The poll story of Uttar Pradesh has gone beyond wining a state assembly by the Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP). The scale of the victory is completely assurance for the Prime Minister Narendra Modi that he can now plan a big political offensive against the Opposition. He can also go on taking policy decisions which were put on hold for the assembly elections to be over. The demonetisation of Indian currencies showed his stubborn attitude in taking vital decisions. The UP mandate will now give him all the courage to do for more. UP results have opened up the scope of more pro-corporate reforms. The most important outcome of UP results is the opportunity it has given him to counter the anti-incumbency in 2019. He is already on it through celebrations and media discussions. His address at BJP headquarters in New Delhi gives the indication.
On the other hand, with this victory, the RSS has discovered a social equation which can win elections without the support of Muslims. It has long been working on that tool, but failed in assembling it. This time, it has fulfilled its long cherished desire of dismantling “Muslim vote-bank” and alleged “politics” around it to the extent of extreme marginalization of the Muslim community in the poll arena. Undoubtedly, the results have also shown failure of secular outfits in mobilizing people against ascending saffron politics. It has made difficult task for the opposition to build a formidable anti-BJP mobilization. Poor performance of Congress in the state has made Congress too vulnerable to a loss of confidence to come out strongly against the BJP. Now, it will not be easy for Rahul Gandhi to lead an offensive against Modi in 2019.
The misery has been compounded by the defeat family has suffered in its bastions of Amethi and Raebareli. The family could retain only two of 10 seats. The BJP grabbed 6 seats and SP two. The family lost the prestigious seat of Amethi where Amrita Singh, wife of Congress MP Sanjay Singh lost to the estranges wife of Singh. She contested on the BJP ticket. The fact that the bastions were being nursed by Priyanka Gandhi made the defeat more embarrassing. She had campaigned also. The BJP leader Smriti Irani will be making it a talking point all the time to humiliate the Gandhi family.
BJP’s successful attempt to make Muslim vote redundant in UP is really surprising. The number of elected members from the community is the lowest ever in the state. The 403-member assembly will have only 25 MLAs. The last assembly which was dominated by Samajwadi Party had 68 MLAs from the community. This was the biggest number in the electoral history of the state. The average number of Muslim MLAs in the state has been 40.
Bahujan Samaj Party had fielded about 100 candidates. The party got only 19 seats, six from the community. The Samajwadi Party which has 47 seats in the newly elected assembly has 17 Muslims in its legislature party. There are two MLAs from the community in the newly Congress Legislature Party of seven MLAs.
The battle within the family came as an additional burden on Akhilesh during the latest Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh
The Muslims have not only lost numbers in the assembly, but they have also lost their vote-power which is crucial for the community to become a pressure group in democracy. They have come to this low status despite the fact that with 22 crore, they constitute 19 percent of the state population.
According to pollsters, Muslims are important in 143 assembly constituencies. They constitute 20-25 percent in 70 constituencies and 30 percent in another 73 constituencies.
It has surprised many that how the community failed miserably in exercising their vote-power. According to experts, one single factor behind it may be the success of BJP in polarizing the votes. The party and its ally, Apna Dal did not give a single ticket to the candidates from the minority community and campaigned extensively on polarizing issues. The alliance won 321 seats.
Rizwan, a social worker from Lucknow points to another reason as well. He says that the community remained confused because of the fact that none of the secular parties could properly make a connect with them. He says that the style of functioning in parties like SP and BSP is such that no politicization of supporters is done.
“This is not limited to Muslims only. It is true for other communities as well. The BSP is not able to educate its Dalit cadres, how can we expect them to train others. The challenge thrown was political and it could be fought only politically,” he asserts. In fact, reasons of Muslims’ losing their power can be traced in broader collapse of the Mandal politics in the state. The Samajwadi Party which had emerged as a major voice of backward castes and Muslims in nineties started losing support of non-Yadav communities. Leaders from vocal communities like Patels and others started leaving the party. Earlier, the party had many leaders from upper castes as well. They were also sidelined.
If we take a look at the past poll results, it becomes clear how the SP has lost its vote share in 2017. The party which had started with 18 percent of votes in 1993, it ascended to a position where it had over 29 percent in 2012. The party added some 3 to 4 percent of votes in every election. This time, the party seems to have lost the base it has acquired over the years.
