There is a marked rise in the number of people voting in the Lok Sabha constituencies reserved for Dalits in Uttar Pradesh. More and more voters have exercised their franchise in the five phases of polling in the state this time. The record is no different in the reserved constituencies.
Uttar Pradesh is to vote in six phases to pick 80 Lok Sabha MPs, the last round being due Monday. The five phases so far accounted for 13 of the 17 total reserved seats in the sprawling state.
In 2009, only two reserved constituencies - Nagina and Barabanki - polled more than 50% votes. In 2014, the lowest voting figure in these constituencies is 52% (Jalaun). The average voting in the 13 reserved constituencies that have so far gone to the polls is 56.8%
The Election Commission attributes this to its massive voter awareness drive and the revision of electoral rolls. Some believe there is a new assertiveness among the non-Dalit voters in the reserved constituencies, leading to an increase in the voting percentage.
Prashant Trivedi, assistant professor at Lucknow's Giri Institute of Development Studies (GIDS), told IANS that these non-Dalit voters are reclaiming their political space in these constituencies.
"This is not just any election. It is very keenly contested. The non-Dalit voter wants to make his vote count," he says. Trivedi's informal research in Muzaffarnagar following the riots of 2013 have revealed an interesting coming together of two traditionally rival castes, the Jatav and Jats, in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The Jatavs are numerically the strongest Scheduled Caste (SC) in Uttar Pradesh and have always stood by the Bahujan Samaj Party. The Jats have mostly sailed with the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) in western Uttar Pradesh. Social historian Badri Narayan attributes the high voting numbers to a mobilisation of the forward castes.
"The non-SC voter in these constituencies has generally been passive. This voter is now active but it will be difficult to predict which way he is voting," Narayan told IANS.
Much has also been made of the shift of the Dalit vote to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in Delhi when it netted 29% of the Dalit vote, pushing the BSP to the fourth place with just 8.9% of votes.
Srinivas Goli, assistant professor at GIDS, adds the forceful campaign by the BJP to the list of factors that could have sent up voting figures in reserved constituencies. "Aggressive campaign by the BJP around (its prime ministerial aspirant) Narendra Modi and counter aggressive campaigns by others have influenced voters," Goli told IANS.
RK Chaudhury, a BSP leader and Lok Sabha candidate from Mohanlalganj, told IANS: "The SC voter in reserved constituencies has united behind Behenji (BSP supremo Mayawati). This has also influenced the non-SC voter. Both have come and voted for the BSP."