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Mainstream, VOL LV No 10 New Delhi February 25, 2017

BJP and UP Elections

Monday 27 February 2017, by SC



It is a foregone conclusion by close observers of the national political scene that in the ongoing elections for the Assembly of the country’s most populous State—Uttar Pradesh—the ruling party at the Centre, the BJP, will not able to repeat the landslide victory that it was able to register in the Lok Sabha polls in mid-2014, that is, roughly two-and-a-half years ago. The party had then bagged as many as 71 out of the State’s 80 Lok Sabha seats and its ally two more making the NDA’s total tally in UP 73, something that was literally unbelievable to any dispassionate analyst including this writer.

This time, however, the situation is different. As The Times of India has cautiously noted in today editorial “On A Knife Edge”:

The BJP is relying heavily on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma once again to pull off this election for them. While Modi is no doubt a potent factor, his campaign could be less effective than 2014 because incumbency has set in with the NDA at the Centre for three years, and this is a local election where the BJP is not projecting any chief ministerial candidate or a strong State-level leadership. And there may be a headwind from demonetisation.

The editorial concludes with the observation:

With identity politics enjoying a field day the outcome is likely to be fractured and even a hung Assembly shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Even Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, in an interview to a national TV channel, has conceded the support behind the SP-Congress alliance but for which, he claims, the BJP under Modi would have easily crossed the 300-seat mark.

But UP is not only India’s most populous State. It is “larger and more diverse than many countries”, as the aforementioned TOI editorial asserts. That is precisely why at different phases of polling in the State one was exposed to different reports—that the Modi-Amit Shah juggernaut was not having the desired effect, that the SP-Congress alliance had rejuvenated not just the secular forces but the anti-BJP opposition among the public as a whole, and even—what the media was trying to painstakingly suppress for reasons it alone knows best—that the BSP might emerge as the single largest party when the results come out. However, to be safe it would not be prudent to hazard a specific guess at this moment especially when the contest is so close to make any substantive forecast.

Yet some pointers are unmistakable and these have been already noted and commented upon by sections of the media. For example, Narendra Modi’s speech at a campaign rally in Fatehpur on February 19. As The Indian Express underlined yesterday (February 21), the PM accused UP’s

SP government of bhedbhaav or discrimination on the basis of religion and caste, and suggested that it was the biggest problem facing the State today. If there is a kabristan (graveyard) in a village, the PM said, then it must have a shamshan ghat (cremation ground) too. If there is electricity during Ramzan, it should be there on Diwali as well; if there is electricity during Holi, it should be there on Eid too.... the PM’s message was clear. It was this: By building graveyards, or by making special provisions to reach electricity to Muslim neighbourhoods on festival days, the SP Government is indulging in policies of “minority appeasement”... Policies favouring the minority are inevitably at the expense of the majority’s needs and interests. Both the PM’s choice of examples, and his message, are unfortunate. .. Halfway into the campaign for UP — the staging ground for political trends and experiments that have resonated nationally — he paints the electoral contest as a dark and grimy tug of war between communities, denuded of concerns, ideas and hopes that are transcendent and shared.

It further boldly affirmed:

the PM’s slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” — which he reiterated in Fatehpur — can also be accused of perpetuating injustice if, in a society of deeply entrenched and historically embedded inequalities, it does not make space within itself for a specific and special outreach to minorities and the disprivileged.

What is more, it unequivocally pointed out:

In UP, the BJP list of candidates figures not a single Muslim. In such a context, the PM’s attempt in Fatehpur to elevate “discrimination” as an overriding theme is troubling. It neither behoves the PM nor his office.

We are of course not carefully dissecting the PM’s speech here. We are also not lamenting why a PM misuses his office to make such statements. We are only bringing into focus the fact that Modi’s latest reliance on pronouncements to effect communal polarisation manifests a sense of isolation on the part of the BJP. This is reflected also in what a prominent BJP leader from UP now in Modi’s Union Cabinet, Kalraj Mishra, has said: “Muslims are in a quandary whether to go with BSP or SP....If Muslim votes get divided, our prospects get even better.” This is a sign of desperation to catch any straw that comes the BJP’s way, not one of confidence.

The final outcome on March 11 will bring out the ground reality. Whatever the result, it is bound to put paid to the ambitious dreams of the ruling party at the Centre. The UP electorate will certainly have the last laugh.

February 22 S.C.

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