There cannot be any doubt that The family-feud damaged the prospect of the party immensely. It took crucial four months just before elections. Akhilesh could not concentrate on polls. The ugliest part of this feud was that both, father and son were standing against each other before the Election Commission to claim the leadership of the party. This might have enhanced the stature of Akhilesh, but it created immense confusion among workers. The campaign was affected by it.
The sabotage-theory also does not seem to be baseless. Election-time statements of Shivpal Yadav certainly indicate that he and his followers have worked to defeat party candidates. The statement of Sadhana Gupta, wife of Mulayam Singh on the last day of polling hints at a well-organized use of family-battle. It is not simple that the lady who has been away from the campaign was made to give a political statement. Rajya Sabha MP Amar Singh’s role also points to such a conspiracy.
The battle within the family also made Akhilesh do blunders. His father had given ticket to senior leader Beni Prasad Verma’s son from Ramnagar constituency. Akhilesh withdrew it and gave the seat to a Yadav candidate. Faced with a challenge from Apana Dal, he required a Kurmi face. By denying ticket , he lost the opportunity. Verma was also not roped in for campaigning.
Why BSP lost the plot
The reason of failure of BSP is also not difficult to find out. The party could not evolve a structure which can sustain political attacks at different levels. The party has only one leader and she responds to everything coming before the party. She also failed to mobilize non-Jatav dalits and extremely backward castes which she had effectively done during early years.
Despite they were faced with such as big challenge, they were not ready to join hands with each other. The simple arithmetic shows that the BSP and SP could have made a winning combination. Their coming together on broader alliance would have made smaller castes vote for such an alliance.
BSP, which failed miserably in UP polls, could not evolve a structure which can sustain political attacks at different levels
However, the UP results have its positive aspects too. The realization of Congress that it can recover from the losses it has received over the years is a positive change for the party. Rahul Gandhi’s sharing dais with Akhilesh has certainly assured UP of a good young leadership. Congress might have really fared badly by gathering only 6 percent of votes, but it has opened a new politics for it in coming days.
Has social engineering of BJP any positive aspect in terms of social justice? It does not seem to be so. The gathering of non-Yadav backward castes and non-Jatav Scheduled Castes has been along the communal lines. Under the leadership of BSP and SP, these castes had come together to oppose feudal exploitation in rural areas. The new combination is purely based on communalism. The campaigning of BJP saw a high pitched communal propaganda. It was consistent and went through the entire campaign. From Kairana to Varanasi, the party used communal card.
Modi’s reference of ‘Kabristan’ versus Shamsan (burial ground and cremation ground) was one of them. Most disappointing aspect of the UP elections is the failure of the Election Commission in implementing the Supreme Court verdict against using religion and caste. The EC issued a circular in the middle of polls which clearly alleged that politicians were using card of religion. However, it did not take any action against those who were mentioned in the circular.
How personalities ruled ?
On the last day of Uttar Pradesh polling, a senior journalist asked us to name 10 of the contesting candidates. No one had the answer. We were surprised to find that we could name only a few from Samajwadi Party and the Congress, but none from the BJP despite the fact that the latter had several prominent local leaders and heirs of stalwarts in the field. Even recalling name of candidates like sons of Rajnath Singh and Lalji Tondon took some efforts. We did take names like Rita Bahuguna, but only after some struggle. The senior journalist actually wanted to drive home the point that the UP assembly polls have eventually turned into an election of celebs and he did it successfully.
The credit of making polls in UP a personality oriented exercise actually goes to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He and his advertising team have been changing the mode of elections in the country since 2014. They perfected the art in UP assembly polls. They did everything to make it happen that an individual, not the party, should impact elections in most complete and overwhelming manner. Other players also followed the suit and the entire election became personality-centric. The phenomenon was so complete that vital issues that concern common people were pushed into the background. Of course, issues kept coming out frequently, but most of the time they were used for enhancing the image of the contestants, not for their relevance.
