony and ensuring minority rights. The Bharatiya Janata Party, which conventionally has drawn very little Muslim support, is trying hard to reach out to the community by promising them development and economic empowerment, asserting that all their welfare schemes equally benefit Muslims among others.

All these demographic factors and recent political developments have created a very interesting electoral environment in Lucknow. The strategies and promises of the big parties go in tandem to gain the trust and votes of the Muslim community, making their support a crucial factor in the upcoming elections.

The Lucknow elections will be a battleground of caste dynamics and Muslim vote banks. The strategies being employed by major political parties reflect the intricate socio-political landscape that Lucknow is. Understanding such dynamics will, therefore, throw light upon the possible electoral outcomes and future directions of Lucknow as an actor in a political and socio-economic environment. The election results will therefore determine not only the immediate political leadership but the direction of policies and community relations in the future.

Sidra Fatima is an independent freelance journalist. She covers politics and international relations.


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