The stunning results of the 2014 General Election have completely changed the political landscape of Uttar Pradesh. Until now, the mantra for political success was based on cobbling up a successful coalition of caste and community. But the saffron surge has changed all that. The BJP’s victory in Muslim-dominated seats or where Muslim voters are in sizeable number has also dealt a blow to the long-held paradigm that the minority community nurses a pathological hatred for the BJP.
The Samajwadi Party (SP), the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Congress — all strong claimants to the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh — have been wiped out. The BJP’s win in the state (71 out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats on offer) has important lessons for everyone, from the Congress to the poll pundits to the Left-liberal intellectuals, even to the saffron party itself. But, the most important lesson of all has to be for the caste-based regional parties. Their decimation has raised a question on their very raison d’être. Are these political parties really representative of the SCs, OBCs and the Dalits, or are they deluding themselves into believing so?
The Congress, whose 14 candidates — all sitting MPs, including five Union ministers — lost their security deposits, is groping in the dark and as usual looking for guidance from the high command in New Delhi. The tremors generated by the results are so strong for the SP and the BSP that both are mulling over how to respond to the unprecedented situation. So far, they are resorting to the usual tools such as dissolution of the party executives and issuing calls for revamping the party organisation.
For the three parties, two things are common. Leaders from all three parties have held that the communal polarisation was responsible for the BJP’s success and their hope for the future lies in the expected failure of Narendra Modi as prime minister. SP and BSP leaders have said in categorical terms that Modi has promised the moon to the people and he will never be able to deliver and would soon be exposed. However, both the SP and the BSP are strategically silent on one additional and equally critical factor in their downfall, which is fragmentation of their own respective caste-based vote banks, the so-called Mandal and Dalit monolith.
Alarm bells are ringing for the BSP as the patience of the party cadre is wearing thin. For the first time since the 1989 General Election, the BSP drew a blank in Uttar Pradesh. Party workers put up a banner at the party headquarters, which said, “Behenji, suno Daliton ki pukar, Nahi to khatam ho jayega Janadhar (Sister, hear the voice of the Dalits or your vote base would be finished).” Never in the past two decades has anyone dared to raise any protest slogans against Mayawati, and the BSP was seen as one of the country’s most disciplined political outfits.
The results have effectively pulled the rug from under the feet of the SP. Of the 80 Lok Sabha seats, the SP could win only five. Interestingly, all five were won by members of the SP’s first family — party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav (Mainpuri and Azamgarh), his nephews Dharmendra and Akshay Yadav (Badaun and Firozabad) and his daughter-in-law Dimple Yadav (Kannauj).
A look at the Assembly segment-wise analysis of the results reveals that the BJP won in 335 Assembly segments, while the SP was No. 1 in only 37 Assembly segments. The BSP could win only in nine Assembly segments, while the Congress — which won two Lok Sabha seats — retained its support in 13 segments.
For the first time since its inception in 1992, the SP had won a clear majority in the state Assembly in March 2012. By polling a little over 29 percent votes, the SP had won 224 seats in the 403-member House. The BSP had finished second with 80 and the BJP with 47 seats.
On an average, each Lok Sabha constituency in Uttar Pradesh is comprised of five Assembly segments. Of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats, the BJP had won in all five segments of as many as 54 Lok Sabha constituencies, and won in four Assembly segments in eight seats.
Apna Dal, the fledgling political party of the dominant OBC Kurmi caste and a BJP ally, too has expanded its area of influence from one Assembly segment to nine — five in Mirzapur and four in Pratapgarh seats.
Of the 57 members in the UP council of ministers, 26 are Cabinet ministers, five are ministers of state with independent charge and 26 are ministers of state. Mulayam’s younger brother Shivpal Yadav and Durga Yadav are the two Cabinet ministers who managed to retain their Assembly segments in Etawah and Azamgarh, respectively. Apart from Akhilesh and Cabinet ministers Balram Yadav, Ambika Chowdhary and Ahmed Hasan — who are members of the Legislative Council — every minister lost his/her respective Assembly segment. All the five ministers of state with independent charge and the 26 ministers of state have lost in their respective Assembly segments.
The biggest question that stares the SP is the fate of its government led by Akhilesh Yadav. In January, Mulayam had cautioned the SP leaders that if the party fails to win big in the General Election, it would become difficult to politically sustain the state government despite the SP enjoying a clear majority in the Assembly. That moment seems to have arrived for the party. In fact, top BJP leaders such as former chief minister Kalyan Singh and Kalraj Mishra have already demanded the resignation of Akhilesh Yadav on moral grounds.
Moreover, this General Election has effectively reduced the SP as a purely Yadav party as all other social groups within the OBC category have shifted to the BJP. Lodhas, who had drifted away from the BJP after Kalyan Singh’s exit in 1999, have returned to the party fold. As many as five MPs from the community were elected to the Lok Sabha on a BJP ticket, besides six Kurmis, two Gurjars and five Jats. Even a significant chunk of the Yadavs shifted allegiance to the BJP.
Addressing his defeated army in Lucknow, a bewildered Mulayam asked his partymen, “With whom will I sit in Parliament?” Seeking to put the blame on the state government led by his son Akhilesh for the debacle, he remembered the good old days. “When I was the CM, we won 36 seats in 2004 and three seats in the bypolls. This time, he (pointing to Akhilesh) is the CM and we won five. Why? I am finding it hard to explain this in Delhi.”