A close look at slogans makes it clearer. It is interesting to see how the main slogan of BJP ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ got completely monopolised by Modi. The slogan which has come to be inseparably associated with the brand Modi, in fact, it has been an old theme for the party. BJP’s earlier avatar Bhartiya Jansangh had coined it in the cold-war era when a fierce battle between two ideologies, socialism and capitalism was on and influencing every walk of life. The Jansangh obviously had discovered the slogan to blunt the force of popular acceptance of idea of establishing an egalitarian society. The slogan given by Jansangh was Har Khet ko paani, Har haath ko kaam. The slogan of Sabka Vikas has clearly its roots in Jansangh’s slogan. It was, perhaps, coined by party ideologue Deendayal Upadhyaya. Modi has completely appropriated the slogan and a party slogan has become a personal theme. The appropriation also underlines the transformation of the party from a ‘family of workers’ to corporate entity led by an individual.
The main slogan of BJP ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ got completely monopolised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Same thing has happened with Samajwadi Party. The just concluded elections saw metamorphosis of the Samajwadi Party from a party run by the family and its loyalists under the leadership of a patriarch, Mulayam Singh to a party run by an individual. The slogan ‘Kaam Bolta Hai’ coined to describe achievements of SP government became a slogan for praising Akhilesh Yadav. A slogan which, in normal case, would have been a statement of the party to present its case for a second term came down to become a personal theme of Akhilesh. Mayawati had a similar theme.
If Jawaharlal Nehru dominated his party in fifties and early sixties, there were number of leaders in his own party who had presence of their own. In the Congress, most of the states had their own leaders like Kamraj in Tamilnadu, Yashwant Rao Chavan in Maharashtra, Morarji Desai in Gujarat , Pratap Singh Karon in Punjab. The same was true for all other parties.
The Congress initially started to revive its Uttar Pradesh unit with Raj Babbar and Sheila Dikshit at the helm. But, as the campaign progressed all were sidelined. It was ensured that Rahul Gandhi gets all the limelight. Being a film star of repute, Babbar has his own attraction and crowd pulling capability, but he was pushed into the background. All through the elections he remained almost invisible. It also seems logical to think that party president Sonia Gandhi stayed away from the campaign for the simple reason that Rahul should be seen as the man in command. Priynaka’s limited presence was also to avoid any distraction.
A careful examination of the feud in the Samajwadi family only reveals that it was meant to install Akhilesh as the only face of the party. No one could deny that Mulayam Singh Yadav single handedly built the party, but he should be given the credit of sharing the glory with his family members and colleagues like Shivpal, Ramgopal, Janeshar Mishra, Revati Raman Singh, Mohan Singh, Azam Khan and others. Akhilesh has not only pushed all his family members out, but also made other leaders irrelevant. Even his favorite uncle and a cousin of Mulayam Singh, Ramgopal Yadav was away from limelight. The big presence of his wife Dimple only completes the picture. An MP and Bhabhi of SP workers Dimple established herself as a crowd-puller and addressed over 20 rallies. At the end of campaigning for the last phase, a national English daily carried an impressive front page picture of the couple showing them relaxing at their Lucknow residence. The picture only confirms his emergence as the sole leader of the party. Akhilesh addressed 221 rallies and public meetings across the state.
Prime Minister Modi beats all others as far as individualism is concerned. BJP’s not declaring a Chief Ministerial candidate only proves that he avoided any chance of sharing the credit of the success by any other person. He asked for votes in his name in around two dozen rallies across the state. Even with 100 rallies, Union home minister Rajnath Singh could manage only a minor attention. This time, the poll architect and master strategist of the party Amit Shah also had a subdued presence in comparison to what he had enjoyed in 2014 polls.
Naturally, personality as the main factor in the UP poll campaign changed the poll rhetoric. Modi came out with the abbreviation ‘SCAM’ to describe Samajwadi Party, Congress, Akhilesh and Mayawati. The counter from Akhilesh came in the form of ‘Save Country from Amit Shah and Modi’. The Prime Minister described BSP as Behanji Sampatti Party. Mayawati answered it by describing Narendra Damodar Modi, the full name of the PM, as NDM-Negative Dalit Man.
Besides trivialising the polls, most of attacks and counter attacks during the polls only underlined the growing personality-cult in the country. Are we heading towards a presidential system? Our Constituent Assembly had debated the option and decided not to go for it. The election of a person like Trump has also casted doubt on the relevance of the system. In India, where institutions are prone to manipulations and parties lack internal democracy, a presidential system can only mean the rule of a single person. The UP polls have given an indication that BJP may argue for the system which it has been endorsing since long.