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The secret of BJP's success in Uttar Pradesh: Winning over Dalits and OBCs, and a dose of Hindutva

Friday, 23 May 2014 - 11:30am IST | Place: Mumbai | Agency: DNA

The 2014 Parliamentary elections have thrown up stunning results. No election analyst could predict a win of 71 out of 80 seats for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in UP. My attempt here is to understand what happened at the political and social level that led to the BJP's stupendous success, wiping out the Congress, the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party.

While acknowledging the Modi wave or tsunami, I would like to understand what exactly this phenomenon is. In a wave-like situation, a large number of stray or floating votes gets swayed in a democratic society like ours. Going by past elections these stray votes can make up to 4-5 per cent, transcending caste, religion and community. The recent elections saw an increase of 25 per cent of BJP vote share and 71 seats. In contrast, in the 2009 elections the BJP won 17.5 per cent or 10 seats in Uttar Pradesh. From where did the BJP secure this additional 25 per cent?

That there has been an increase in the number of youth supporting the BJP is beyond dispute. Alongside, a large percentage of the traditional voters of SP, BSP and Congress, too, have voted for BJP. In 2009, the BSP polled 27 per cent votes as against 19.6 per cent in the 2014 elections — which is nearly 7 per cent less. The party also did not win a single seat in UP this time. Registering a decline of 1.5 per cent in its voteshare, the SP was left with a handful of seats.

The BJP-RSS combine adopted a special strategy for appropriating Dalit and backward caste votes. Amit Shah, the coordinator of the UP chapter, along with RSS preachers took more than an active interest in such caste associations. Shah projected backward and Dalit faces and engaged in Hindu polarisation in the wake of the Muzaffarnagar riots. The message disseminated among Dalits and backward castes was that the Congress, BSP and the SP were so busy polarising Muslims, they had no concern for Hindus. The RSS machinery spread the idea that an OBC could for the first time become India's Prime Minister.

While addressing Dalits, Shah campaigned that Mayawati was indifferent towards them. Simultaneously, he appropriated the legacies of Ambedkar and other Dalit heroes, and promised the Bharat Ratna for Kanshiram. Shah organised meetings in UP's Dalit villages with the help of social organizations like Sewa Bharati Vishwa Hindu Parishad with RSS linkages. The UP campaign-in-charge gave importance to BJP's backward (Lodh) leaders like Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti in the rallies of Anupriya Patel, the leader of the Apna Dal comprising Lodhs.

Without the support of the backward castes, constituting 50 per cent of UP's population, it would not have been possible for the BJP to win so many seats in UP. Amit Shah conducted a thorough survey of UP, participating in several backward caste association meetings himself. He roped in two backward caste leaders, Satyendra Kushwaha and Rameshwar Chaurasia, to firm up BJP's prospects. When Modi launched Vijay Shankhnaad rallies in UP, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti were given prominent positions on the podium. The electorate was promised reservations for all backward castes, in education and jobs.

This successful strategy endeared the BJP to backward castes in regions considered SP strongholds. For instance, the candidature of Sadhvi Niranjan Jyoti from Fatehpur got the BJP the support of Kashyap and Nishad communities. While tickets to a Thakur in Hamirpur and a Brahmin in Banda, succeeded in winning the BJP the support of these influential communities. Another strategy was to rope in Pasi, Sonkar, Rawat and other non Jatav candidates in order to wean away the non-Jatavs — the most marginalised Dalit castes — from the BSP.

By projecting himself as a backward caste member, Modi not only won the support of this community, but he also honed his Hindutva edge without openly talking about sensitive issues like Ram Mandir. By not donning the Muslim skull cap, nor apologizing for the Godhra riots, Modi emphasized that he would not compromise on Hindutva and Hindu culture. All these moves proved to be costly for Mulayam Singh Yadav. At the same time the RSS succeeded in signalling to the backward castes their first opportunity to have a Prime Minister from their ranks

In UP, the Dalit population — Mayawati and the BSP's votebank — is 21.6 per cent. This, by itself, cannot fetch Mayawati an impressive tally of seats. The Dalit votes can be converted into victory only by aligning other social groups with them. Kanshiram had tried to rally together the most marginalised, backward communities and the Muslims under one party banner. But ground level social conflicts between Dalits and other backward castes prevented any enduring electoral gains. However, a small percentage of the most marginalised and Muslims continued to be loyal to the BSP. The RSS active among these communities for many years brought the Dalits and the most marginalised castes together through the social harmony campaign, besides leveraging political strategies to forge links between them and the BJP.

The expansion of the new economic policy, spread of the market, and increase in the size of consumer groups under the UPA had changed the face of villages and cities of UP. People desired a good life, buying consumer durables, increasing their earning and spending capacities. TV, mobile phones and the Internet started making inroads into both rural and urban areas in a big way. Unable to understand the changing mindset of this 'desiring society', the BSP continued to focus on traditional identity-based politics. A dominant middle class had already developed among the backward castes, which tried to strengthen itself politically through social networking sites Facebook and Twitter. The BSP was unable to communicate with this group, while the BJP and Narendra Modi reached out to them through social media sites.

The BJP played the politics of Hindutva. It resulted in the victory of leaders in Western UP, implicated in the Muzaffarnagar riots, all of them winning by 4-5 lakh vote margins.

The author is a social historian, author and political analyst




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