Uttar pradesh delivered 40 percent of the BJP’s tally in the General Election. So, it came as no surprise when Narendra Modi rewarded the state by inducting as many as nine MPs in his lean and mean Cabinet.
After losing successive battles in the Assembly and Lok Sabha polls to caste-based parties such as the SP and the BSP in the past decade, the BJP seems to have taken the route of extreme caution in maintaining the crucial caste balance. As a result, it has carefully selected leaders from dominant social groups such as Brahmins and Thakurs as well as Kurmis and Lodhas from the OBC category.
Rajnath Singh’s appointment as the No. 2 in the Cabinet has signalled the arrival of a new power duo in place of the earlier AB Vajpayee-LK Advani fulcrum. The BJP is confident that the new team will end the party’s political drought in Uttar Pradesh, where it has been out of power for the past 12 years. However, the non-inclusion of a Dalit MP from the state in the Union Cabinet is being seen as an imbalance in Team Modi. The BJP had won all the 17 reserved Lok Sabha seats from the state. But the party has indicated that the Cabinet will be expanded.
With the new political dispensation taking over the Delhi throne, its next obvious destination is Uttar Pradesh.
The ruling SP faces many challenges for its survival after being routed in the General Election. Even after being in power for two years, Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav is yet to make a mark in state politics and come out of the shadow of his illustrious father, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Akhilesh’s sole claim to fame remains that he is the son of the veteran leader and the heir apparent of the party.
For Akhilesh, the first challenge is likely to emanate from the bypolls to as many 13 Assembly seats in the next three months. Of the 13 seats, 12 are held by the BJP and the other by its ally, Apna Dal. Strengthening the civil and the police administration, which is in a mess, is another big challenge before the chief minister. A non-responsive bureaucracy is the most common complaint of the rank and file of the party as the orders issued from the chief minister’s secretariat and ministers carry little weight with the authorities at the district level.
Even as the SP struggles to come to terms with the stark reality of its electoral rout, the elder Yadav has ensured that his son remains unscathed and protects him from the heat of accountability. Before the General Election, Mulayam often rapped his son for non-performance and his loose grip on the state’s administration. In January, he even castigated Akhilesh for being surrounded by sycophants.
However, when it comes to executing the dictum of accountability in the party for its debacle, Mulayam’s actions proved that blood is thicker than water.
Within a few days of the election results being announced, Mulayam sacked every office-bearer of the party’s state executive and other front organisations. But Akhilesh continues to hold two posts — the party’s state president and the chief minister. Earlier, the chief minister sacked 36 of the more than 200 handpicked partymen, for whom special positions with added ex-officio status of minister of state had been created. Ironically, most of them had no role whatsoever to play in the election campaign.
“Akhilesh led the party’s poll campaign from the front, so how can he escape the accountability?” asks an SP leader who lost in the election. “The candidates invested heavily in the election but lost as the Yadavs in my constituency switched their loyalty to the BJP. The Yadavs and other Hindu voters were alienated from the party due to the convoluted and myopic secularism taught by the father and son during the campaign. Akhilesh is a reluctant chief minister. The only politics he seems to understand is to keep repeating before the media that it is easy to be communal and difficult to be secular.”
Another defeated SP candidate echoes the sentiment. “How can we blame Modi and the BJP for communal polarisation when our leaders themselves pushed our voters to the BJP camp by exclusively focussing on Modi, took the Hindu voters for granted and promised the moon to the minorities during the campaign?”
Despite the bitter political battle, some signs of bonhomie were seen at the forecourt of the Rashtrapati Bhavan during the swearing-in ceremony of Modi when BJP general secretary Amit Shah escorted Mulayam, who was sitting in the back row, to the front. However, the political situation in the state gives a clear signal that it is a lull before the storm. The BJP has already announced its decision to contest the bypoll from Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat with all its might. The seat was vacated by Mulayam, who also won from Azamgarh.
The SP is facing a dilemma in finding a suitable candidate. In the Lok Sabha, the SP has already been reduced to a family enterprise as besides Mulayam, the other three SP MPs are his daughter-in-law and two nephews. As a result, the SP leadership is under intense pressure to choose somebody from outside the family.
“After a gap of 14 years, the BJP has tasted blood,” says an SP leader. “With the Assembly election due in 2017, the BJP’s goal is to capture power in Lucknow. So, the party will leave no stone unturned to torment the SP regime and will gradually mount pressure and foment trouble in the guise of fighting for people’s causes.”
