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SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati (Mint file)
SP chief Akhilesh Yadav and BSP chief Mayawati (Mint file)

Opinion | The decline of caste politics

SP and BSP jointly won only 15 of the 75 seats they contested, with the BSP bagging 10 and SP five

The trigger for the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to part ways with the Samajwadi Party (SP) may have been the drubbing the two parties got in the national elections, but the event may be a signal that the post-Mandal era of caste-based politics has run its course. The two parties jointly won only 15 of the 75 seats they contested, with the BSP bagging 10 and SP five. BSP chief Mayawati has lamented that the SP couldn’t get even its core Yadav supporters to vote for the alliance. SP workers seem to believe that the BSP failed to draw the votes of its Dalit support base. The blame game will continue. But the poll results in Uttar Pradesh make it clear that caste arithmetic alone doesn’t work anymore.

The early 1990s saw the creation of a wide social divide, with parties like the SP and BSP using the solidarity of specific caste groups and the backing of minorities to rally against an attempt by the Bharatiya Janata Party to consolidate every caste under its aegis. That strategy worked well for almost three decades. But Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal aura and development agenda, which promised to take everybody along, seems to have taken those dynamics apart. The BJP won 62 seats in the state. Clearly, the party has broadened its appeal to a cross-section of the general population, with only minorities relatively unresponsive to its appeal.

The end of caste politics would be a welcome shift in the way our electorate picks its representatives. It helps blur caste differences and reduces tension along such fault-lines. As for minorities, perhaps Modi’s promise of “sabka vishwaas" (everyone’s trust) will have a similar effect.

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