Kaam, KaSaB, Kabristan and Caste: What worked for BJP in Uttar Pradesh

Powered by an aggressive campaign spearheaded by Modi, BJP candidates were on the road to victory in a whopping 316 of the 403 constituencies.

By its stunning 300-plus seats lead in Uttar Pradesh, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has even bettered the many exit polls that predicted a hung Assembly in India's most crucial state politically. Riding on a still-potent Narendra Modi wave, the party is set to sweep back to power after 15 long years, giving the Prime Minister his biggest victory after the 2014 Lok Sabha election.

Powered by an aggressive campaign spearheaded by Modi, BJP candidates were on the road to victory in a whopping 316 of the 403 constituencies, forcing a beleagured Samajwadi Party-Congress combine as well as Mayawati's Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) to lick their wounds.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad called the win in UP bigger than the 2014 victory. "It is a tectonic shift in Indian politics... UP is a laboratory of India. Demonetisation has worked and we are proud of Modi's leadership. It is a bigger victory than the 2014 win in the Lok Sabha election", he said.

A number of factors worked for the BJP as it registered its biggest victory in Uttar Pradesh, even bigger than the days when the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi movement was at its peak in the 1990s.

Here's what seems to have worked for the BJP in Uttar Pradesh:

1. Kaam (Work)

Modi remained the only pan-state face the BJP had in Assembly elections this year. With his image now intrinsically linked to ideas of development and growth, the Prime Minister was even able to trump the anger over his demonetisation move to take his party to a historic mandate.

By addressing nearly two dozen rallies across Uttar Pradesh, Modi made sure his message of 'vikas' reaches the Hindi heartland. His campaign targeted the ruling Samajwadi Party over allegations of lawlessness in the state and the BSP for corruption. His clean image hit a nerve, converting into a landslide.

Modi knew well the elections in 2017 were a referendum not only on his demonetisation move, but also on the work done by him in the three years he has been in power. Taking no chances, he designed his campaign with a potent mix of developmental promises and dreams of creating more employment in one of India's most backward states.

Modi's performance pitch was also an antidote to Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav's main slogan in the run-up to the election: "Kaam bolta hai (Work speaks)."

2. KaSaB

Not be to be left behind, Modi's trusted comrade and BJP president Amit Shah did his part of the job: communalise the Uttar Pradesh campaign. In a cunning play of words, Shah asked the voters in the state to get rid of KaSaB: Ka for Congress, Sa for Samajwadi Party and B for Bahujan Samaj Party.

"Uttar Pradesh ki janata is baar ke chunav mein is Kasab se mukti paa le. Kasab se mera matlab kuch aur mat nikaliyega. Kasab se mera matlab hai - KA se Congress, SA se Samajwadi Party aur B se BSP (In this election, people of U.P. should get rid of Kasab... Do not take any other meaning when I say Kasab. What I mean by KASAB is - KA for Congress, SA for Samajwadi Party and B for BSP)", he said.

The message was not lost on UP's voters. Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab was the only attacker to be caught alive during the 2008 Mumbai carnage and later hanged. In the Indian terrorism discourse, Kasab, a Muslim, became a shorthand for home-grown terror networks, suspected ISIS operative Mohammed Saifullah - who was killed in the middle of the election process - being its latest manifestation.

3. Kabristan (Graveyard)

This was again Modi. In the middle of the seven-phase election, Modi now did his part to communalise the BJP campaign by resorting to a controversial 'kabristan-shamshaan' remark.

Speaking in Fatehpur on February 19, Modi had said, "Agar kabristan me bijli hai to shamshaan me bhi honi chahiye. Agar Ramzan mein bijli aati hai, to Diwali me bhi aani chahiye, bhed-bhav nahi hona chahiye (If there is electricity in the graveyard, it should also be available in crematoriums. If there is power during Ramzan, it must also be available during Diwali. There should be no discrimination)."

The impact of the remarks, though widely criticised, can only be understood in the context of the BJP's desperate attempts to polarise the contest in Uttar Pradesh between Hindus and Muslims, the latter constituting 25 per cent of the state's population and traditionally allied with anti-BJP parties.

4. Caste

Caste is always a deciding factor in states like Uttar Pradesh. The BJP was already confident of the support of traditional upper caste Thakur and Brahmin voters, who make up around 19 per cent of the state's population.

The challenge was a broader social engineering, which saw the party fielding around 170 non-Yadav and non-Jat Other Backward Classes (OBC) candidates from different castes like Lodh, Rajbhar, Saini, Gujjar, Shakya, Maurya, Dhankar, Nishad and Kevats.

Non-Yadav and non-Jat OBCs account for around 22 per cent of the state's population, yet 27 per cent of the BJP's candidates were from this caste. That vote bank, earlier with the Samajwadi Party or Mayawati, seems to have gravitated towards the BJP.

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