The 2014 Verdict: Decoding UP

by Dr A.K Verma - Sep 13, 2014 05:14 AM +05:30 IST
The 2014 Verdict: Decoding UP

The BJP owes as much of its success in the state to its rival political parties as to Narendra Modi and Amit Shah

To many, the recent Lok Sabha (LS) election results in Uttar Pradesh (UP) continue to be an enigma.  The BJP swept the polls, winning 71 out of 78 seats while its ally, Apna Dal, won both seats allotted to it. The collective victory took the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)’s tally to 73 out of a total of 80 seats with a massive 42.3 per cent of the vote.

The BJP’s triumph was unique for several reasons.  One, it was the party’s best seat and vote share till date; the previous best was in 1998 when it had won 57 seats and 36.5 per cent votes. Two, it changed the state’s voting patterns.  Since 1989, state politics had been traditionally dominated by the caste-based Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and Samajwadi Party (SP).  With the exception of short governments on four occasions totaling six years, all governments in UP were formed by either of the two.

Three, the BJP leadership had completely collapsed in the state and the party’s ideology stood rejected.  Still, the party managed a stunning performance. What happened?

The ‘Modi wave’ was undeniable. But how much credit for the party’s massive victory should PM candidate Modi get, and how much should be given to Amit Shah, in-charge of UP elections? Also, why was SP routed so badly (though it kept its vote share of 2012), and why was the BSP completely decimated?  What confined the Congress only to the twin constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareilly represented by Gandhis? These and many other tricky questions form a complex matrix that requires careful decoding.

There is no denying that people were disgusted with caste-based party regimes and caste politics, and also the callous neglect of both governance and development by successive governments.  Law and order had broken down, and long power cuts only added to their woes. Progress of both the individual and the state had stagnated. In such a scenario, people were raring for a change.

Saffron Sweep 

The “saffron sweep” requires holistic analysis since it was the result of cumulative factors : the mood on the ground, the party’s chief election pitch of development,  its charismatic prime ministerial candidate and its energetic campaign chief.

But perhaps the most crucial factor in the BJP’s victory was the risky and reportedly controversial decision to anoint Modi as its PM candidate.

This annoyed party stalwarts like Lal Krishna Advani. The Advani faction became almost disinterested in the party campaign: many in that camp sincerely hoped that, in the end, either Advani or Rajnath Singh would emerge as a compromise candidate for prime ministership. That was clearly demonstrated during Modi’s rallies where we did not notice presence of senior BJP leaders.

The choice of Modi also gave the media and opposition parties an opportunity to go for the jugular : by aiming their guns at a person who, since the Gujarat riots of 2002, had emerged as the most criticized, even demonized politician in the country.

Modi called the bluff. Having experienced party factionalism in Gujarat and onslaughts from anti-Modi forces from both ends of the political spectrum for 14 long years, the superb strategist decided to bypass party leaders and take his campaign straight to the people. The rapport was immediate. His energy, his oratory skills and his positive focus on development and inclusivity convinced thousands of people that they were listening to a clear winner. Cleverly, Modi conducted his campaign in presidential style, crafting his own rival out of the Congress’s Rahul Gandhi and defeating him resoundingly in public debates. The dividends were rich.

Role of Amit Shah

Amit Shah’s role in the victory was a crucial one too.  He took help from the Citizens for Accountable Governance (CAG), a powerful group of motivated volunteers comprising graduates from top institutes like the IITs, IIMs, Brown University, California Institute of Technology and the London School of Economics. CAG also included executives from financial firms like JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs. CAG studied the constituencies and compiled a 200-page report. Shah, in turn, passed it on to the RSS, whose swayamsevaks went on a massive campaign drive, especially in rural UP.

CAG approached the campaign in UP like a project management challenge, turning each foul by opponents into points for Modi. When the Congress’ Mani Shankar Aiyyar derided Modi as a chaiwalah (tea seller), CAG and Shah immediately launched “chai pe charcha” (conversation over a cup of tea) in about 1,000 tea stalls across UP.  Similarly, Shah very effectively employed slogans like Modi aane wale hain (Modi is coming) and Achchhe din aane wale hain (good days are ahead) to grab eyeballs. Together, CAG and Shah’s spadework was effective, efficient and ensured a smooth election campaign for Modi.

And yet, giving Shah full credit for the BJP’s success would not be fair to the people of UP.  That is because they had almost made up their minds a couple of months before the elections. There was a clear signal for the voters’ preference of development over caste. Impressed by the Gujarat model, many looked at Modi as the development man and hoped that he would bring similar progress to UP.

Why did SP lose?

The Samajwadi Party was confined to a coterie of four Yadav family members representing five constituencies. Mulayam Singh Yadav (who won from both Azamgarh and Mainpuri ), Dimple (Yadav’s daughter-in-law) and  Dharmendra and Akshay (both his nephews). But though it had been reduced from 23 seats to five, it it lost just 1.1 per cent of the vote compared to the 2009 LS elections.

