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Last Updated: Friday, 29 August, 2003, 09:01 GMT 10:01 UK
Analysis: Caste and power in India
By India analyst Vijay Rana

Uttar Pradesh, India's most politically important state, has a new chief minister. And once again, caste is playing a major role in politics there.

Mulayam Singh Yadav
Mr Yadav is also faced with pressing economic problems

Mulayam Singh Yadav, the new Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP), belongs to a backward caste known as the Yadavs.

But names can be deceptive. And many would say that the Yadavs are not backward at all.

They have been the biggest beneficiaries of a government policy of positive discrimination for the lower castes, which was implemented during the late 1980s.

Coming from the rural farming class, many of them also prospered during India's 'green revolution' in the 1970s.

As a result, many sociologists like to call them intermediate castes, rather then backwards.

Strong combination

Mulayam Singh's coalition government will be backed by two other important intermediate caste leaders - the Jat leader Chaudhry Ajit Singh, who is influential in western Uttar Pradesh and the Lodh Rajput leader, Kalyan Singh.

Kalyan Singh's followers are found in western and central UP.

In an earlier spell in power during the late 1980s, Mulayam Singh Yadav took a strict stand against the campaign by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to build a Hindu temple at the disputed Ayodhya religious site.

His tough stance on Hindu hardliners pleased a lot of Muslims.

That explains why he has considerable support among Uttar Pradesh's vast Muslim population.

Soldier and holy man in Ayodhya
Mr Yadav ordered police to confront Hindu extremists in Ayodhya

India's influential Congress party has also backing him.

The combination of backward-caste Hindus and Muslims will prove hard to beat in any future elections.

In the neighbouring state of Bihar, former Chief Minister Laloo Prasad Yadav effectively used this combination to stay in power for more than 10 years.

But will Mulayam Singh Yadav be as good as Laloo Prasad Yadav at keeping his coalition together and his own deputies loyal?

His past record suggests not. He is a man of strong likes and dislikes.

Brutal politics

During his first spell as chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, he ordered police to fire on BJP supporters protesting in Ayodhya.

Ms Mayawati
Ms Mayawati - there is no love lost with Mr Yadav

He also filled the state police with hundreds of recruits from his own caste.

His upper-caste critics derided him for being the chief minister of Yadavs and Muslims, rather than the chief minister of the people of Uttar Pradesh.

He was also mocked for what were seen to be his pro-Muslim policies.

Observers will wait to see if he acts differently this time.

Politics in Uttar Pradesh can be a brutal affair.

Mulayam Singh Yadav's first priority will be to deal with outgoing Chief Minister Mayawati.

She hated him and opened more than 100 court cases against him - many of them on false and flimsy evidence.

Revenge or reconstruction?

Now it is his turn to be in power. Some of the legislators who fled the state because of Ms Mayawati's harassment are now demanding revenge. Will Mulayam Singh Yadav oblige them?

Even before taking power he has mentioned the Taj Mahal Corridor scandal, involving an illegal project to build a shopping complex close to the famous monument.

Ms Mayawati has denied all knowledge of the project which had a budget of millions of rupees.

Mulayam Singh Yadav also has to deal with a severe economic crisis affecting Uttar Pradesh's population of 166 million.

The state has no money to pay the salaries of its employees.

Potholed roads, an intermittent electric supply, cities bursting with garbage and a soaring crime graph are testimony to what one local academic has described as the "withering away" of the state.

Mulayam Singh Yadav has a tough task ahead.

If he is preoccupied with punishing political rivals and rewarding coalition partners, he may find he is forced to overlook the real issues of governance.

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16 Jul 03  |  South Asia

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