On 11 March, when the Election Commission announced the results for the largest and the most keenly watched political battle of the country before 2019 – the UP elections – a lot changed in the political discourse of India.
It was an unprecedented victory for BJP that swept the state winning 312 out of 403 seats. This victory is being seen as a verdict on PM Modi’s demonetisation move that claimed over 100 lives, a reaffirmation of the PM’s ‘perceived’ wave (or rather a super wave), and an end to caste and community based politics by regional parties in the most populous state of the country.
In the recently announced results of state elections, what’s remarkable to note is the fact that barring Uttaranchal, in three out of four states, BJP didn’t perform as well as in UP. In all the three states where it suffered defeat at the hands of the Congress which emerged as the single largest party.
Punjab was swept by the Grand Old Party of India; in Goa, Congress emerged stronger than the incumbent BJP, and also in Manipur, Congress scored fairly more number of seats than the right wing party, despite the former fighting against an anti-incumbency of 15 years.
What Worked for BJP in Uttar Pradesh
The master strategist of the BJP, often recognised as second most powerful leader of the ruling establishment – Amit Shah – was responsible for strategising the poll campaign. If Modi is considered to be a brand in itself, then Shah is often referred to as the marketing engine which executes the brand strategy.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh, in an interview to a television channel recently said, “Had the Opposition of SP-Congress not been united, BJP would have crossed the 300- mark”, quite unaware of the fact that Shah had already put a strategy in place, good enough for crossing the said number.
3Ks of BJP’s Gameplan in UP
1) First K – Kabristan
On 20 February 2017, during a rally in Fatehpur, PM Modi alleged discrimination against Hindus by invoking kabristan (Urdu name for muslim graveyard) analogy. The PM suggested that the majority community of the state was being deprived of land to cremate their dead, while the state government continued to build ‘kabristaans’ for the minority community.
This comment came at a time when UP was already sitting on a tinderbox, trying to recover from the gruesome lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq by a right wing mob in Dadri on 28 September 2015, and September 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots that killed over 60 people.
Modi’s comment played a major role in further polarising an already divided state.
2) Second K – KASAB
On 22 February 2017, Amit Shah, while addressing a rally in Gorakhpur, invoked ‘KASAB’, the dreaded terrorist involved in 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks that shook the nation to its core.
Shah suggested that the trio of Congress, SP & BSP is like ‘Kasab’ and that the people of UP must unite to get rid of this evil from the state. This was a clear sign that all the opposition parties were nothing but an enemy of the Hindus.
3) Third K – Kurukshetra
Senior BJP leaders including Yogi Adityanath, riot accused Sangeet Som and Sakshi Maharaj, often asked the electorate across the state to unite as one monolith Hindu community against the jihadi-terror-supporting Muslims, and the parties which ‘appease’ them.
In an already charged atmosphere, where the Muslims had been called names earlier by several leaders of the right wing party, BJP decided to isolate and boycott the community politically. It is, therefore, not surprising that the party didn’t field a single Muslim candidate in a state that has 19.23 percent of Muslims spread across 403 seats.
At an election rally in Hardoi, PM Modi had drawn parallels between Lord Krishna and himself.
It was a battle of Kurukshetra, where the BJP was like the pandavas, fighting for the righteousness under the revered Hindu lord, and the opposition were the kauravas.
BJP Failed to Impress the Yadavs and Jatavs
Shah often attacked the SP government, suggesting that the benefits of the welfare schemes in the state, goes only to a ‘specific caste and community’.
PM Modi referred to the BSP as ‘Behenji Sampatti Party’ (a party where the leader amasses lot of wealth) clearly inviting the wrath of the Jatav community for whom Mayawati symbolises pride or asmita.
These references came when the memories of Rohith Vemula’s suicide were still afresh.
Traditionally, these sections of society have never voted enthusiastically for the BJP, and consolidation of votes belonging to other sections against Yadavs and Jatavs alone can ensure a thumping victory for BJP.
BJP Lost Where the 3Ks Were Missing
BJP won 31 out of 42 minority dominated seats in UP, where the Muslims comprise more than a third of the electorate.
Traditional bastions like Deoband, Saharanpur, Badaun, Bareilly, Ghosi, Ghazipur etc were won by BJP, clearly indicating the strength of the counter-minority polarisation.
At the same time, Manipur, Goa and Punjab –– states that did not have a significant Muslim population, did not vote BJP to power. The party was reduced to a mere three seats in Punjab, and came second to Congress in Manipur and Goa.
What remains to be seen is – will the narrative be the same in the upcoming polls of Karnataka and Gujarat – both having sizeable population of the minority community. Or will the mainstream media muster courage to criticise such political moves and ensure that as per the directive of the Supreme Court, religion is not invoked for political gains?
(The Quint debates whether BJP’s landslide victory in UP heralds the emergence of a new aspiration politics in the heartland state. This is the counter-view. You can read the view by RSS ideologue, Ratan Sharda here.)
(The author is a Bangalore-based freelance journalist who covers politics, the economy and international affairs. He can be reached @haider_talat. This is a personal blog and the views expressed above are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)