Sunil Kashyap

SWAMI PRASAD MAURYA, wearing a pinstriped Nehru jacket and a broad smile, guided Akhilesh Yadav, the president of the Samajwadi Party, onto a flower-festooned dais. It was a big day for Maurya, a moment representing the culmination of the many political trends in Uttar Pradesh that he had spent his life trying to unite.

The event, in April 2023, was the unveiling of a statue of the Bahujan Samaj Party founder, Kanshi Ram, at a college owned by Maurya. The event saw the coming together of the state’s many political factions. Maurya, a leader of a non-dominant community counted among the state’s Other Backward Classes, who had found his political tutelage under the BSP—a party whose core voter base had been Dalits and the Extremely Backward Classes—had recently been appointed the SP’s general secretary. The party is seen to traditionally represent the interests of Yadavs, a dominant OBC community in much of central and western Uttar Pradesh. To add to the mix, the inauguration was taking place in Rae Bareli, the pocket borough of the Nehru–Gandhi family, which has headed the Congress for most of the history of independent India.

On Maurya’s prodding, Akhilesh, who has long harboured an antipathy towards the BSP and its leader, Mayawati, was attempting to build bridges. He said that Kanshi Ram “contested several elections in different states but did not achieve success. But Netaji”—Akhilesh’s father and the SP founder, Mulayam Singh Yadav—“and the Samajwadis understood the situation at that time and sent Kanshi Ram to the Lok Sabha from Etawah.” During the 1991 general election, SP support enabled Kanshi Ram to win the Etawah constituency, the feudal bastion of the Yadav clan, where both Mulayam and Akhilesh were born. Akhilesh said that the 1991 election had “started a new politics in UP.”

The simultaneous general and assembly elections of 1991 had been crucial. The two young parties broke the back of the Congress, which has since been reduced to a marginal player in the state’s politics, and attempted to stem the overwhelming rise of the Bhartiya Janata Party months before the demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya. The BJP was stridently advocating for the Ram temple, while the Congress were silently culpable, in an attempt to woo upper-caste votes and stem the exodus of backward castes to regional outfits. In a direct retort to the BJP’s Ram Janmabhoomi campaign, the SP and BSP united under the war cry “Mile Mulayam Kanshi Ram, hawa mein ud gaye Jai Shri Ram”—When Mulayam and Kanshi Ram came together, Jai Shri Ram vanished into thin air. The alliance won 176 of the state’s 422 seats, and formed an unstable coalition government.

Some thirty years later, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated an extravagant Ram temple at the site of the destroyed mosque, Akhilesh and an array of EBC leaders were attempting to cobble together the 1991 alliance. This time, though, they would have to do it without the support of the BSP, which had sullenly stayed aloof from any alliances. Instead, they were attempting to engineer the same broad-based appeal Kanshi Ram had engendered among the state’s poorly represented, but numerous, EBCs and Dalits.

Sunil Kashyap is an independent journalist and a former reporting fellow at The Caravan.

https://caravanmagazine.in/politics/uttar-pradesh-election-results-sp-ebc-dalit-kanshi-ram. Please consider subscribing to and donating to The Caravan.

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