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Votebank games lurk in quota chaos

New Delhi, Sept. 5: An MP from Mulayam Singh Yadav’s party plucked courage to walk up to Mayawati shortly after the Rajya Sabha split up this morning after a Samajwadi Party-BSP scuffle.

The MP asked the BSP boss why she was not as “insistent” in demanding a separate quota for “indigent Brahmins” as she was about reclaiming reservation in job promotions for SC/STs.

“Are Dalits alone poor?” the MP asked.

A source who saw their exchange said Mayawati smiled and replied that she had campaigned “vociferously and persistently” for an upper caste reservation quota. It was in line with the sarva samaj (social inclusion) credo the BSP had embraced before the 2007 Uttar Pradesh elections, she added.

The recent row over the promotion reservation emanated from an Allahabad High Court ruling (later upheld by the Supreme Court), striking down a Mayawati government order that earmarked a promotion slot for SC/STs. The BSP regime brought the order to circumvent an earlier court ruling that did away with this provision.

If Uttar Pradesh was the source of the issue, its implications are also being played out in the state. Each of the four major players — the Samajwadi, BSP, BJP and the Congress — are using it to “grandstand”, a BJP spokesperson said.

“Grandstand in order to keep their vote banks or win over new ones,” he said.

The Samajwadi, which openly spoke out against the quota along with the Shiv Sena, have a backward caste constituency to pander to. To begin with, the party asked for the inclusion of OBCs. When the government said it was impossible because of the 22.5 per cent cap on the quota, it demanded a blanket ban on the provision itself.

Like the Samajwadi, the Sena draws sustenance from Maharashtra’s OBCs.

Coupled with its OBC votes that have grown beyond the core Yadav caste to include other powerful backward castes like the Kurmis and Lodh-Rajputs and the more backward castes, the Samajwadi had also to be mindful of upper caste “sentiments”, a source said.

In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh polls, the Brahmins, Banias, Thakurs and the Rajputs, determined to vote out Mayawati, rooted in large numbers for the Samajwadi, going against their historical antipathy for “Mandalisation”. They did not see the BJP and the Congress as viable options.

“There is a ferment in the cities and towns of Uttar Pradesh because of the promotion quota business. The upper castes are scared because they have a greater stake in government jobs than the OBCs,” the source said.

The Brahmins, Kayasthas and the Dalits constitute the three caste pillars of the Uttar Pradesh administration.

This was the reason why the BJP’s OBC MPs came out hammer and tongs against the bill. “I warned my leaders that I would tear up the papers in the House if the party backed the bill,” said Vinay Katiyar, a Rajya Sabha MP from Uttar Pradesh.

Katiyar, it seems, was backed by Jagat Nadda (a Brahmin from Himachal Pradesh) and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi (a Muslim from western Uttar Pradesh).

Faced with inner dissensions, the BJP expediently used the coal scam to press the point that unless the Centre immediately scrapped the allocations and ordered a judicial probe, it would not allow the House to run or facilitate the passage of the bill without a discussion. “No discussion, no bill,” stressed its MPs.

BJP sources claimed they were privy to feedback that if they ratified the bill, they might as well abandon their hopes of recovering the urban upper caste/class votes. In the 2009 election, the only city seats the BJP won were Bangalore and Lucknow; the rest went mostly to the Congress.

As the BJP and the Samajwadi jousted for upper caste and OBC votes, Mayawati’s sole objective in standing her ground on the quota-in-promotion bill was to “consolidate” her Dalit votes, a BSP MP said.

“The Dalit votes, especially those of the non-Jatavs, left us in the Assembly elections,” the MP said, adding that the party’s OBC and upper caste members warned Mayawati that her “stridency” would alienate the non-Dalits.

Sources said the Congress’s aims in bringing the bill were two: to “divert attention” from the coal scam to a “social justice” plank which it hoped would catch the BJP napping and send a pro-Dalit message to Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and other poll-bound states.