The political undercurrents are changing rapidly and unpredictably in the huge state of Uttar Pradesh where Assembly election are due next month. The stakes are high for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that is in power in not just the state, but also at the centre – the impact of the Assembly election could be felt in the 2024 general elections. The BJP is clearly worried.
The political churning in the recent past, which shall continue in the days to come, and the spate of high-profile resignations from the BJP government and party, has left the hardliners in the BJP-RSS and Sangh Parivar rather disturbed and shaky. Weeks before the final countdown to the UP Assembly polls, the odds are heavily pitched against the BJP, despite its huge and expensive ad-blitz, and its branding itself with a misnomer: ‘Uttam Pradesh’. A misnomer, because UP and Bihar are still listed as the worst states in all Human Development Index (HDI) indicators, and the situation has got even more worse under the fanatic, divisive, polarising and tyrannical regime of Yogi Adityanath.
Besides, the dead bodies floating on the Ganga during the second wave of the pandemic, and the dead bodies hurriedly buried near the shores of the river, along with a total collapse of the health infrastructure, has not been forgotten by the people of UP. The wounds are still simmering, despite the ad campaign glorifying Yogi and his government.
For starters, three top ministers hailing from Other Backward Classes (OBC) have resigned from Yogi’s cabinet, including heavyweight Swami Prasad Maurya. Along with them several MLAs too have chosen to quit. Almost all of them have joined the Samajwadi Party (SP). Days before the elections, this is real bad news for the party in power, and, clearly, its 80-20 communal politics and Muslim-bashing on the sly, with Yogi emerging as another extreme Hindutva icon to replace Narendra Modi, is neither selling, nor jelling on the ground.
The BJP is so predictable when it is on a weak wicket, that it becomes blatantly brazen and transparent. There is no iota of complexity or nuance. So Yogi’s first declaration after the announcement of the polls, while it seemed a clear violation of the model code of conduct, was that 80 per cent people of UP will vote for him while the 20 per cent will go elsewhere. For all concerned, the implied message is as bad as that of ‘kabristan and shamshan ghat’ earlier.
If this is not the deliberate division of the legitimate citizenship and voting rights of the electorate on religious grounds, and if this is not a violation of the model code of conduct, then what is? And why has the Election Commission (EC), yet again, chosen to stay mum?
So Akhilesh Yadav, SP leader, whose rallies were drawing huge crowds before the online and smaller crowd-control compulsions were introduced by the EC, responded cryptically – that what a discredited Yogi really means is that 80 per cent people are going to vote for him, while only 20 might stick on with the BJP this time! Maurya went a step ahead after joining the SP, declaring that the figure of 15 per cent is a better bet for the BJP.
Indeed, Akhilesh has stitched up a formidable alliance network beyond the strong support base of the MY factor – the Muslim-Yadav factor. He has roped in a variety of smaller OBC formations and parties, including those who have split from the BJP, many of them carrying substantial electoral influence across multiple constituencies among their backward caste-based supporters. Significantly, even while, as usual, a huge number of Muslim candidates will be given tickets as earlier, the SP has not fallen into the BJP trap of ‘Muslim appeasement’ and carried on its campaign outside the religion paradigm, trying to take all the castes and communities along. Indeed, this is a crucial factor in the current poll scenario in the state.
More so, Western UP has reiterated yet again that it will vote unanimously against the BJP this time. With the farmers’ very angry and disgusted at the BJP’s arrogance, and with Modi and Yogi having completely alienated them, they are out to teach Modi and Yogi a lesson this time. With Jayant Chaudhary’s Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) aligning itself with the SP, and with his rallies too drawing huge crowds earlier, as in Meerut, the SP-RLD will mark a decisive shift in at least 55 seats in Western UP and its vicinity.
Significantly, the farmers are also very angry because they have not been paid crores reportedly overdue for the sugarcane sold to the sugar factories in the region, and because of the betrayal of the Modi government on the promise of Minimum Support Price (MSP). The lockdown and pandemic has made their economic situation much more tough, and, clearly, they are nursing their wounds. This will all get translated now, as the election season heats up, despite the pandemic and the third wave.
Besides, the artificial polarisation and communal divide which was manufactured by the bloody social engineering of fake love jehad etc before the 2014 polls in what was always a peaceful and harmonious region, having completely failed this time, the BJP might fare very badly in Western UP. With Mayawati weakened and having turned herself redundant, keeping totally silent on atrocities on Dalits and women, as in Hathras, the Dalits will definitely join the other farming communities in voting against the BJP.
Indeed, the Hindutva card which united all the castes, including the dominant land-owning castes with the landless Dalits, versus the so called enemy manufactured by the BJP’s hate politics, namely the Muslims, has all but totally collapsed. The massive rally in Muzaffarnagar marked a political rupture when it resurrected an old ethos and an old synthesis of two slogans. This is when Rakesh Tikait, from the dias, united the slogan followed by the collective chorus of the huge crowd spilling over beyond the rally ground: Har Har Mahadev and Allah Hu Akbar! This was yet again a reassertion of the unity and brotherhood of the past between various communities, across caste and religion, which marks this laid back, prosperous, peaceful and fertile green revolution belt of India.
