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BJP or SP-Congress? UP verdict wide open

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay is the author of 'Narendra Modi: The Man', 'The Times and Sikhs: The Untold Agony of 1984'.
Published : Feb 24, 2017, 12:48 am IST
Updated : Feb 24, 2017, 6:25 am IST

An indication that Modi too is not certain is evident in his ploy to proclaim himself the “adopted son” of Varanasi.

Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav addresses an election rally in Bahraich district. (Photo: PTI)
 Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav addresses an election rally in Bahraich district. (Photo: PTI)

Unless one is either a senior leader of the three principal parties in Uttar Pradesh or their loyalists, the only assertion that can be made with certainty is that uncertainty prevails over the verdict. Based either on anecdotal evidence, perception or gut sense, the two scenarios for which most bets are being placed are: a hung Assembly or the BJP securing a majority. Few people talk about a Samajwadi Party-Congress victory and even lesser are willing to place a wager on the Bahujan Samaj Party. Anecdotal evidence is not always spot on but it can’t be discounted. The final tally is thus anyone’s guess. If the electorate eventually throws up a fragmented verdict, it would be the first such after the decisive 2014 Lok Sabha elections. This would establish that the parliamentary poll did not foretell the return of homogenous verdicts but was merely due to the Narendra Modi wave. If UP returns to its pre-2007 status — when no single party secured a clear majority after 1991 — it would confirm that political waves remain transitory. The adage that anything which goes up eventually comes down will be reaffirmed. But a comfortable majority for either the SP-Congress alliance or the BJP would indicate a significant fundamental shift in political and social equations.

For starters, a BJP victory would indicate that the party’s strategy of going into state elections without a chief ministerial face is not flawed and that its success or failure depends mainly on the challenger. A BJP majority will establish that Akhilesh Yadav is no Nitish Kumar or Arvind Kejriwal and that Mr Modi as a vote-catcher can prevail in state polls too, specially when the rival does not match him in stature. Despite efforts to deflect the anti-incumbent sentiment on the rival faction, Mr Yadav is still a fair distance away from becoming symbol of regional pride. An indication that Mr Modi too is not certain is evident in his ploy to proclaim himself the “adopted son” of Varanasi.

But, more importantly, a BJP majority will indicate expansion of its social base and spell success for the strategy initiated in the 1990s by former BJP strategist K.N. Govindacharya. In the early years of the post-Mandal phase, the idea of social engineering was introduced with emphasis on reaching out to non-represented or non-empowered sections among Scheduled Castes and OBCs. After a break of a few years when the BJP was in the wilderness, when Rajnath Singh was chief minister, the BJP initiated measures to ensure equitable distribution of reservation benefits among SCs and OBCs and end single-caste domination of benefits (for instance by Chamars/Jatavs and Yadavs in the two communities). The Hukum Singh Committee, established in June 2001, submitted its report in a short period and its recommendations were accepted by the government. Consequently, OBCs were categorised in three categories — A, B and C and reservations were made separately with the “C” category securing 14 per cent (out of 28 per cent), highest among OBCs sub-groups. Similarly, the BJP began wooing most backward dalits, but the strategy faltered once the BJP lost power in 2002.

In 2014, the BJP’s massive 42 per cent voteshare was possibly greatly because “B” and “C” category OBCs — Sonar, Kurmi, Giri, Gossai, Lodh, Kahar, Kevat, Teli, Nat, Lohar, etc — along with most backward dalits aspired for change and found Mr Modi extremely appealing mainly because they had been denied their share of the political pie despite preferential reservation policy from Mr Singh’s tenure. A majority for the BJP — its importance can be gauged from the BJP allocating almost 170 candidates from non-Yadav OBCs — would mark a social transition as its core vote base will expand beyond its hitherto Punjabi-Bania base. Such a verdict would also mark closure of different OBCs considering each other as natural political partners. Most significantly, Mr Modi will achieve the goal of ensuring the BJP’s transition from being a Brahmin-Bania party. The strategy is similar to what was knitted by Mr Kumar in Bihar but with an essential difference.

In UP, when the OBC outreach of the BJP was initiated, a significant feature of the strategy was to cull out mythological tales, which depicted these castes in significant or heroic roles. Consequently, social aspirations of the OBCs remained within the Hindutva frame echoing the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s arguments while drawing the tribals into their fold from the 1950s when the Vanvasi Kalyan Kendra was established. In 2014, the BJP secured 282 seats and sent a signal to Muslims that they had become irrelevant to the political process. If the BJP wins in UP, it will indicate that despite virtually no support from almost 29 per cent of people (Muslims and Jatavs), it can secure a majority. But for this to happen there must be overwhelming support from the remaining 71 per cent.

In contrast to the long-term social impact of a BJP victory, a majority for the SP-Congress alliance will have more immediate impact. For starters, Mr Yadav and Rahul Gandhi will have to find ways to either shed or go around the hesitance to commit to an alliance in 2019. But this is easier said than done because the two parties have overlapping social bases, specially among Muslims. A victory for SP-Congress will underscore that the two parties got the poll arithmetic right and point to a huge erosion in support for Mr Modi, which will have considerable ramifications. Because this potential success will be largely a result of electoral and political management along with the SP’s strategic transformation, Mr Yadav will have to remain focused on infrastructure-based development projects. Building roads and ensuring electricity around the clock will remain his key priorities. He claimed in an interview that “the United States made roads, and the roads made the US.” That would mean virtually following the path of Mr Modi as chief minister. Can anyone deny that there is an irony at every step in Indian politics?

Tags: lok sabha elections, akhilesh yadav, arvind kejriwal, nitish kumar