The Big Push For The East

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Photo: Vijay Pandey
Photo: Vijay Pandey

The time for the final push has come and the Modi wave seems to be gathering force in Uttar Pradesh. The saffron wave is overriding powerful regional outfits such as the ruling Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which are well-organised at the grassroots level.

A series of populist schemes announced by the SP government such as free laptops and dole for the unemployed seem to have made little impact in preventing the young voters from viewing Narendra Modi as some kind of icon.

Eight months ago, the BJP was nowhere in the agenda of public discourse in Uttar Pradesh. However, Modi’s elevation as the prime ministerial candidate and his rallies have brought a sea change in the party’s fortunes.

Modi’s well-orchestrated roadshow in Varanasi on 24 April, the day he filed his nomination papers, caught his rivals off guard. All they could do was protest and lodge a complaint with the Election Commission. “The BJP not only made it a historic event, it used the occasion to impact the voters and send Modi’s message across the country,” says Manoj Mishra, a lecturer at Poorvanchal University in Jaunpur, located 50 km from Varanasi.

So, what explains the Modi wave? Will it really translate into votes? There are three identifiable factors: one, the existing communal polarisation in the wake of last September’s riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts; two, the impact of Modi on the youth, particularly the first-time voters; and three, the combination of anti-incumbency against the UPA regime over inflation and scams and the extremely negative image of the SP government.

Besides the Modi wave, the BJP’s strategy of mobilising voters and the micro management of election at the polling booth level initiated by national general secretary Amit Shah are working to the advantage of the party.

“Economic growth unleashes powerful aspirations as well as frustrations. The political parties that can tap into these emotions will reap the benefit,” says Pramod Kumar, who teaches at Lucknow University. “Modi is lucky to reap both the benefits as the growth under the UPA unleashed aspirations and the later recession caused frustration among the masses. Modi promises to do away with the frustration and fulfil the people’s aspirations.”

“The people of Uttar Pradesh have made up their mind and they will vote for Modi,” says author and political analyst AK Verma. “The more muck you throw at Modi, it only strengthens the resolve of the people to vote for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate. The people have no option as they won’t vote for the Congress or the SP, and they don’t see the BSP playing a big role in the formation of the next government. It’s not my personal opinion but the result of some field studies. People say they are not concerned about the BJP but will still vote for Modi, as if Modi and BJP are two different entities.

With four phases of polling already over in Uttar Pradesh, the two remaining phases on 7 and 12 May, covering 33 seats in the eastern part of the state, are crucial for the BJP, SP and the BSP. With both the satraps, Mulayam Singh Yadav and Mayawati, facing a washout in western Uttar Pradesh, where the BJP is said to have reaped rich political dividends of communal polarisation, both the SP and BSP are looking to eastern Uttar Pradesh for compensating the loss. Polling in the west was held in the first two phases on 10 and 17 April.

Mulayam, who is contesting from Mainpuri in western Uttar Pradesh and Azamgarh in the east, had to rush to the latter city in a bid to stop the Modi juggernaut. Modi is contesting from Varanasi, located next to Azamgarh. In contrast to the SP’s loud campaign, the BSP has been quiet. Speculation is rife that the Modi wave has dented the BSP’s Dalit vote bank. The strategy of fielding Modi from Varanasi seems to have paid off.

The twin cities of Azamgarh and Varanasi have emerged as crucial in the fight affecting three-dozen seats in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the Avadh region. Both the regions are crucial for the SP and the BJP as the former is fighting against poaching in its turf, while the latter is trying to regain the ground it lost in the past two decades.

Second life BJP candidate Sakshi Maharaj
Second life BJP candidate Sakshi Maharaj

The BJP had made significant inroads into eastern Uttar Pradesh after the euphoria generated in the wake of the kar seva movement at Ayodhya in 1990 and the subsequent demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992. In the 2009 General Election, the BJP had won only three seats — Varanasi, Azamgarh and Gorakhpur — in the region. This time, the BJP is confident of raising its tally.

