Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is looking to script history by coming to power for a second term. From 1967 to 2012, the trend in UP has been that voters have swerved in one direction – to vote the government out. Since the late 1990s, state politics has been dominated by the regional Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) andalternated in power. But the story has changed since 2014.
BJP’s overwhelming victory from 2014 to 2019 resulted from three factors: a strong Modi-Wave, extraordinary Hindu vote consolidation, and fragmented opposition. In 2017, when BJP was challenging as an alternative on the pro-Modi wave, we witnessed a wholesome shift of the Dalits and marginalized Hindu voters to BJP.
This landslide wins of BJP forced former foes SP and BSP to join forces in the 2019 General Election. The SP, BSP, and RLD significantly increased the index of opposition unity with a pre-poll pact. BJP’s UP tally could have been halved if one believed in arithmetic, as most pollsters did. But in reality, it is not a simple matter of adding the vote shares, rather how well the alliance galvanizes each party’s supporters. We all know the outcome.
What’s at stake?
The UP election is more significant for its sheer size and numbers because it is seen as a test run before the 2024 general elections. If the BJP loses, or even if wins with a thin margin, it will be seen as a sign that the party’s, and more importantly of Prime Minister Modi’s pull, is on the decline.
Another loss for Akhilesh is not only likely to weaken his position as the leader of his party, but it will also put an end to the alliances he’s forged with smaller regional groups. For Mayawati, who has spent the past ten years in the political wilderness, if she loses decisively this time too, she may never be able to bounce back. Congress is not aiming for a win but hoping to revive the party in UP for a substantial role in the future.
While development may be on top of the mind, we cannot wholly ignore the complexities of religious and caste configurations in the electoral story of UP. Here is the broad caste-matrix of the state:
Muslims – 19.5%, Yadavs – 9%, Non-Yadav OBCs – 27.5% (including Baniyas), Dalits – 22%, Thakurs – 8%, Brahmins – 13%, and Jats-2%.
BJP’s success so far has been a Hindu rainbow consolidation comprising Upper-castes, non-Yadav OBCs including Baniyas, and non-Jatav Dalits, and this support base is stable. Only a massive shift of loyalties among its core voters can cause BJP a substantial decline.
The SP and BSP are parties of their sub-castes (Yadavs and Jatavs), and both their party cadres despise each other on the ground. Which side Muslims align, make them a force. Muslims play a decisive role in almost 120 constituencies of UP, and the majority of them will vote for SP.
The Hindu-Muslim conflicts are not new in UP. The caste identity of the Hindus in Muslim populated areas, especially in the Western UP– are mainly the Jats and Dalits. These are the people who live and survive with Muslims 365 days.
Since 2014, the Jats, who have traditionally backed Ajit Singh’s RLD, have swung BJP’s way and still supports them fully. It was also the epicentre of last year’s agitation by farmers. There was some anger in the community over the now withdrawn farm laws.
It is true that if Jats go along with Muslims and vote overwhelmingly for the SP-RLD alliance, a Muslim-Jat consolidation may mathematically spell doom to BJP in this region. However, there are some compelling reasons to the contrary. It is one of the most polarized regions where the riot of 2013 is a constant theme, and religious sentiments are strong. In such a fierce battle, expecting the victims to vote en masse to the SP-led alliance, which was seen as backing the perpetrators, is beyond comprehension.
Once upon a time, the Central UP was a Congress bastion that slowly shifted towards SP because of the significant presence and backing of the Yadavs and Muslims. However, BSP’s collapse and BJP’s alliance with Apna Dal have countered the consolidation. Also, Awadh for Shri Ram’s temple in Ayodhya, and Bundelkhand for the delivery on water shortages, should help BJP sweep the regions. Another issue for Akhilesh here is that the party patron Mulayam Singh is out of the scene, and the instances of family squabbles in public. SP is not on the same ground of strength as it was in 2012.
After the mega Kashi Vishvanath Corridor show in Varanasi, excitement for BJP can be experienced in the Eastern UP region. A significant development in the eastern UP has been BJP’s alliance with Nishad Party which majorly impacted the SP-BSP alliance last time too. This time, to consolidate the Nishad community, BJP has promised several subsidies to Nishads.
Yogi Adityanath’s primary challenger is former CM Akhilesh Yadav. Despite serious questions on the merit and feasibility of his winnability, he has captured media attention. Mr Yadav is working hard and has promised free electricity to all households, pensions for poor women and interest-free loans to farmers. He stitched up some tactical alliances with several smaller regional parties to brighten his chance. It is undeniable there is a certain buzz about the Akhilesh-Jayant duo, especially in the Eastern UP region.
