Poll strategist Prashant Kishor, handpicked by Congress VP Rahul Gandhi to revive the party’s fortunes in Uttar Pradesh, has taken everyone by surprise by recommending that the party revert to reviving its old vote bank made up of three national minorities –Brahmin, Muslim and Dalit. Kishor’s suggestion, made at a meeting of top leaders in the presence of Rahul Gandhi some time ago, is said to have sparked intense debate among Congress veterans in Lucknow and New Delhi.
Brahmins, who constitute an estimated 10 % of the population in UP, were traditional Congress voters till BJP, SP and BSP weaned away significant sections in the post Ram Janambhoomi era. However, according to a Lokniti study, the BJP’s Brahmin vote share has been progressively shrinking in Assembly elections. Between 2002 (50%) and 2007 (44%) there was a 6% fall while between 2007 and 2012 (38%) there was another 6% decline. The Samajwadi Party won the 2012 election getting 19% of the Brahmin votes; BSP got another 19%, says the study.
Kishor’s idea to leverage Brahmin voters isn’t new. In the run-up to each Assembly election, SP, BSP and BJP have been without fail organizing Brahmin sammelans in eastern UP where in many constituencies, Brahmin voters make up at least 20% of the electorate. Kishor’s reasoning is to create a buzz around Brahmin voters to attract disenchanted voters from Muslim and Dalit communities. This “tin khamba’ politics of Congress kept it in good stead till socialist leader Rammanohar Lohia dwarfed it by initiating OBC politics and Congress snubbed its Muslim vote bank by taking the stand it did on the so-called Babri mosque.
The problem with Kishor’s logic may be the fact that, while in the large part of post-independence years, Muslims and Dalits had their choices limited to the Congress Party, the same is not true now. While Muslim can presently choose anyone from the expanded political spectrum, Dalits have a clear choice in Mayawati’s BSP till they get disillusioned with her style of personalized politics. Further, Mayawati had, in 2007 Assembly election, given tickets to 139 upper-caste candidates including 89 to Brahmins. Can the Congress afford to do exactly the opposite and give a large number of tickets to Muslims and Dalits?
By M K Shukla (Editor)