Uttar Pradesh Verdict: Correcting Perceptional Distortions
Many analysts and columnists are still unable to read the Uttar Pradesh verdict correctly or accept what is staring them in the face. Here is a reality check for them.
The Uttar Pradesh (UP) verdict of 2017 is now a part of electoral history. The people gave the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a sweeping mandate. The magnitude of this mandate has surprised even the most ardent supporters of the party.
In universities in Chandigarh, Delhi and Amritsar, where I was invited to explain the UP verdict in March, there was a visible reluctance among a small section of the eminent audience to accept the people’s mandate as a genuine political choice. Some looked at it as an outcome of communal polarisation, while others expressed anxiety over the idea that the BJP’s success indicated the rise of a new form of fascism. The appointment of Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister made matters worse for the sceptics.
I realised how off the mark the national media was in reporting the people’s mood about the UP election, and how badly they distorted the psychology of people outside the state, who had no opportunity to get first-hand information about the voters’ minds and had to rely on media reports, treating them as sacrosanct. In this context, my job of explaining the verdict became more compelling as I genuinely felt that the people’s choice was being perceived incorrectly. The people are always right in a democracy: we may be wrong in misreading them.
UP experienced a democratic upsurge of the subalterns during the 2017 polls. They had become disenchanted with the caste parties, owing to their marginalisation within. The Samajwadi Party (SP) neglected the more-backward and the most-backward vis-à-vis the Yadavs among the Other Backward Class (OBC); and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had been discriminating against ati Dalits vis-à-vis the Jatavs among Dalits. Thus, these caste groups were steadily moving away from the SP and the BSP respectively and towards the Congress and the BJP, as far back as after the 2007 assembly polls itself, when Mayawati created history by getting absolute majority.
Identity politics was giving way to aspirational politics in UP. It was in this context in which the BJP stepped in and provided the subalterns the opportunity to shift to the party that was promising them inclusion and development. That led to a massive OBC shift and a substantial Dalit shift towards the BJP. Even a small section of Muslims were supportive of the BJP on such issues as demonetisation, triple talaq and the tough decisions taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the nation’s interest.
The BJP was also operationalising its inclusive politics of Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas through an innovative strategy of constituency transformation. The party had been touted as a brahmin-bania-middle-class-urban party representing a social group having only 19 per cent share in the population. How could a party with such a small social base compete successfully in democratic contests? So, the BJP targeted OBCs, whose share in the population of the state is 41 per cent as per National Sample Survey Office (NSSO).
The party adopted dual tactics, integrating the more-backward and the most-backward. The BJP integrated them, both in leadership structure and legislative contingent. The party accommodated its ally Apna Dal’s member of Parliament Anupriya Patel (more-backward) in the Modi cabinet and made Keshav Prasad Maurya (most-backward) the BJP’s state president. But the masterstroke came when the party allocated 41 per cent tickets to this social denomination. This signalled the transition from lollipop politics to real politics by the BJP, as it created euphoria among this marginalised group that voted significantly for the party. That’s why 58 per cent more-backward and 61 per cent most-backward voted BJP as per data from the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS).
Not only that, in focusing on Dalits in ticket allocation, the BJP ensured that 40 per cent ati Dalits voted for the party. Thus, the BJP’s constituency transformation not only widened its catchment net to include the subalterns and the marginalised but also empowered them truly. That became a game-changer in UP.
A vigilant English-language national press went haywire in getting the people wrong, especially Muslims in UP. Many people outside UP were not inclined to buy my argument that Muslims too voted for the BJP this time. Many analysts have a tendency to force their wishful thinking on the entire country; they fail to notice that Muslim society is also a dynamic society, where social differentiation and class contradictions are slowly but steadily impacting and changing the thinking of the poor and marginalised Muslims.
Many fail to notice the aspirations of pasmanda Muslims, aijlaf and arzal Muslims. Like their Hindu brethren (more-backward, most-backward and ati Dalits), they too have aspirations of social upliftment, economic betterment and political empowerment. Many fail to see that Muslims too, like their Hindu counterparts, are transcending from the marriage model of relationship to the stock-exchange model with political parties. They no more feel wedded to a party and would like to go with one that promises better returns.
During field studies in UP, Muslims in Fatehpur and eastern UP appreciated the policy initiatives of the Modi government, especially his surgical strikes against Pakistan, demonetisation, his zero-tolerance for corruption and decisions for development of the urban and rural poor that benefited them too. In the terai area, i.e., Lakhimpur Kheri, many educated young women welcomed Modi’s initiative on triple talaq to empower Muslim women. Though CSDS data shows only 9 per cent Muslims voted for the BJP in 2017, I think that, this time, Muslim female respondents may not have revealed their actual voting preference in presence of their male counterparts for obvious reasons.
The BJP’s inclusive politics strategy also made rural areas special targets. When Modi government was hit by Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s jibe as suit-boot ki sarkar, implying a government favouring the rich, the Prime Minister responded to it with a rural push that took everyone by surprise. He started with soil health card, but his decision to neem-coat urea not only made it unfit for industrial use but made it freely available – very unusual because urea was always in short supply, was black-marketed and required police protection for distribution earlier. Then, Modi introduced the Fasal Bima Yojna, which guaranteed compensation in the event of crop failure or loss of produce due to a natural calamity. More, during his campaign speeches, Prime Minister Modi assured farmers that in the first cabinet meeting, he would ensure that the government waives off the loans of small and marginal farmers and orders the purchase of their produce at a minimum support price. What else would the farmers have asked for? That’s why 41 per cent rural people voted BJP this election, as per CSDS data.
Firing the imagination of the unemployed
The youth in UP had a bad time during the rule of Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati due to rampant casteism and corruption in recruitment. For urban youth, that was a question of survival. Modi’s model of governance gave them a silver lining; he advocated zero tolerance on corruption, giving them some hope on the employment front and boosted entrepreneurship through skill development, startups and the Make-in-India initiatives as an alternative window. That’s why 42 per cent youth (18-25 years) and 39 per cent poor and lower income group voters voted BJP, a share that was far ahead of that for the SP and the BSP.
So, those who watched UP from far away may not have correctly grasped the internal dynamics of socio-economic transformation effecting attitudinal changes among voters in the state. The BJP fought this election on a very positive note, though Akhilesh’s alliance with Congress and Mayawati’s Dalit-Muslim coalition may have, negatively, helped the BJP. The 2017 election had nothing to do with communal polarisation and casteism. It was an election that would be long remembered for inclusive politics, social engineering and promise of good governance and development.
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