BJP forms OBC cell to divest party of upper-caste image
The cell has been set up ahead of polls in Bihar, UP—the two states that account for a large chunk of OBC population
New Delhi: In yet another indication that it is rapidly mainstreaming, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has for the first time formed a special morcha, or cell, for the members of other backward classes (OBCs).
In the past, the party has been accused of being dominated by the upper castes. However, under the influence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an OBC, the party has undertaken, beginning with the 16th general election, a makeover.
Significantly, the new cell is being set up ahead of key assembly elections in Bihar this year and Uttar Pradesh in 2017—the two most populous states account for a large chunk of the OBC population and are critical to a party’s electoral success.
In the general election last year, the BJP for the first time allotted nearly one-third of the seats to candidates who were OBCs—the party went on to win 71 out of 80 seats, a record.
Senior BJP leaders argue that while the party has managed to consolidate its position among the voters from scheduled castes (SC) and scheduled tribes (ST) by winning a majority of the reserved seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, there was a need to recognize the growing aspirations of people from other castes and social segments.
“There are peripheral groups in the country, apart from the SCs and the STs, which need to be recognised. The OBCs are one such section in the society. The aspirations of these social segments have become more articulate over the years, especially now. So as a mark of recognition, the party has formed a special wing for OBCs,” said a senior vice-president of the party.
The BJP leader emphasized that the perception about the BJP being a party of upper castes needed to removed.
Members of the BJP emphasize that although the party has been accused of being a party of upper castes, the party had won 40 out of the 84 reserved seats for scheduled castes in the last Lok Sabha election.
Similarly, out of the 47 seats reserved for scheduled tribes, the BJP won 33.
“It is interesting that whenever the BJP has formed a government at the centre, the number of reserved seats won by the party has always been considerable. The same was the case when Atal Bihari Vajpayee became Prime Minister and not just in the present Lok Sabha,” said Faggan Singh Kulaste, former head of the party’s scheduled tribe cell.
BJP leaders said the party had similar special wings for the youth, women, farmers, scheduled castes, scheduled tribes and minorities, so there was a need felt for constituting one for the OBCs.
“The constitution of a special wing for the OBCs is not only a mark of recognition of the community but the party is sending a strong message to the people that they should not accuse the BJP of being a party of upper castes because it is not a statement of fact. Nobody should label the party on the basis of caste,” the first BJP leader of two said.
The members of the BJP elaborated that while there is a special wing at the national level, similar cells for the OBCs will be created in each district of the country so that the message can reach the people and they can start participating in the affairs of the party.
“The OBCs influence the politics of the country but it is especially influential in the northern part of the country. The community had taken part in the recently concluded membership drive of the party,” the first BJP leader added.
Members of the party in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar said the OBCs will be represented in every booth-level committee formed for elections.
Political analysts feel most OBCs are dependent on farming and that the BJP is trying to include them in its voter base by giving them representation within its organizational set-up.
“Most of the OBCs are farmers and they have been with BJP since the early 1990s. Earlier, these castes used to be voters of socialist parties and Congress, but gradually they shifted to the BJP. Though the BJP has now formed a national-level special wing for OBCs, such set-ups were formed in the local units in most of the states. While other political parties have failed to realize the growing aspirations of the OBCs, BJP leaders have tried to include them in their voter base,” said Ramesh Dikshit, political analyst and former professor at Lucknow University.