Former SP general secretary Chandra Prakash Rai adds, “Cosmetic measures like transferring district magistrates, police chiefs, reshuffling the bureaucracy and sacking SP leaders enjoying the status of minister won’t work. We have to take the bull by the horns and focus on the delivery of public services to the people.”
According to a Cabinet minister, ignoring the interests of the farmers was the main reason that cost the party dear. “Our leaders kept repeating that the government had waived farm loans worth Rs 1,600 crore and provided free irrigation water and many other freebies, but the fact is that 10 days after the poll results, the Allahabad High Court directed the state government to submit its plan within 48 hours on how it will pay the dues owed to the sugarcane farmers amounting to more than Rs 9,000 crore,” he says on the condition of anonymity. “Had Mayawati been the chief minister, she would have ordered the detention of the sugar mill owners.”
“In the past year, Akhilesh never found the time to meet the thousands of people who came with their grievances. Now, he is asking for explanations from district magistrates and superintendents and has ordered them to ensure that the grievances of the people are redressed. But, it is too little, too late in the day.”
Additional Advocate General Zafaryaab Jilani, who is considered close to Mulayam, is confident that the BJP will fritter away its gains. “The biggest challenge is to win back the secular votes of the OBCs and SCs who were swayed by the rabidly communal propaganda of the Sangh Parivar and shifted their allegiance to the BJP,” says Jilani, who is also a member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board. “They have got the first taste as none of the 17 BJP MPs elected from reserved seats were found eligible for a berth in the Union Cabinet.”
However, some political analysts reject the idea that the votes in Uttar Pradesh were divided along secular and non-secular lines and maintain that politics in the era of growing voter aspirations has moved beyond the traditional paradigm of caste and communal calculations.
“Nobody knew about Narendra Modi’s caste profile until his candidature was announced from Varanasi,” says political analyst AK Verma. “As the election progressed, his detractors made it an issue and Modi was quick to lap up the opportunity and exploited it to his maximum advantage. The SP concentrated on forging the Yadav-Muslim alliance and its abysmal failure to bring the heterogeneous OBC social groups under its umbrella immensely helped the BJP. By offering development and empowerment, Modi was able to communicate with the masses and addressed their aspirations for overall development, employment and security.”
Referring to the post-poll study on the electoral behaviour of the voters, Verma says, “The aggressive campaign by Modi resulted in as many as 27 percent Yadavs, 52 percent Kurmis and more than 60 percent of the extremely backward castes voting for the BJP, which enabled the party to win as many as 34 of the 35 Lok Sabha constituencies in eastern Uttar Pradesh that went to the polls in the fifth and sixth phases of the election.”
The share of OBCs in the population of Uttar Pradesh is estimated to be around 41 percent. The Mandal Commission estimate was 52 percent, while the Social Justice Committee set up in 2001 by the then chief minister Rajnath Singh found the share to be 54 percent.
“The battle for secularism cannot be fought by the champions of identity/caste politics because for parties such as the SP and the BSP, secularism is a tactical tool to garner the votes of their castes and minorities rather than an article of faith and principle,” says Vibhuti Naryan Rai, renowned Hindi author and former vice-chancellor of the Wardha International Hindi University. “The SP has been reduced to be the party of Yadavs and the BSP of the Jatavs.
“As a result of the narrow identity politics pursued by the SP and the BSP, all other castes under the OBC and SC categories were alienated and they shifted their allegiance to the BJP. This General Election has proved that the ultimate destiny or the logical conclusion of caste politics is communalism and this has been clearly manifested in Uttar Pradesh. It is indeed most ironical that the forces that had injected the poison of communalism in the body politic of India and are behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid are today championing the cause of good governance, development and prosperity, which has been endorsed by the people.”
All said and done, SP leader Chandra Prakash Rai is confident that Akhilesh will set the house in order and retain power come 2017. “The CM will pursue a ruthless agenda for ensuring development and good governance,” says Rai. “He will monitor the flagship programmes of the government, and bureaucrats will be given a specific timeframe for complying with the orders and instructions of the state government on issues relating to the redressal of people’s grievances and development. Very soon, you will see the signs of turnaround in Uttar Pradesh.”