Modi-fied? Not quite

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Photo: Pramod Singh
Photo: Pramod Singh

No doubt, Narendra Modi’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh has helped the BJP state unit to bring some semblance of order in a party marred by internecine battles. Party leaders believe that the ‘Modi effect’ will certainly contribute significantly towards the BJP’s target of 272+ seats in the upcoming General Election. But will the Modi factor be enough to change the party’s fortunes?

“Even if the BJP cannot match the tornado of the 1990s, the party will certainly do its best to create a similar storm, thanks to Modi’s campaigns,” says senior BJP leader and MLC Mahendra Singh. Adds another leader: “There is an all-out effort to overcome the factional feud in the party. The Modi wave will override the divide within the party’s state unit.”

The 1990s was the BJP’s golden period in UP. Riding the crest of the Ram Mandir wave in the wake of the kar seva agitation at Ayodhya in October 1990, the party captured power in the 1991 Assembly polls. But the slide in the party’s fortunes was equally swift. In the 1989 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won only nine seats. Two years later, it won 52 seats, which further increased to 57 in the 1998 election. In the midterm polls held one year later, the tally plummeted to 26. In the 2004 polls, the BJP could manage only 11 Lok Sabha seats, followed by 10 seats in the 2009 election.

Notwithstanding the hype created by the five big rallies addressed by Modi in UP so far, state BJP leaders admit that the charm of Modi is confined to the upper castes and the urban population.

“The SP and the BSP have clearly identifiable vote banks of OBCs and SCs, so it will be an uphill task for Modi to make a dent there,” says a party leader. “He can certainly add some votes to the party’s kitty, but it would be an exaggeration to suggest that his elevation has triggered a wave in the BJP’s favour, like the Ram Mandir movement had managed to do.”

Moreover, an OBC leader close to BJP chief Rajnath Singh says, “The party is projecting Modi as an EBC (extremely backward caste) leader. When Rajnath Singh was the Uttar Pradesh chief minister (2000-2002), he tried to give reservation benefits to the EBCs and MBCs by dividing the 27 percent OBC quota. But the BJP did not take these efforts to their logical conclusion in subsequent Assembly and Lok Sabha elections. So, it is highly unlikely that the Modi-led campaign will create an appeal for the party in these sections of the electorate.”

However, senior BJP leader Lautan Ram Nishad, who hails from the EBC fisherman community, begs to differ. “The 17 castes listed in the OBC category have long been treated as pawns by both the SP and the BSP in their political games. They have seen through the game of both the parties and this time the BJP will get overwhelming support from this group,” he says.

Meanwhile, a political analyst points out, “The BJP’s vote share in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls was a mere 15 percent. It cannot suddenly jump to 35 percent. Same is the number of seats; it could increase to 20 from the present tally of 10. It cannot increase threefold”

Contrary to the BJP leadership’s bravado, the hotly debated questions within the party are whether Modi’s persona is big enough to create a groundswell of support for the party like the Ram Mandir wave did for the party in the ’90s, and can Modi revive the euphoria that brought the BJP to power in the state in 1991, which ultimately led to the Babri Masjid demolition at Ayodhya on 6 December 1992.

A brief recap of the BJP’s past performance will hint at how the party is likely to do in this year’s General Election. In the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP won 10 seats, finished second in seven, third in 22 and fourth in 16 seats. The party did not contest in the remaining 25 seats.

Out of the total 80 Lok Sabha seats in UP, there are seven constituencies — Salempur, Ballia, Ghosi, Lalganj (SC) Phulpur, Akbarpur (SC) and Mainpuri — where the BJP and its earlier avatar, the Bharatiya Jana Sangh (BJS), have never won an election. In the 10 seats of Sambhal, Baghpat, Shahjahanpur, Etawah, Kannauj, Fatehpur, Chail (SC), Azamgarh, Barabanki and Amethi, the BJP/BJS had won only once. There are 23 seats — Moradabad, Rampur, Lakhimpur Kheri, Badaun, Shahabad, Sitapur, Misrikh, Hardoi, Mohanlalganj (SC) Rae Bareli, Kaiserganj, Bahraich, Khalilabad, Deoria, Machli Sahar, Ghazipur, Mirzapur, Banda, Ghatampur (SC), Farrukhabad, Jalesar, Kairana and Saharanpur — where the BJP/ BJS won only twice.

Contrary to the claims by senior BJP leaders, there is no end to the internecine factional feuds and hankering among party leaders for Lok Sabha tickets.

Kalraj Mishra, the former state unit president and national vice-president, considers himself senior to party chief Rajnath Singh. Mishra, who is an MLA in the UP Assembly, aspires to be an MP, and because of his seniority, he is confident that he will become a Union minister once the NDA comes to power.

Even though the party is yet to formally initiate the process of selecting candidates, Mishra has already announced his candidature from Kanpur, which has a sizeable Brahmin vote bank. Two BJP MLAs from Kanpur district — Satyadeo Pachuri and Satish Mahana — are also eyeing the Kanpur Lok Sabha seat and have openly traded charges with Mishra.

Every party office-bearer will earn the wrath of BJP state unit chief Laxmikant Bajpai, a protégé of former BJP president Nitin Gadkari, if they dare invite BJP national secretary Vinod Pandey and MLC Mahendra Singh, both cronies of Rajnath Singh. Similar is the case with former state chief Rampati Ram Tripathi.

“We are aware of the challenges before us,” says Bajpai. “If not an exponential increase, we have to at least match the vote share of 36.49 percent that we received in the 1999 Lok Sabha polls. In the past decade, the UP electorate has seen that voting for the SP or the BSP has ultimately helped the Congress to remain in power at the Centre. The caste politics of the SP and the BSP is not imponderable for us. We will counter that by urging the electorate to vote for India.”

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