Behind BJP ally Anupriya Patel’s letter to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath alleging that reserved seats meant for Scheduled Castes (SCs), Scheduled Tribes (STs), and Other Backward Classes (OBCs) become “unreserved” during the government recruitment process lies a deeper. Concern among the ruling party’s coalition partners about the shift in SC and OBC votes to the Opposition in the Lok Sabha elections.

Apart from Anupriya’s Apna Dal (Soneylal), other BJP allies in UP such as the NISHAD Party and Om Prakash Rajbhar’s Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) are reportedly concerned about this, particularly the shifting of allegiance by Kurmis, who form the foundation of the Apna Dal’s support in east and central UP. While Anupriya, a Union Minister of State, saw her victory margin in Mirzapur drop from 2.3 lakh to 37,810, the party lost the only other seat it contested, Robertsganj, by 1.29 lakh votes. Meanwhile, both NISHAD Party leader Sanjay Nishad’s son Pravin and Rajbhar’s son Arvind lost their elections from Sant Kabir Nagar and Ghosi respectively.

At 34, the current Lok Sabha has a record number of parliamentarians from UP who belong to OBC communities. Of them, 21 are from the Opposition, including seven Kurmis, one of the largest OBC groups after Yadavs. Apart from the five members of SP’s Yadav family, the other OBC Opposition MPs include three Patels, two Nishads, two Vermas, Kushwahas, Rajbhars, and Lodhis. For the BJP, which coasted to victory in UP in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and the 2017 Assembly polls riding on a coalition of non-Yadav OBC votes and non-Jatav Dalit votes, this illustrates it has a problem on its hands.

“The shift has been felt by all, including our alliance partners,” said a BJP leader. “We also failed to give a strong Kurmi leader to central and eastern Uttar Pradesh who could have become a representative of these communities. We gave their leaders representation in the government both at the Center and the state.”

Of the 11 Kurmi MPs, seven are from the INDIA alliance, including SP Singh Patel in the Apna Dal (S) stronghold of Pratapgarh, Krishna Patel in Banda, and Naresh Uttam Patel in Fatehpur.

Festive offer

Kurmis play a crucial role in two Assembly segments in Narendra Modi’s constituency Varanasi — Rohaniya, where Anupriya first became an MLA in 2012, and Sevapuri — but the Prime Minister saw his victory margin reduced.

Meanwhile, while Rajbhar failed to get his son past the finish line, his party failed to transfer votes to the BJP in the constituency of Salempur where Ramshanker Rajbhar of the SP edged out the ruling party’s candidate Ravindar Kushawaha by 3,573 votes. Among the Nishad community, it wasn’t Sanjay Nishad or his son but the SP’s Rambhual Nishad who hit the headlines by taking down senior BJP leader and former Union Minister Maneka Gandhi.

As per the BJP’s review of its performance in the Lok Sabha polls in UP, an estimated 70% of the OBC Kurmi votes shifted towards the SP-Congress alliance, fueled by the Opposition’s “Save the Constitution” campaign. A BJP leader said not giving enough tickets to Kurmis damaged the party’s prospects in several constituencies in central and eastern UP. According to the review, voters from the OBC Shakya community in central UP and the Bundelkhand region did not support the party and it also lost a major chunk of the OBC Maurya and Saini votes.

With its allies failing to bring enough votes, a section of the state BJP believes the party should now attempt to develop its leadership in these communities, especially among Kurmis. A party insider pointed out that since the death of SP founder and former Union Minister Beni Prasad Verma in 2020, there has not been a Kurmi leader of his stature in the Terai belt and that is a gap that the party can fill.

A senior BJP leader said, “Among other deliberations, the party will also have to think about promoting strong OBC faces, especially Kurmis, from within our ranks who can connect with people. It is clear that despite giving ministerial posts and even representation in the government in other forms, these community leaders failed to connect with their communities.”

The Opposition has also targeted the BJP-led alliance over Anupriya’s letter, with SP chief Akhilesh Yadav raising the matter in Parliament on Tuesday. “Aarakshan ka haq ‘not found suitable’ ke naam pe hadpa ja rah hai … Jaan boojh ke sarkar naukri aur aarakshan ke saath khilwaarh kar rahi hai (By saying ‘not found suitable’, reservation benefits are being snatched away. The government is deliberately toying with reservation and jobs).”

Congress leader Anil Yadav said, “After being part of the government for over a decade, it is good that the inner self of Anupriya ji has woken up and she is trying to wake up the BJP as well. But the fact remains that they have felt their ground shift this time. The public has been able to connect with the INDIA alliance on the issue of reservation, Constitution, and caste-based survey, and both the ruling party and its allies know this. But it will be awkward for allies to continue retaining the benefits of being in the government and at the same time talk of ‘sangharsh (struggle)’ for the community.”

Hitting back at the Opposition, Anupriya on Tuesday blamed the “illusion and lies” that the Opposition spread about the alleged threat that the Narendra Modi-led government would pose to “Constitution and reservation” if it returned to power with more than 400 seats. “Why did the Opposition succeed in spreading this rumor among the deprived sections?” Anupriya asked party workers at an event held in Lucknow to mark the birth anniversary of her father and party founder Sone Lal Patel.

Anupriya questioned media reports about the ground beneath her party shifting and said, no matter what, she would continue to fight for the deprived sections of society. Her husband and state minister Ashish Patel asked party workers not to be influenced by “the misinformation being spread” and said he had the data to prove that wherever Apna Dal (S) leaders worked hard, they performed well.