However, Akhilesh also carries the baggage of crime-ridden, failed law and order situation, and ‘mafia-raj’ is considered his significant contribution to the state. The controversial communal moves like tomtom about Jinnah or giving party tickets to hardcore criminals and controversial Jihadis are making noises this election. UP’s Janata has seen this old bunch of corrupt, criminal, and inefficient political faces who bring nothing fresh to the table.
The four-time CM, Ms Mayawati, who has been out of power for a decade, has maintained a low profile this election season. Not many are willing to bet on her. Mayawati’s success has been her ability to woo the Upper caste and hold its Jatav vote block. These voters are gradually shifting towards BJP, is making her politically redundant. Jatavs look at SP as their main enemy and usually consolidate against it. In a surprising move, Mayawati publicly made a call to its core voters, to defeat SP alliance by voting BJP, if they see BSP candidate is not winning. Sensing that BJP is in a strong position and Mayawati standing marginalized, BJP can sway the Jatavs from BSP. If it can do so, it will again be a tsunami.
A host of smaller parties are also in the fray. Congress, led by Priyanka Gandhi, is one of them. Despite media’s undue attention to her ‘female-centric’ incoherent campaign, she gets hobbled by a complete lack of support on the ground.
In 2017, the BJP won a thumping majority riding on the popularity and charisma of PM Modi. Without any hesitation, the party chose a saffron-robed Hindu monk-turned politician known for his clear views and straight talk as the Chief Minister. CM Yogi capitalized on this god-sent opportunity to serve the people to the best of his ability and without fear and favour.
BJP leadership is clear that the development as prime agenda and subtle Hindutva as the undercurrent is probably their best electoral template in UP. While PM Modi is selling the dream of development, CM Yogi’s campaign is focused on the core 80-20 equation asserting the Hindu conscience. Apart from Ram Temple and Kashi Vishvanath corridor and talks about revamping Mathura, CM Yogi emphasizes various sub-regional concerns of core voters – say, ten years punishment to ‘Love-Jihad’ convicts.
Before 2017 also, Yogi Ji raised these fundamental, local issues like “love jihad,” “anti-Romeo squad,’ and proposed ‘ban on slaughterhouses,’ which gained maximum traction, that the mainstream media hates to address. The other vital issues were power cuts, unprecedented crime and corruption, women safety, water shortages, roads & transport, and health – especially children dying of encephalitis.
People of UP have witnessed a fundamental change – be it electricity or water, security or law & order, or battle against encephalitis or CoVID. He deservingly looks confident for an encore. This time, his central election plank – improved law and order and safety to women in the state, resonates with the masses.
CM Yogi replicates the corruption-free, development-oriented administration PM Modi gave in Gujarat. Indian electorates do not vote such governments out, somewhat back them even more aggressively.
In the past year, though, the party was on a back foot on narratives – first on CoVID handling and later over the contentious farm laws. It reminds us how, in 2017, UP overwhelmingly rejected all the brouhaha over Demonetization. Simply because of their faith in the leadership’s intent was rock solid. The “farmers are furious” myth will also be busted after UP Poll.
There’s no sign of any anti-incumbency against BJP and none so far against the incumbent Chief Minister. CM Yogi is looked upon as a selfless, tough administrator. People realize that he is honest and works round-the-clock for his state. He doesn’t indulge in fake-secular politics – his delivery includes all. The saffron-clad Yogi is also looked upon as the saviour of Indian culture and traditions – one who instils pride and confidence in Sanatan Dharma.
The last time BJP claimed a chance to govern, it was leaderless. This time, they have a leader whose popularity in UP is second only to PM Modi. Today, Yogi Adityanath is a clear choice of people and can win UP again simply on his personality, demonstrated abilities in all areas of governance, and people’s non-fading expectations.
The Modi Bonus:
In recent months, Prime Minister Modi has made nearly a dozen trips to the state, addressing gatherings and exhorting voters to give BJP another chance. PM Modi’s hysterical support base in UP is because of his Govt’s last-mile delivery. It has won the hearts of millions of poor, and especially women. They understand that he stands by them, and it has galvanized the poor across caste lines to overcome their insecurity. Every household has received some, or the other direct benefit – (House, Gas, Electricity, Bank A/c, Ayushman card, Toilets, etc.) in terms of necessities of everyday life that shockingly didn’t happen in last 70yrs. One of the most appreciated deliveries has been the cash transfers and free rations during the pandemic. UP’s women alone can comfortably push the BJP above the finish line.
With Modi-Yogi’s popularity, complemented by unprecedented improvement in the law & order of the state and last-mile delivery, this election is also leading to a wave. There is again a realm of possibility that the BJP may again get nearly three-fourths of the total seats approaching a triple century.
However, some editorial class and fraud pollsters in and around Delhi are hoping that the Akhilesh plus a bunch of inconsequential leaders’ partnership may win UP. Only in their fantasies, like I had one, during the 2021 Bengal Election.