Recently, a political pundit has wondered whether the state of Uttar Pradesh would be able to re-impose its hegemony on national politics in the month of May or if it will remain an arena of fragmented forces failing to coalesce in a reasonable all-India design necessary to provide stability at the Centre. The query assumes a kind of significance and begs an exercise of political analysis for mainly three reasons.
Firstly, UP is a case of rise and fall of hegemonies. Writing in the late Sixties, Rajni Kothari, foremost among Indian political scientists, had depicted a bleak scenario for this state. UP, ‘a feudal area of north’, represented for him a den of shifting factions. This political fragmentation could only be encountered by the development of a suitable political hegemony, which the Congress eventually achieved in the specific circumstances of post-independent India. The Congress ruled the state uninterruptedly up to 1967 and again from 1969 to 1977 mainly due to its coalition-style of politics. The BJP was able to break Congress hegemony by establishing its own kind in the Nineties that lasted for while but eventually gave way to another spell of fragmentation in the first decade of new millennium. Secondly, if the prime ministerial dream of Narendra Modi is to be realised on the grounds that his party has to re-establish its lost hegemony by multiplying its current score of parliamentary seats at least five times — the scenario in which the BJP will end up winning 50-odd seats in the state — UP will make a comeback as a force capable of making the fate of Delhi and finally unmaking the aging ambitions of Mulayam Singh Yadav. Thirdly, if the surge of Modi fails to match the BJP’s expectations then UP becomes a political pentagon with five forces undercutting each other resulting in a third front tussle with all its inbuilt uncertainties.
We, however, can further complicate this analysis by adding one more query in the riddle of UP that interestingly contains not one but four question marks. Who can stop Modi: Mulayam Singh with his clever deployment of state power during electioneering and all the while keeping his long running Yadav-Muslim base intact; or Mayawati with one more display of her tactical ticket distribution and reaping the benefits of anti-incumbency against Akhilesh’s government; or Rahul Gandhi recreating the magic of 2009 and wresting back the initiative that Congress party lost in last assembly elections; or the fledgling Aam Aadmi Party cutting into the restless urban and semi-urban votes by handing over to them its favourite dream of clean politics and replicating the Delhi success?
If Modi is to discount all these four question marks, then he is bound to produce the election results of 1998 when BJP’s performance peaked with 36.49 per cent votes and 57 Parliamentary seats. It was a long awaited Hindutva moment that saw upper castes and sizeable non-Yadav OBCs vote together for the first time in the state. Till the mid-Eighties, under the long dispensation of Congress, the upper castes spent most of their political life as the dominant partner in the alliance with the Muslims and the Dalits. The BJP changed this equation by cobbling up a full spectrum of non-untouchables. An estimate of BJP’s social base in UP on the basis of 1998 general election data shows that every hundred votes of this party contained 13.1 Brahmins, 15 Rajputs, 17.3 other upper castes, 2.5 Yadavs, 30.4 Other Backward Castes, 8.4 Scheduled Castes, and 10 others. Obviously, it was an impressive rainbow of the Hindu electoral unity under the numerical dominance of dwijas, where 3.3 Muslim votes were just incidental. Colours of this rainbow appeared quite fluorescent when we look at figures in terms of the total votes polled for BJP: 82.5 per cent from Brahmins, 71.1 per cent from Rajputs, 83.8 per cent from other upper castes, 9.4 per cent from Yadavs, 46.6 per cent from other OBCs, 15.5 per cent from Scheduled Castes. The party has since then lost almost half of the votes in all the major categories mainly due to a long spell of squabbling among state leaders that resulted in reducing BJP to a mere Brahmin outfit. It had also thrown up several non-Yadav backward parties.
What could be the Samajwadi Party’s strategy against this very possible repetition of electoral history in UP? The way Mulayam Singh and his cohorts are dealing with the political situation post-Muzaffarnagar riots, they are bound to face their Waterloo due to their inability to repair the severely damaged Muslim-Yadav (M-Y) relations. Every plus added to this steady combination used to spell victory for the Samajwadi Party, but rather then augmenting it this time, they are struggling to maintain the M-Y base. At the other end of the spectrum, the Congress, it seems, is looking at the same kind of fate because of a massive anti-incumbency of its own making. Under Rahul’s leadership it can only nurture the dream of retaining its existing score regardless of the fact that in terms of percentage, UP voters used to give the Congress a boost in the Lok Sabha election as compared to its assembly showing. With the SP and the Congress not able to boost their dwindling fortunes, the BSP is in a better position to challenge the claims of an enormous groundswell for Modi. Confidently sitting over her ascriptive social base, Mayawati can again manoeuvre her strategic resources by buying back upper caste support in exchange of Dalit votes in a few selected constituencies.
Amit Shah, the point man of Modi, must have devised ways of encountering this challenge from behenji, but he may not be sure about the fifth force lurking on the horizon. The Aam Aadmi Party can disrupt the BJP’s ongoing recovery in cities with its ability to connect with urban voters without harping on the caste-religion matrix. In fact, the AAP in UP it is a yet-to-be-tested phenomenon for which a coherent strategy cannot be formulated in advance. Nobody knows how many judges, lawyers, doctors, social activists and members of other forms of citizenry are in the search of personal redemption; and whether their admission in AAP can guide the state’s poor folks on the path shown by Delhi’s voters. Precisely due to this new factor, UP is still waiting for a clear map of electoral battle, though the election is only few months away. The political developments of the next one month might tell us about who will fight to contain Modi and on which terrain, or whether Modi will go unchallenged as a force multiplier for the BJP.
The author is a fellow of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, Delhi and directs its Indian Languages Programme.