Caste returns to haunt BJP in Uttar Pradesh

After the first two phases of polling in Uttar Pradesh, there is a clear emergence of caste fault lines, a worrying sign for the BJP’s ambitious target of winning all 80 seats in the State. It won 71 and 62 seats in 2014 and 2019 on the back of religious polarisation and the promise of development, but now the party is having to walk the extra mile. The Samajwadi Party (SP) looks resurgent while the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) sees this election as a battle for survival and is presenting a strong front.

Even in seats like Mathura, where the film star and two-term BJP MP Hema Malini looks set for a hat-trick, the party’s victory margin is likely to come down. In Mathura for the last day of campaigning, Hema Malini led a roadshow standing atop an SUV. Tarak Chand Nagar had come from Alwar (Rajasthan) to see her and recalled her film Kranti. As she threw a rose garland to an old man, the crowd turned to tease him. The 75-year-old actor still has star appeal, although there is much discontent about her performance.

As one crosses Golwalkar Setu, named after M.S. Golwalkar, the second RSS chief, one sees a poster of Hema Malini with the slogan “Dekha Parkha Baar Baar, Hema Malini Phir Ek Baar”. The star’s victory is not really in doubt. In 2019, when the BJP and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) fought separately, they together polled nearly 95 per cent of the votes. Now that they are in an alliance, this number is unlikely to slide too far down. But what is noticeably missing is the Narendra Modi wave seen in 2019. And, tellingly, instead of invoking the Krishna Janambhumi controversy, the BJP’s campaign plan for Mathura shows its social outreach cell becoming active in villages of different castes such as Jatav, Nishad, Dhangar, etc.

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