Former Cabinet in the Yogi Adityanath government, Swami Prasad Maurya, joined the Samajwadi Party (SP) on 14 January. Maurya's switch from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to SP is being touted by some as a momentous political event leading upto the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. Here are five reasons why that may not be the case.
1. Past the voters’ deadline
If there is one lesson from the last three Vidhan Sabha elections held in Uttar Pradesh, it is that the electorate is ready with its verdict at least three-four months before polling. At the least.
The last two months, including the campaigning period, can decide the exact numbers each party gets, but who gets a majority is decided before that. Candidate selection can swing outcomes in close contests, but no more. The decision which the state electorate has already made cannot be overturned in the campaigning period.
Swami Prasad Maurya missed that deadline by the proverbial mile.
He joined the SP on 14 January, a full week after the EC announced the dates for UP polls on 8 January. The first round of polling in the state is on 10 February.
As of today, the BJP looks set to return to government in Uttar Pradesh. If Swami Prasad Maurya wanted to prevent that outcome, he’s too late in getting started. The voter has already made her mind up.
But it’s not just about UP. Zoom out a little and you realise that even outside it, no leader has been able to reverse the political trends in his state in the last three-four months before voting, leave alone in the last three-four weeks.
Suvendu Adhikari joined the BJP in West Bengal in December 2020. West Bengal voted in eight phases across late March and all of April 2021. On counting day, it was clear that while Adhikari was able to hold on to his turf in Nandigram against the might of Mamata Banerjee, he could not influence the outcomes in other seats.
2. Leaders can add to the political mood, they cannot create it from scratch last minute
Maurya joined the BJP in August 2016, and Uttar Pradesh voted for a new assembly in February 2017. To repeat the obvious, the BJP alone got 312 seats in this election, out of a total of 403 (strike rate of 81) at 40 per cent vote share.
Is it really anyone’s case that had Maurya not shifted from the BSP to the BJP six months before elections, the BJP would have fallen short of a majority? In fact, Maurya’s own son, Utkrist, contesting from Unchahar in Raebareli, was one of the only 72 BJP candidates out of 384 who managed to lose in a wave election.
But even if someone were to unreasonably argue that it was Maurya who dragged the BJP over the majority mark in Uttar Pradesh by bringing in his support base, the immediate question to him should be—what happened in 2012?
In the 2012 Uttar Pradesh assembly elections, the BSP crashed to 80 seats from 206. If Maurya’s presence in your side is guarantee of support of the non-Yadav OBCs, and of victory, why did the incumbent BSP lose 126 seats in an election held at a time when Maurya was amongst the most powerful ministers of the UP government?
In fact, go back five years further to 2007 and it gets even more interesting. In a year when the BSP overturned political assumptions in UP and secured a full majority on its own, Maurya himself lost his seat of Dalmau, in Raebareli. It was a seat he had held twice before, in 1996 and 2002, but in 2007, when there was a BSP wave in UP, on his own seat Maurya didn’t even come second but finished third behind the Congress and Samajwadi Party candidates. (It was only after this that Maurya shifted to Padrauna in Kushinagar, a seat he held twice in 2012 and ‘17).
Losing your constituency when the party is sweeping the state and winning when the party loses. Apart from 2017, the electoral fates of Maurya and his parties haven’t really converged. That is not a record you would expect from a leader claiming to decisively influence election mandates in the state.
3. BJP’s own non-Yadav OBC leaders across the state
If a survey were done today to crown the most popular political leader from amongst the non-Yadav OBC communities in Uttar Pradesh, it would not be a surprise to see Keshav Prasad Maurya emerge as the winner. It could well be by virtue of the fact that he’s the serving Deputy Chief Minister, but that’s what it is.
Beyond this, it was not merely a coincidence that when the Prime Minister inducted seven new ministers in his council from Uttar Pradesh, three of them belonged to non-Yadav OBC communities. BL Verma comes from the Lodh community, which is arguably the staunchest supporter of the BJP in the state. Pankaj Chaudhary is a Kurmi and is a six-time MP from Maharajganj in eastern UP. Anupriya Patel, from BJP’s ally Apna Dal, is also a Kurmi and commands support in south-eastern UP.
This is in addition to around 95 BJP MLAs coming from the OBC communities in the outgoing state Assembly (not counting Maurya and followers). These 95 represented all regions and nearly all sub-castes of the OBC group.
Apart from these, the BJP is also in alliance this time with the NISHAD party, representing the OBC community the party is named after.
4. Parties can beat anti-incumbency by dumping leaders, not vice-versa
In the event that Maurya thinks that there was disaffection against him in his constituency and that he could beat it by switching parties, he would be wrong.
Parties can deflect anti-incumbency by asking unpopular leaders to leave; unpopular leaders can’t beat anti-incumbency by changing parties.
Take a current example, from Punjab. All serious Punjab-watchers were reporting that Captain Amarinder Singh was growing unpopular by the day, through the last year. If Congress entered the 2022 contest under his leadership, it could abandon any hopes of a return to government.
Cut to present day. The party showed Amarinder Singh the door, and if pre-poll surveys are to be taken half seriously, it is back in the reckoning in Punjab.
On the other hand, while earlier Captain was only unpopular, today he appears both unpopular and—in the context of the outcome of the Punjab elections—irrelevant.
In the same way, in case Swami Prasad Maurya thinks there is anti-incumbency against him in his constituency of Padrauna, he may well beat it by changing seats, changing parties will not help. Meanwhile, in case the BJP was sensing anti-incumbency in Padrauna, and wanted to deny Maurya a ticket or change his constituency, that’s one difficult conversation less for the party there.
5. It’s not the 90s anymore
That 2022 isn’t a year from the 1990s is obvious. But when journalists with decades of experience explain the current UP elections in ‘mandal-kamandal’ terms, some obvious truths need repeating in writing.
It is not my case that Uttar Pradesh has moved into a post-caste utopia. It is, rather, that in the last six-seven years, its political landscape has undergone a transformation. And this said change is driven by three factors: Modi; last-mile delivery of welfare schemes; and Hindutva.
Transparent, unbiased, and efficient provision of welfare schemes reduces the power of those community or regional leaders who controlled such processes in the past. Hindutva presents the people with an idea for believing in a cause larger than themselves and to be with the momentum of history. And both of these, social welfare and Hindutva, are symbolised in Narendra Modi.
As of today, hence, there are a large number of voters in Uttar Pradesh who defy the conventional understanding of the state’s politics but appear completely reasonable to anyone not biased or willfully ignorant of facts.
It is not that the BJP doesn’t balance caste equations in the state. It does, and does it better than anyone else of late. But it knows that after eight years of Modi and five years of Yogi, caste alone won’t take it through.
Even if it was the ‘90s, when in that decade in Uttar Pradesh did a leader switch parties and take the electoral mandate with him? An entire party switching alliances did wonders; leaders switching parties didn’t.
Perhaps that’s why in his speech in the event to mark his entry into the SP, Maurya said that “'Even though I have not formed a party, I am not less than one”. (One of those rare occasions when something said originally in Hindi sounds better in English).
Swami Prasad Maurya is among the senior-most leaders in Uttar Pradesh politics across all parties, no doubt, and amongst the sharpest orators too. A decade ago, he was made the General Secretary of the BSP, practically second-in-command after supremo Kumari Mayawati. Ten years and two parties later, he finds himself being described as the man who effected the ‘turning point’ in a historic election.
On 10 March though, Maurya may see that it wasn't the election that turned, but him.
Arush Tandon is interested in icons of history, history of independent India and, Indian culture.
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