Mulayam asked the SP leaders to furnish the reasons for their defeat. Many candidates alleged that some Cabinet ministers and SP leaders appointed as advisers and chairmen with minister status had sabotaged their chances. Losing candidates from eastern and central Uttar Pradesh claimed that Yadavs had ditched the SP and had voted for the BJP instead. Some also blamed the local administration and the party’s unconditional support to the UPA government for the past 10 years.
But Mulayam was not satisfied. He cited the good performance of other regional parties. “J Jayalalithaa won in Tamil Nadu, Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, Naveen Patnaik in Odisha and even Parkash Singh Badal in Punjab. They won most of the seats in their states. What happened here? Why did we lose, can anyone tell me?” asked Mulayam as Akhilesh stared at the ceiling.
Some SP leaders have found a convenient alibi in communal polarisation for the party’s debacle.
“There is vast difference between Uttar Pradesh and other states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Odisha,” says senior minister Azam Khan. “Besides Kashi, Mathura and Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh also had the Muzaffarnagar riots, which was exploited by the BJP to the hilt. A frenzy of monumental scale was created across the state and the people fell in their trap. The BJP led the people to the garden path by promising all-round development and employment. Modi is now talking of cleaning the Kashi and Ganga, which we are already doing.”
The SP is at its wits’ end as to how to deal with the catastrophic situation. Mulayam was all dressed up to lead the Third Front government at the Centre and was confident of winning more than 60 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Now, the biggest challenge before the SP is to keep its flock together and ensure the stability of the Akhilesh Yadav government, which still has three more years to complete its term, which ends in March 2017.
“There is no cause for despair,” Mulayam told his partymen. “Don’t be disheartened by the poll results because victory and defeat are an integral part of public life. People may not have voted for you but you should go to the people and be with the masses. In the 1991 Assembly polls, the strength of the party was reduced to a few MLAs, but we bounced back to power in 1993.”
Echoing Mulayam’s sentiment, a senior party leader said: “We have little option left but to keep the cadre united. In contrast, BSP cadre hailing from SCs, OBCs and Brahmins are not impressed by the caste slogan anymore and are seeking new opportunities. We have to contain and prevent the mass exodus of our cadre to the BJP.”
The SP is in damage-control mode to prevent a Bihar-like situation, where Nitish Kumar has quit the CM’s post after taking moral responsibility for the loss of the JD(U).
Azam Khan, the Muslim mascot of the SP, had lost no opportunity to embarrass Akhilesh on earlier occasions but remarked after the election that it was “blasphemous to demand the resignation of Akhilesh Yadav”.
“The people demanding the chief minister’s resignation have a sick mentality,” Khan said. “Why should he resign? The election verdict is the result of the massive corruption and inflation during the decade-long rule of the Congress-led UPA government at the Centre.”
Political experts are of the opinion that a Bihar-like situation may not arise in Uttar Pradesh and the SP may be able to save its fort with some political manipulation.
“Unlike in Bihar, the government in Uttar Pradesh is led by a single party, which is a natural leader of the Mandal forces as Yadavs are the dominant OBC community,” says Ashutosh Mishra, who teaches political science at Lucknow University. “Nitish Kumar is from the second dominant caste, Kurmi, and led a coalition government with the BJP for more than seven years. He had to hanker for the support of Mahadalits and the EBCs. Bihar is in turmoil because of the breakup of BJP-JD(U) alliance. An alliance is not merely an arithmetical aggregate but a social chemistry. Whenever it breaks, a jolt will be felt.”
“Uttar Pradesh has a single-party government with a clear majority with no dependence on any ally or outside support. Right now, the priority for Narendra Modi and the BJP would be to consolidate their position in New Delhi and retain the 12 Assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, where bypolls will be held in two months’ time.”
In an apparent knee-jerk reaction, Akhilesh also fired more than three-dozen SP leaders who were bestowed with the status of minister, minister of state or had been appointed as advisers to the state government in various departments and heads of PSUs and other autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies. In the past two years, Akhilesh had appointed 200 people with the status of ministers. These appointees are a big drain on the state exchequer as they are entitled to staff at the office and residence, official accommodation, a gunman and an official vehicle, besides other perks and privileges.
“Many more heads will roll in the Cabinet soon,” says SP leader Reoti Raman Singh, a two-term mp from Allahabad who lost to the BJP’s Shyama Charan Gupta in the Lok Sabha polls. “All those ministers who sabotaged the chances of the party candidate or remained indifferent during the election will be held accountable. It may take some time, maybe after the Budget session by the end of June or mid-July.”
Interestingly, Akhilesh, who is also the state president of the SP, has not said much about the debacle. His stock reply to repeated queries by the media is this: “It was the Lok Sabha election. The party’s national president is seized of the matter and we will abide by his directions.”
Meanwhile, BSP supremo Mayawati has dissolved all the district, Assembly and state-level organisational units of the party in the wake of the debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. She has also sacked all the six zonal coordinators.
During a meeting in Lucknow three days after the election results, she tried to restore the party’s morale. “The BSP workers and leaders should work harder,” she said. “The defeat of the party is not because of any mandate against the BSP but because of polarisation. The BSP may not have won any Parliament seat in Uttar Pradesh or any other state but its vote share in Uttar Pradesh is 19.6 percent.”
And Mayawati struck a note of caution for the new prime minister. “The new government faces a lot of challenges and it will not be easy for the Modi government to meet the huge expectations that they have created,” she said.