BJP which won 50 out of 61 seats in the fifth phase of elections in 2017 with a 40 per cent vote share is now facing the electorate with visible perplexity after five years in 2022 as it enters the fifth round of polling. While its perplexity began in the first phase of elections itself and got deepened in the second phase and continued to be taken forward in the third and fourth phases, the gathering electoral crises it confronts in the fifth and sixth and seventh phases need deeper analysis.
As voters queue up to exercise their franchise the election scenario in the fifth phase is marked by Prime Minister Modi’s statement that “Ayega to Yogi hi,” Yogi is will Come as Chief Minister”. While such statements are made by none other than Prime Minister the pictures of Yogi in Gorakhpur, the constituency of Yogi, are missing from the hoardings which only contain the picture of Modi. The paradox in such developments further intensifies the perplexity which gets further compounded by the hordes of pictures in UP of OBC leader of Madhya Pradesh Uma Bharti, former Chief Minister of that State.
Commentators are puzzled by such developments which convey contradictory messages. It is interpreted that Yogi’s declaration in an interview in mid january that he is proud of his Khytriya caste identity as several incarnations of God were born as Kshytriyas affirmed what is growingly perceived as his relentless Thakurvad which remained central to his tenure as Chief Minister of UP. Such unabashed celebration of his caste identity and the superiority writ large in it underline Dr. B R Ambedkar’s description of caste system as “representing a system with ascending order of reverence and descending order of contempt.”
Thakurvad captures the essence of what Ambedkar had said about the caste system and brought out its hierarchical structure rooted in contempt for those placed in the lower part of hierarchy. The fifth phase of election in UP and other two phases where the caste equations play a crucial role in determining electoral outcomes seem to intensify the troubles for BJP and further fortify the position of Samajwadi Party(SP) and its alliance partners which are engaged in a largely bi polar contest with BJP and its election alliance partners. In the 2017 elections BJP had formed alliance with formations which had huge support base of non-Yadav Other Back Ward Castes and non-Jathav castes belonging to Dalit categories.
With desertions of such formations from BJP and their joining hands with SP and the strategic decisions of SP leader Akhilesh Yadav to field relatively less number of Yadav and Muslim candidates in this election has enhenced credibility of the party rooted in its resurgent social justice agenda which remained central to the Mandal spirit as opposed to Kamndal represented by the construction of Ram temple in place of Babri Mosque.
The people belonging to Bhumihar caste normally stood by BJP and the party secured their support during elections. It is instructive that a large chunk of this caste is now mobilising itself in the fifth and other two subsequent phases in favour of the SP. It constitutes a very striking development. Similarly there is huge Pasi non-Yadav Dalit community which is getting alligned with SP. These are extraordinary development.
Such alliance of non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jathav Dalits with SP is rooted in several factors the chief among which is the persistent feeling among them that the BJP by enacting legislation for reservation quotas for Economically Weaker Sections is slowly going to put an end to reservation system which greatly rendered social justice to those who were victims of exclusion and deprivation because of caste inequality and discrimination heaped on them for centuries. Their apprehensions are exacerbated by the fact that the reservation policy for OBCs and Dalits was never implemented by Yogi regime and it was famously stated that eligible candidates from those castes were not available while recruiting candidates to the Government jobs. Added to it is the refusal of Modi and Yogi regime not to conduct caste census even as Prime Minister’s OBC identity helped the BJP in 2014, 2017 and 2019 to reap huge electoral dividends.
As the BJP loses huge ground on account of lack of support from non-Yadav OBCs it seems desperate to use former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati’s picture in its campaign posters at the last moment. But then why this preference for Uma Bharati? She while belonging to OBC community hails from MP and it is beyond comprehension to appreciate her impact in the ongoing UP elections in which she has been not found campaigning for BJP .It is a proven fact that Mulayam Singh Yadav with his Yadav tag never gained traction in Bihar electoral filed where Yadavs are present in large numbers and Lalu Yadav with same caste identity as that of Mulayam found himself unacceptable in UP. The worries of BJP is evidenced by the preference for Uma Bharti who possibly has been chosen primarily not to project any OBC leader from within UP so as to underline Modi’s statement that ““Ayega to Yogi hi.”
In the fourth, fifth and other two concluding phases there is an attempt being made by BJP to break the consolidation of Muslims behind SP. It was evidenced by top BJP leader and Home Minister Amit Shah’s generous praise for Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) which he said is spiritedly fighting the elections and Muslims should vote for its candidates. It is worth noting that Muslims constitute 18 per cent of the electorate in the areas where the fifth phase of elections is being conducted. With unmistakable support from Muslim community to SP and the possibility of big electoral set back arising out of such support to BJP, the call by Amit Shah for Muslims to support BSP brings out the desperation of BJP to divide Muslims who so far have not been divided by the highly communal and polarised statements of BJP leaders. The acknowledgement of BSP leader Mayawati that statement of Amit Shah appreciating BSP brought out his magnanimity seems to convey the message that both BJP and BSP have some implicit understanding to make the election contests triangular. Such last minute strategy of BJP is unlikely to succeed. There are deeper reasons behind this.
Like the historic farmers’ movement against farm laws bridging the gulf between Jat and Muslim famers and almost putting an end to the polarised plank of BJP, the anti CAA(Citizenship Amednemnt Act) movement in Lucknow and other parts of UP brought together Sunni and Shia Muslims together and prompted them to stand behind the political formation which would spell defeat the BJP which they thought is out to take away their citizenship status. So the massive consolidation of Sunny and Shia Muslims behind SP has caused worry for BJP which seems to lose ground on account of huge loss of support from the Non-Yadav and non-Jathav castes.
The other factors which have become force multipliers for SP are Kisan movement the impact of which has been felt beyond western UP and embraced in its scope whole of UP which is now witnessing the menace of stray cattle destroying crops of all castes and faiths. Prime Minister’s recent statement that BJP would formulate a policy to make stray cattle economically viable by using cow dung sounds hollow given the fact that nothing was done during the tenure of Yogi’s five years’ rule to address a crisis which has assumed the proportion of a catastrophe. Added to it are the issues of rising prices, massive unemployment and loss of livelihood on an alarming scale. Akhilesh Yadav’s assurances to restore old pension scheme for Government employees and other measures is expected to neutralise BJP’s electoral support which it thinks would come from the category of Labhartis, beneficiaries, who have got free ration and money credited to their accounts by Modi regime.
It is clear from the electoral history of UP that the party which established a lead in the western UP always continued the trend of taking that forward and registering victory in elections. It is in this context that there are enough indications showing edge of SP over BJP in western UP and the westerly electoral winds would most likely take it forward and hopefully put it in an advantageous position vis a vis BJP in the bipora election contest in the UP, the electoral outcome of which shape politics at national level.
#The author served as Officer on Special Duty and Press Secretary to President of India late Shri K R Narayanan and had a tenure in Prime Minister’s Office and Joint Secretary in Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed in the article are in his personal capacity.