Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has begun its preparations on a war footing for elections in Uttar Pradesh due next year. State-level parleys among RSS, BJP national leadership and MPs/MLAs in Lucknow were concluded, with Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath meeting the trimurti of Modi-Shah-Nadda in Delhi last week.
The loss in the panchayat elections, reports of mismanagement of the second wave, dead bodies floating in the Ganga and dissatisfaction among a section of leaders over the style of functioning of Yogi led to alarm bells ringing in the organisation.
Uttar Pradesh is the cradle of BJP’s Hindutva brand of politics and it can take no chances here. While the party has dispelled rumours of a change in leadership, course correction and implementation of a new strategy is on the cards.
As part of the damage control measures, Jitin Prasada has been admitted from the Congress, ostensibly to appease the powerful Brahmin lobby. But in reality, the move was to discredit the Gandhis.
Brahmins, comprising 10% of the state population, already account for 25% of party legislators and 20% of the ministry. Brahmins and Rajputs have historically been engaged in a power tussle/one-upmanship in the Hindi heartland.
BJP Has Edge in Social Coalition
Despite the noise, BJP enjoys a far superior social coalition, which includes the upper castes and non-Yadav other backward classes (NYOBC), accounting for about 47% of the state’s population. Samajwadi Party’s (SP) coalition includes Muslims and Yadavs accounting for 30% of the state population.
Bahujan Samaj Party’s (BSP) anchor voting segment comprises scheduled caste voters, who are 21% of the state’s population. BJP had recorded a 40% vote share in the 2017 state polls, with SP and BSP bagging 22% each.
BJP had won 312 seats in 2017 state elections. Even if there is a negative swing of 5%, it would still have won a simple majority of 211 seats as per a Hindustan Times analysis.
State Moved From Exclusive to Inclusive Politics
From 1993 to 2002, in three state elections, no party was able to cross the halfway mark. The NYOBC votes – which represent the largest block, consisting of many sub-caste groups, like Kurmis, Koeris, Kushwahas, Lodhs, Nishads, Rajbhars etc – were distributed among the three parties.
All the three parties resorted to ‘exclusive politics’, pandering to their main vote blocks – BJP (upper caste), SP (M&Y) and BSP (SC) – resulting in hung Assemblies and periods of instability during this period.
In 2007, Mayawati, realising this folly, wooed the Brahmins, adopting an ‘inclusive’ or ‘sarvjan’ style of politics instead of the ‘bahujan’ one and crossed the halfway mark. In 2012, Mulayam and Akhilesh wooed the Rajputs, reaching out to groups beyond M&Y and won 224 seats.
BJP Crafted a New Social Engineering in 2017
In 2017, the BJP wooed back its upper-caste vote base and at the same time created an umbrella coalition of NYOBCs, numbering more than five dozen sub-castes, to win a spectacular victory.
Its alliances with caste-based small parties, like Apna Dal (Kurmi/Patel) and SBSP (Rajbhar), and the fact that Narendra Modi became India’s first OBC Prime Minister in 2014, helped BJP in creating and consolidating this new social engineering.
Over the years, the party has also succeeded in making inroads in the non-Jatav vote bank of Mayawati. Jatavs (Mayawati’s caste) account for 12% and non-Jatavs 9% of the population.
NYOBCs have been consolidated in favour of BJP because Yadavs had been major beneficiaries of the SP regime and not other OBCs. A similar strategy was adopted to lure the non-Jatavs. Mayawati favours the Jatavas and has neglected the development of non-Jatavs, BJP propagates.
Why is BJP Worried?
1. Rivalry between Rajputs/Thakurs and Brahmins can mar its prospects. The CM is a Thakur. The Brahmin lobby alleges Yogi has given important positions to Thakurs in the administration. A section is also unhappy with the alleged encounter of Vikas Dubey. Brahmins, in the past, have backed Mayawati’s BSP. They love to play the role of kingmakers. The party needs to strike a fine balance between the two communities as it needs the support of both.
2. NYOBCs are not a homogeneous voting block. It consists of various sub-caste groups, each having a different social identity and needs/aspirations. Kurmis are unhappy with the Modi dispensation due to the denial of a central cabinet position to Anupriya Patel. O P Rajbhar, who was removed from ministry in 2019, categorically said that his party SBSP would not ally with the BJP in 2022. It is a difficult task to keep all these sub-groups in good humour.
3. In state elections, where the BJP is in power, the Modi factor doesn’t work as people vote based on the performance of the incumbent government. BJP recorded a 50% vote share in the 2019 general elections. One-third of this was on account of the Modi factor. This leaves BJP’s core vote share at 33% in UP, which is not in its comfort zone despite a low index of Opposition unity.
4. To top it all, there is the scar of the second wave of COVID that impacted so many lives and livelihoods in the state. The situation is much better now, though.
BJP’s Course Correction
The party is likely to go in for a cabinet expansion in the state. Six positions are currently lying vacant. Prasada and Alok Sharma may be inducted to appease Brahmins. A nominee from Apna Dal and Nishad Party each could also be accommodated to send a positive signal to the NYOBCs. Vaccination for all will be carried out in mission mode. The state has given the second-highest number of jabs in the country so far.
To sum up, a speedy vaccination programme could compensate for the initial laxity displayed in COVID management. A split in the Opposition vote is likely to favour the BJP as it did for the incumbents in Bihar, Bengal and Kerala. BJP needs to pray that there is no resurgence of the pandemic.
(The author is an independent political commentator and can be reached at @politicalbaaba. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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