Now that the Modi government’s second anniversary celebrations and the demonetisation fever are over, it is time to take a hard look at the assembly elections numbers to make sense of the polls of 2017.
BJP had peaked in 2014 after which it has only been able to win bipolar contests that too in states that have been ruled by Congress or its allies for one or more terms. Congress was in power in Assam for 15 years and the anti-incumbency anger helped BJP win, on its own, seven out of 14 Lok Sabha seats and 36.86% votes in 2014. So, what is in store for BJP in Uttar Pradesh? A vote for “hope and change” across castes and communities in 2014 helped the party bag 71 seats and 42.63% votes. This was a dramatic upsurge from 15% votes in 2012 Assembly polls.
If the trend in non-bipolar states where non-Congress players dominate the scene continues, then BJP is in serious trouble in UP because there is no mood of “hope and change”. On the contrary, BJP in this election would be perceived as responsible for everything good and bad in the country. Brahmins are believed to be the single-largest upper caste community in UP. But unlike the Vajpayee days, there is no reason why Brahmins should form the nucleus of a caste combination voting BJP into power because the Prime Minister is not a Brahmin, nor is the UP BJP chief and there is no Brahmin chief ministerial candidate in sight. In this context, the best case scenario for BJP is to go back to its old formula of non-Yadav OBC leadership with the strong backing of its core constituency of Brahmin-Bania-Thakur. Kalyan Singh proved this possible during the Vajpayee era.
BJP has reinvented itself in 2014 general elections. Narendra Modi is the biggest campaigner for BJP who is popular across the state irrespective of caste and class. The motivation level among the cadres is very high and people openly support the party despite the painful demonetisation. Modi wave which helped BJP storm 73 out of 80 seats and helped it to come up 2nd in the remaining 7 seats has still not receded completely.
The undercurrent is still there. BJP after 2014 is a strong player and hence the UC voters, anti SP voters, anti BSP voters could well side with it due to it being the de facto opposition and natural claimant of these votes. Besides, the blatant negligence of Uttar Pradesh voters and treatment of Hindus as 3rd rate citizens by incumbent govt has polarized the elections religiously which could go in BJP’s favour as the BSP and Congress are too scared to talk against this blatant discrimination against Hindus.
But there’s another angle to this story too. BJP doesn’t have a strong organization to match the might of SP/BSP. Muslim, Yadav, Jatav Dalits are strongly bound to SP/BSP. Hence any potential vote BJP might hope to get must come from the remaining 65% voters, but a major reason why the BJP is believed to be finding it difficult to cross the finishing line with ease in the ensuing UP assembly elections is its loss of the Muslim vote since 2014, when it had secured more support from the community than ever before. Winning over the community is essential in a state where the Muslims make up 19.3 per cent of the population. Their vote is now expected to be shared mainly by the SP-Congress combine and the BSP with the tilt favouring the former because its chances are perceived to be better.
The BJP will rue this shift of preference because it had the support of a sizable section of the Muslims in the parliamentary polls. According to the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), 10 per cent of the Muslims in Uttar Pradesh voted for the BJP three years ago, evidently because they were impressed by Narendra Modi’s pitch for development.
It starts at a natural disadvantage and hence needs to get most of the votes among some of the communities. There is no state-wide leader with the popularity matching to Mayawati or Akhilesh Yadav. Kalyan Singh used to be popular in the 90s but the hour is late for him now. Post Kalyan Singh, BJP experimented with UC leadership, joint leadership (by projecting a galaxy of leaders) and failed. Lack of leadership or projecting several leaders could hamper its chances.
BJP could lose focus by not concentrating on the non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits and non-Rajput UCs and instead trying to pamper each and every voting bloc, thereby not creating any core and differentiating factor. Finally BJP could risk making this poll a mandate on Modi, giving it a national colour in a state which has very low threshold and tolerance for incumbent parties. The low activity of most of these 73 MPs in last 2 years could not go down well with voters if the election is nationalized. BJP might take this risk to count on Modi’s image and ignore prevailing local issues which are extremely bad law and order, massive discrimination against Hindus and other sundry development issues.
Victory in UP will solve many problems BJP is facing at the Centre. It can gain majority in Rajya Sabha, it can be able to elect its Presidential candidate. Narendra Modi will be stronger and his chances of retaining power in 2019 would become very easy and strong. BJP is in pole position and hence can take the risk to experiment. It has to maintain the local flavor of the elections and announce a credible CM face from any of the non-Yadav OBCs, non-Jatav Dalits and non-Rajput UCs. As of now Keshav Maurya seems to be the best bet. BJP must also in words and actions show it cares for secularism and speak as well as act against targeted discrimination of Hindus by SP, BSP and Congress. Law & Order, Anti Appeasement and naming CM, Dy. CM as above could help BJP match its 2014 performance. Lack of all of these could make BJP plummet down to 2012 levels.
Also, BJP has 73 lawmakers from UP in the Parliament, yet very few of them seem to be active. Lack of empathy of the party leadership both 1st rung as well as 2nd rung on issues of law and order, massive discrimination against Hindus could well paint BJP as an opportunist party which uses Hindus only during elections . Additionally a grand mega alliance of SP, BSP, RLD and Congress could create a Bihar like situation where BJP might struggle to overcome sheer arithmetic. However this seems unlikely and BJP if it falls could be due to reasons mentioned before that.
This failure on the BJP’s part has enabled even the down-and-out Congress to claw its way back into reckoning, which would not have been possible if Modi had been able to retain the momentum of 2014 when he was seen as non-sectarian. . If a hung assembly shows that the BJP can at least come close to the half-way mark, it will mean that the party can still find its way back if it is prepared to crack down on the saffron hawks.
Author: Jinendra Parakh, Co-Founder and Executive Editor of The Analysis (TA)
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