Caution: Why You Should Think Twice Before Comparing #UP2017 To #Bihar2015
One, Rahul Gandhi in UP is not at all similar to Lalu in Bihar.
Two, Amit Shah’s acceptance unlike that in Bihar.
Three, recent events give BJP the chance to take this election beyond mere caste arithmetic.
We started with the development of Uttar Pradesh but now are stuck at advertising for asses of Gujarat and crematoriums and graveyards. The restraint over language gives in anyway during an election campaign, but even that has some limits.
The opponents of Prime Minister Narendra Modi saw his statement (on crematoriums and graveyards) as aimed at polarisation, while his supporters saw it as a comment on the caste- and religion-based discrimination in the (Uttar Pradesh) government’s policies.
Even the Chief Minister’s statements were seen, by a large chunk of his supporters and critics alike, as one violating the lakshman rekha of decorum. Had the same thing been said by Rahul Gandhi, no one would have objected, or let’s say, no one would have been surprised. Rahul is known for such language, but in five years before this election campaign, not once has Akhilesh lost restraint over his speech. This was his third self-goal, and this can prove to damaging, since he’s not Arvind Kejriwal.
The political winds in Uttar Pradesh seem to be saying that the electorate is moving towards handing a clear mandate. It is obvious that when three main parties are in contest, two of them have to end up as losers. With an alliance with the Congress at the beginning of the campaign, joint press conferences, and road shows, it was only Akhilesh who was visible in the entire state. Before all this, he had already turned from ‘Tipu’ to ‘Sultan’ in the conflict within the party. It was greenery all around.
There were reports that the Muslim voters would support the Samajwadi-Congress alliance in the same way they supported the Mahagathbandhan in Bihar. Add to this updates that in western UP, the Jats had turned against the BJP; that the party was occupied with dealing with discontent over ticket distribution and that its campaign was not able to take off. All in all, the discussion in the state centred around two boys. Both their parties had come to believe that UP ko yeh saath pasand hai (UP likes this partnership).
On the other hand, after coming to power on the back of Brahmin support in 2007, BSP supremo Mayawati played for a Dalit-Muslim combine this time. She thinks that she has 99 rupees and needs just one. And she didn’t think it to be difficult, because in her view Akhilesh and Rahul had just one rupee while claiming that they had 99. A popular perception that BJP would be pushed to third spot was gaining ground.
The ripples in the still waters of SP-Congress and BSP were caused by the first electoral meeting of the Prime Minister. Crowds came and how they came. So, this was met with the jibe that crowds showed up in large numbers in Bihar too. What was forgotten was that this is Uttar Pradesh, not Bihar. The Akhilesh-Rahul alliance is not like the one between Lalu and Nitish. There, both of them had some weight in their jholis. Here, Rahul Gandhi’s jholi is empty through and through.
It is said that often there is little separating courage from imprudence. Akhilesh Yadav thinks that it is courageous to tie a boulder labelled ‘Congress’ around one’s neck and swim. He is beginning to realise that this was imprudence instead. The purpose of the alliance was to prevent the Muslim vote from getting divided, but that happened right in the first round itself.
The second round was worse. Despite Muslim votes getting divided there was a polarisation of Hindu ones. Perhaps it was after getting to know of this that Akhilesh Yadav lost control over his speech. First he went to Etawah and issued threats to uncle Shivpal Yadav and supporters of his own party. He said—it is still our government, if there is any complaint regarding what you have earned, I’ll order an enquiry. Next he headed for Barabanki and without naming Beni Prasad Verma branded him as ‘ungrateful’. It was for sending him to the Rajya Sabha, Akhilesh said, that we ensured the support of 35 MLAs, and he is working to defeat our candidate itself.
Both these remarks betray that senior leaders of the party are out to make its own candidates lose. Mulayam Singh has not campaigned yet for any candidate except for younger brother Shivpal and daughter-in-law Aparna Yadav.
As the election progresses, the results of BJP president Amit Shah’s social engineering are beginning to show. For the first time after 1991 and 2014, non-Yadav OBCs and other disadvantaged sections of the society are seen consolidating behind the BJP. Looking at the enthusiasm of the public at Shah’s electoral meetings and his road show in Allahabad last Tuesday, it can be said that if the elections of 2014 established him as an effective organiser outside of Gujarat, then 2017 would establish him as a leader with a support base.
Those who saw Amit Shah’s programmes in Bihar would not believe what they would see in UP. In his meetings here, the mentions of the centre’s Ujjwala Yojana (under which the poor get a gas stove and connection for free) and the promise of shutting down slaughterhouses as soon as a BJP government comes to power, gets the maximum applause. His entire speech is made in the form of a conversation. All of this is being mentioned here because such scenes were not to be found in BJP’s rallies for the past one-and-half or two decades.
While Uttar Pradesh is voting to elect a Vidhan Sabha, the elections, on BJP’s part, are being fought by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He is the ‘trump card’ of the BJP. The party’s fate in this election hinges on its capability to convert into votes the respect and affection which the deprived sections have for him. If the BJP is in fact able to do that, then this election can go beyond mere caste arithmetic. The youth and the disadvantaged sections of the electorate still trust Modi.
The results for election to five state assemblies will come on 11 March, but the outcome of the Odisha panchayat elections show the direction in which the winds are blowing. More important than the BJP getting votes, is knowing the sections whose votes it got.
The UP Vidhan Sabha elections began as a contest between SP-Congress and BJP but from the first round itself it switched to a BJP vs BSP fight. Why did SP fall behind? This was answered by a senior party leader.
“SP is now a party of bhaiya-bhabhi. In no decision of the party are Mulayam, Shivpal, Beni, Revtiraman, or Azam Khan included. Amongst the upper castes, the Brahmins and the Banias anyway didn’t vote for the SP. While the Thakurs voted in bulk last time, Akhilesh went on to marginalise the Thakur leaders of his own party.”
Will the fall of the Gandhi fortress be followed by the fall of the Yadav fortress? Wait till 11 March for the answers.
This piece was first published in ‘Dainik Jagran’ and has been republished here after translation with the author’s permission.
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