The rabble-rousers, including the top leaders of the BJP in the region are not even able to visit their own constituencies, such is their dilemma and the local hostility they face from the farming community. Local BJP supporters chose to hide in their villages during the farmers’ protracted struggle. Others clandestinely helped the farmers in the struggle. Some of the ministers and MLA, who have resigned from the Yogi cabinet, hold enough clout in the area. With heavyweight Imran Masood from Saharanpur set to join the SP, the entire opposition vote will get pooled in together with no fear of splitting.
Swami Prasad Maurya is no ‘also ran’. He has been the number two in the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) earlier, a two-term minister, and four-time MLA. His daughter is an MP from Badaun.He is MLA from Padrauna. He joined the BJP recently and he seemed to have tested the waters too early despite holding the position of a top minister with a crucial ministry. His resignation letter, and the crucial timing of his resignation, along with other ministers and MLAs is a clear sign that all is not well within the BJP.
Top caste-based politicians are sensing the shift in the mood on the ground. Almost all those who quit have said that the Yogi government cares two hoots for the poor, the Dalits, the backwards and farmers. This is a significant political constituency, and a significant ideological stance, and this also reflects the brazenly biased stance in Yogi sharing and distributing power with only one dominant caste – the Thakurs, which is his caste, and whose influential men in powerful positions have been ruling the roost in the state, much to the anger of the Brahmins and other communities.
With Thakurs ruling the roost, the angst and anger of the influential Brahmin community in UP, which has almost always had high stakes in political, bureaucratic and institutional power, has multiplied many fold. They seemed to have held back their angst amidst all the all-prevailing ‘Thakurvaad’ unleased during the Yogi regime. Sources within the community are of the opinion that this time the Brahmins are going to take revenge against the BJP, which would once field the likes of Atal Behari Vajpayee from Lucknow. Disgruntled and alienated, they will vote shrewdly and tactically, as they did once for Mayawati, in what was an unique alliance of the ‘Savaranas’ with the Dalits.
Apart from Maurya, Dharam Singh Saini, Minister for Ayush and MLA from Nakur constituency in Saharanpur, Mukesh Verma, MLA from Shikohabad in Firozabad, and Awasthi Bala Prasad, MLA from Dhaurahra in Lakhimpur, have quit. All hold huge support base in their respective areas. Lakhimpur, with the killing of farmers crushed under a cabinet minister’s son’s vehicle, is anyway, seems a lost cause for the BJP, especially in the rural areas.
Apna Dal (S) MLA from Shohratgarh, Amar Singh Chaudhary, a BJP ally, has also quit to join the SP. Chaudhary is a a backward caste leader. Awasthi, a four-time MLA and Brahmin leader, had joined the BJP from the BSP in 2016. He had won the 2017 polls, defeating SP’s Yeshpal Singh Chaudhary of the SP. Earlier, he had won on a BSP ticket from Mohammdi in Lakhimpur, defeating SP’s Imran Ahmad.
Bhagwati Sagar, a Dalit MLA, left the BJP and joined the SP with Swami Prasad Maurya. “Eating with a Dalit cannot wash away the sins of the chief minister,” he said, pointing at Yogi eating in the house of a Dalit to prove his pro-Dalit credentials – rather late in the day for a Thakur.
Another crucial factor in the UP elections is that apparently there is simmering tension between Yogi and Modi, and it is showing. Modi went on a spree of inaugurations in the recent past in UP. His sartorial and prominent promotion of his own self at Varanasi recently was too transparent, even while Yogi was pushed to the background. Are they at loggerheads, is the question political observers are asking.
Yogi had covertly and overtly, reportedly, started a subtle campaign that he will contest from Ayodhya. That seemed to be his first priority and desire. This was interpreted as the desire to usurp the mantle of Modi and symbolically become an Hindutva icon from the holy city, where the BJP and Sangh parivar illegally demolished the Babri Masjid, and thereby acquire the image of a supreme leader. This was not liked by the powers that be in Delhi.
Hence, Yogi was denied the ticket from Ayodhya. Not only that, his second choice, Mathura, another potential lollypop for the BJP’s divisive politics, too, was denied to him. Gorakhpur was forced down his throat – with a clear message that this is your traditional turf, so stay there, and don’t jump the gun, don’t spread your wings, and protect your own turf.
So rattled has been the paradigm shift on the ground with the resignations of OBC ministers and other MLAs, that the BJP is now shifting the politics of communalism from 80-20 to that of caste. The BJP is clearly desperate in the given circumstances. Party spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh, therefore, declared in Lucknow, “There is one biggest OBC leader with us and his name is Narendra Modi.”
So whatever will happen to the incumbent chief minister, a Thakur? And what about the time-tested politics of Hindutva, kabristan and shamshan ghat, and 80-20?
There is another Freudian slip which will come to haunt Modi in the run-up to the assembly polls in UP. Amit Shah had earlier said that the victory of Yogi is a must in UP this time because this will pave the way for the BJP victory in 2024. This implied that Modi is dependent on Yogi’s victory for 2024. That puts Modi on a weak wicket – why should he, the supreme leader and the most important Hindutva icon of the party with a fanatic support base, be dependant for his fortunes in the future to Yogi?
Indeed, this is a typical Catch-22 scenario for both Modi and Yogi. To be, or not to be. Either way, the signals from the ground at this moment is as clear as daylight: it’s Disadvantage BJP.