Apart from the Modi wave, the BJP’s social engineering aimed at mobilising the non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits, besides consolidating the upper-caste Brahmin, Rajput and Vaishya vote bank has drastically altered the political equation. The Hindu consolidation around the upper castes is a new phenomenon. Despite the complex caste arithmetic, the BJP has emerged as a strong force in 80 percent of the seats in the state, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha.

Political analysts believed that the BJP had bungled badly during ticket distribution, which had led to heartburn among those who were denied tickets. As many as 23 candidates of the total 78 are turncoats who defected to the BJP from other parties, and 11 are former MLAs who lost the 2012 Assembly polls. But the Modi wave has helped the BJP to douse the fire of rebellion.

At the behest of Modi and former CM Kalyan Singh, OBCs were given prominence during ticket distribution, which almost alienated the upper-caste lobby.

Out of 78 candidates — the BJP has left Pratapgarh and Mirzapur for its alliance partner Apna Dal — the BJP has fielded 24 OBCs and 15 Brahmins. Much to the chagrin of the BJP, the BSP has given as many as 21 tickets to Brahmins. The Brahmin lobby was particularly peeved over the nomination of religious leader Swami Sakshi Maharaj, an OBC, from Unnao, which has a sizeable Brahmin population. An accused in the Babri Masjid demolition case, Sakshi Maharaj had quit the BJP after Kalyan Singh was asked by the party to resign from the chief minister’s post in November 1999. Sakshi Maharaj was later elected to the Rajya Sabha on an SP ticket.

“The Brahmins were upset over the BJP’s decision to give the ticket to Sakshi Maharaj,” says Alok Dikshit, a local lawyer. “But now he is getting the support of both the Brahmins and the OBCs. The Brahmins have relented as they seem to be convinced that their vote will enable the formation of a Modi-led government at the Centre.”

Political observers narrate a similar tale from Jaunpur. “For the BJP, the challenge was not only to get across Modi’s message but also to set its house in order and settle the disputes over ticket distribution,” says lecturer Mishra. “Everybody was surprised when the ticket was given to KP Singh. The local people rejected him outright. However, he is the frontrunner today. It is not Singh who matters, it is the persona of Modi that has brought him centrestage in the contest for Jaunpur.”

The spike in communal violence since Akhilesh Yadav came to power two years ago has aided the BJP’s cause. As per figures released by the Union home ministry, Uttar Pradesh was the worst affected by communal violence with 247 incidents and 77 deaths last year compared to 118 incidents and 39 deaths the year before.

Both the SP and the BJP have often been accused of being hand-in-glove and using communal polarisation for their narrow political ends. Last August, the SP government allegedly facilitated the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s cause by cracking down on its Parikrama Yatra to Ayodhya, which had aroused little interest in the temple town, and later the communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and adjoining districts, which led to intense communal polarisation of voters, thus benefitting both the parties. Critics allege that both the SP and the BJP are involved in a phantom fight and are aiding each other by stirring the communal cauldron.

“The twin cities of Faizabad and Ayodhya did not witness any communal violence even during the stressful days of 1992 when the Babri Masjid was demolished,” says Yusuf Khan, who teaches law at Saket Degree College in Ayodhya. “But in October 2012, communal riots erupted simultaneously in as many as five towns.”

“If at all there is any wave, then it is highly superficial,” says Badri Narayan, author of a biography on the late BSP leader Kanshi Ram, and professor at the GB Pant Institute of Social Sciences, Allahabad. “A scenario in which the BJP wins 50 seats in the state looks highly unlikely. If the BJP is claiming a resounding success in the first phase of polling in western Uttar Pradesh, then it is more due to communal polarisation than the Modi wave. The BJP may gain seats in eastern and central Uttar Pradesh if it is able to forge the caste balance. If the party manages that, then you can call it a Modi wave.”

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