[It may be just a coincidence that seven of 12 RS candidates from UP belong to the upper caste, but it is surely not a coincidence that both the Congress and the BJP are reportedly looking up to project upper caste candidates as their CM faces. In a State where Dalits and OBC have called the shots for ages, both the BJP and the Congress may have their own compulsion to engage in such identity politics.]
By Navin Upadhyay
Weeks after Congress’ poll strategist for Uttar Pradesh Prashant Kishor mooted the idea that the party should choose a Brahmin face for the upcoming Assembly elections, there is a clamour among other stakeholders to reach out to upper castes. Not surprisingly, even UP’s Dalit icon Mayawati has fielded a Brahmin as one of her party’s two candidates for the Rajya Sabha (RS) elections. While the BJP’s lone candidate too is a Brahmin, the Samajwadi Party has fielded three upper caste candidates out of seven. There are clear indications that in the heartland of Mandal politics, upper castes are ready to be counted this time.
It may be just a coincidence that seven of 12 RS candidates from UP belong to the upper caste, but it is surely not a coincidence that both the Congress and the BJP are reportedly looking up to project upper caste candidates as their CM faces. In a State where Dalits and OBC have called the shots for ages, both the BJP and the Congress may have their own compulsion to engage in such identity politics.
If Prashant Kishor has his way, Sheila Dikshit, a Brahmin, will be the Congress chief ministerial candidate from UP, and Priyanka Vadra will be the face of the party’s campaign in the State. Sheila is not unknown to UP politics. Between 1984 and 1989, she represented Kannauj parliamentary constituency of Uttar Pradesh. She was married to Vinod Dikshit, son of former West Bengal Governor Uma Shankar Dikshit, who belonged to Ugu village of Unnao in UP.
But in a deeply divided party like the Congress, Kishor has to first fight with the “enemy” within. Sources said that Kishor has told Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi that if someone like Dikshit is roped in as the CM candidate and Priyanka made the face of the party’s campaign, both Brahmins and women will be attracted to the party in a big way.
Sources said that while Rahul is agreeable to the proposition and has given his go-ahead to Kishor to prepare the party strategy on these lines, a section of senior Congress leaders are opposed to the idea. Many of these leaders are old-timers who are upset as Rahul has apparently given a carte blanche to Kishor to do whatever he pleases to do to bring the Congress back in the race in UP. Given Kishor’s proximity to Rahul, it is a matter of time before the party formally projects Priyanka as its campaign head and also fields Sheila or another Brahmin as the CM candidate.
Kishor is reported to have told Rahul that if the party took steps to woo 13 per cent Brahmins who have nowhere to go in UP, in that case a sizeable section of the Muslim could also desert Mulayam given the fact that the SP chief acted as a spoiler in Bihar by fighting against the “secular” Mahagathbandan.
In alliance with Nitish Kumar, whose caste men Kurmis constitute nine per cent of the population in UP, Kishor hopes to weave a “winning” combination” in the State. “You don’t need more than 30 per cent vote to win the battle of UP,” Kishor has reportedly told Rahul.
While Rajnath Singh has denied reports that he would be the CM candidate of the BJP in the State, the BJP may be under pressure to opt for an upper caste leader as its CM’s face after it recently appointed an OBC, Keshav Prasad Maurya, as its State unit chief. So far there is no clarity if the BJP will repeat the Assam experience of projecting a CM nominee, but in case it does so, it is very likely that the party will bank on an upper caste leader.