This is an important indicator, since as per CSDS (Centre for Study of Developing Societies) data, the SP lost popularity among all social groups except Muslims. Despite the Muzzaffarnagar riots that had brought the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP government disrepute and drawn Muslim resentment, 58 per cent of Muslims—as opposed to 30 per cent in 2009—still voted for the party. This was surprising, because even Yadavs and OBCs, who form the core constituency of the SP, deserted the party. While Yadav support declined by 20 percentage points, that from OBCs declined by 12 percentage points compared to 2009.

So why did UP’s Muslims still cling to the SP, when all other social groups had moved away?  Largely because of the post-Muzaffarnagar scenario, when a clear polarization prevailed in the state. Even the Congress and the BSP became suspect to Muslim eyes, at least in western UP.   That left Muslims no option but to vote for the SP. Conversely, Hindus of whichever prior allegiance were angered enough by the Akhilesh government’s blatantly partisan approach towards Muslims during the riots and voted against the SP.

Mayawati’s Failed Social Engineering

And whatever happened to Mayawati’s social engineering? Why did her BSP face a complete rout? The party could not retain a single seat out of the 20 it had won in the 2009 LS elections. Its vote share also declined by 7.8 per cent (2009: 27.4, 2014: 19.6). But, the most disconcerting aspect of the defeat was that, like the SP, it lost votes in all social denominations including its core constituency i.e. the Dalits. Among Muslims, the party somehow managed to cling to its previous share (2009:18, 2014:18) though Mayawati continued to charge that Muslims did not vote for BSP.

So had Mayawati abandoned her social engineering ? Or had it simply failed? Will her core constituency return to her fold at the next assembly polls scheduled in 2017? On the other hand, BSP sympathizers consoling Mayawati for her dismal performance may be getting it seriously wrong. She may have lost the elections, but she appears to have succeeded in her objective: not to win seats as much as to finish off her arch-rival Mulayam Singh Yadav. So focused was she on achieving his downfall, that Mayawati is reported to have even transferred Dalit votes to the BJP, merely to reduce Mulayam’s dream target from 70 to merely five seats. In doing so, she was unmindful of the cost.

It is in this light that her indifference to any social engineering drive and her low profile campaign have to be seen, and also the impossibility of her coming together with Mulayam as suggested by Lalu Prasad Yadav in wake of RJD-JD(U) coming together in Bihar. Therewith, she put an end to his prime ministerial ambitions as well as ended his clout, not only within the UPA combine but also in any possible Third Front.

Congress Debacle

The party that suffered the worst nightmare was the Congress. It was reduced to two seats and a mere 7.5 per cent of the vote, registering a sharp decline of 19 LS seats and 10.8 per cent of the vote, compared to 2009.  Much like the SP and BSP, the Congress, too, lost votes across all social denominations.  Most of all, this election will be long remembered for the complete debacle that Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi turned out to be: for both his inept handing of a seasoned rival like Modi, as well as his childish and absurd utterances which exposed his unsuitability for the prime ministerial job.

With Congressmen themselves rising up against Rahul at present, it is only a matter of time before the party—still clinging to the Gandhis—fields its last trump card: Priyanka.

But given the blistering pace that the current Prime Minister has set within barely 100 days in office, chances of his being displaced by anyone from either within the BJP or other parties, appear bleak. At least in the near future.

AAP Blunder

No analysis of the 2014 elections in UP is complete without a reference to the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).  After it had formed a government in New Delhi in December 2013, the party had virtually stolen the show in neighbouring UP.  For some weeks, it had seemed as though Modi’s election campaign had lost its sheen. People were visibly excited by the opportunity the AAP provided as an alternative platform to the Congress and the BJP. However, their enthusiasm took a dramatic nosedive when Arvind Kejriwal decided to quit as Delhi chief minister. The irrational grounds cited by Kejriwal for his resignation disappointed and angered them. They turned towards the BJP. Hence, some credit for Modi’s victory should also be channeled towards the AAP.

The Next Stage

The BJP is back in UP after a very long spell, a fact that the party will surely attempt to capitalize on in the next assembly polls. It is clear that it will adopt a radically new approach to party organization and management: an amalgamation of technology, development and inclusion, with a keen eye on attracting the state’s largest social denomination—the OBCs, especially the More-Backwards and the Most- Backwards. And, most importantly, without indulging in the old trick of “appeasement”, the BJP is in serious dialogue with the state’s Muslims too: an approach that may prove mutually advantageous to both sides.

Narendra Modi has not only drawn the incumbent Akhilesh government into a competitive politics of development but has also staked serious claim for OBC leadership in UP.



A K Verma is Director, Centre for the Study of Society and Politics, Kanpur.

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