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Author: Times News Network
Publication: The Times of India
Date: March 30, 2007

Introduction: OBC Advocates Lalu, Mulayam eye upper caste votebank

In the aftermath of the supreme court order freezing implementation of the OBC quota in educational institutions, two of the OBC heavyweights Mulayam Singh Yadav and Lalu Prasad were conspicuously silent.

In a far cry from the '90s when they would erupt in protest at the whiff of any resistance to quotas, the two Yadav strongmen avoided commenting on the ground that they were yet to go through the order-a consideration that has not prevented them from going public with their feeling in the past.

In contrast, Left and Dravidian outfits were quite vocal.

The soft response of the two Yadavs is seen as having been necessitated by the compulsion to keep the upper castes on their side. Denied the support of the OBC consolidation that propelled them to prominence in the '90s, the OBC politicians have been forced to turn to their former foes-the upper castes. They are hardly alone. Even Dalit leaders BSP boss Mayawati and Ram Vilas Paswan are on the same track.

The result is that upper castes, who have almost been written off, are back in the reckoning with a bang. In Bibar, they have come out of the wilderness by aligning with the OBC leadership of Nitish Kumar. The success for the combine has forced Lalu to realise that he would need more than just the Muslim-Yadav constituency to breast the tape.

His mellowing was obvious when he, in sharp contrast to his aggressive advocacy for early implementation of quota in the Union Cabinet and UPA meets, refrained from making public pronouncements in support of reservations in educational institutions.

Mulayam's compulsion to reach out to upper castes is even greater. Upper castes in UP are more numerous and critical in pockets of their dominance. As against this, Yadavs are fewer in number than in Bihar. With Mayawati having nominated 86 Brahmins and 46 Thakurs for the polls, Mulayam is under pressure to woo Thakurs and others. More so, because upper castes have taken to strategic voting and increasingly go less by party platforms.

If Left sounded more strident, it was only because it, with negligible stake in the state, could afford to.

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