The Quest for a Monolithic Hindu Vote Bank

Sporadic triggers Taking down a loudspeaker from a temple led to clashes with the police in Moradabad district
Sporadic triggers Taking down a loudspeaker from a temple led to clashes with the police in Moradabad district. Photo: Pramod Singh Adhikari

Will Amit Shah continue to prove to be a lucky mascot in a state where he had scripted such a dramatic change in saffron fortunes? Or will the badly bruised and battered Samajwadi Party and the BSP rediscover their lost moorings? The answer to these crucial issues will hinge on the result of the Assembly bypolls due in another six weeks or so.

The build-up to the bypolls has been ominous, what with Uttar Pradesh witnessing several incidents of communal tension, marked most intensely by the Kaanth episode in Moradabad. Violent clashes with the police in the town over the removal of a loudspeaker from a temple patronised by Dalits in a Muslim- dominated village of the district, followed by similar incidents in neighbouring Rampur district and other places, convey a clear message about the political agenda of the BJP in the coming days.

In the wake of the Kaanth episode, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP are playing the same old blame game again. Last September, alleged discrimination against Hindus by the police had led to fierce communal riots in Muzaffarnagar and surrounding districts in western Uttar Pradesh, where more than 60 persons died and violence was quelled only after the army was called for.

Memories of the Muzaffarnagar riots are brought back by the sequence of events in Akbarpur Chanderi village in Moradabad district. Police action to remove a loudspeaker from a temple once again turned a trivial issue into a communal conflict that threatens to engulf the adjoining districts of western UP. The Moradabad incident threatens to snowball into a major conflict and has the potential to further consolidate the communal polarisation, earlier caused by the Muzaffarnagar riots. In a violent clash between the locals and the police, District Magistrate Chandra Kant received serious injuries in the left eye and had to be rushed to New Delhi and later to Chennai.

The ruling Samajwadi Party has alleged that in view of the impending bypolls to 12 Assembly seats, the BJP is exploiting the incident for electoral gains. “The BJP wants to create a Godhra-like situation in Moradabad,” said Minority Affairs Minister Azam Khan. While the BJP looks at strengthening its hold among the different social groups of Hindus, particularly the Dalits in western UP, the Samajwadi Party appears to have little choice but to consolidate its support among the minority community, especially after the drubbing it received in the Lok Sabha election.

Moradabad Senior Superintendent of Police Dharamvir Yadav added fuel to the fire by issuing a statement where he accused the BJP of deliberately creating communal tension in the area with an eye on the impending bypolls. The police officer also directly accused the BJP MP from Moradabad, Sarvesh Singh, of trying to polarise the situation ahead of the bypolls. He said the BJP’s call for a mahapanchayat in Moradabad had only worsened an already volatile situation. The district administration immediately banned the mahapanchayat. In retaliation, the BJP has decided to intensify the agitation in the adjoining districts of Sambhal, Rampur, Amroha and Bijnor. The administration finds itself in a tight spot as all these districts are communally sensitive.

Visiting Moradabad after the Kaanth incident, state BJP general secretary Pankaj Singh, son of the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, issued a threat to the Samajwadi Party government. “We do not intend to topple the government, but we cannot be a mute spectator to the rampant discrimination against the Hindus,” said the BJP leader. “Muslims are allowed to install as many loudspeakers on the mosques as they want but it is prohibited in the temples. The BJP won’t tolerate the appeasement of one community by the Samajwadi Party government just because it suits its political interests.”

Prof Vivek Kumar of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, points out that those who want to garner a large chunk of Hindu votes would naturally have to project that Hindus form an undivided whole and they are not internally differentiated on caste lines. “This has been the basis of the mobilisation by the BJP, so they will do everything to keep the pot boiling — at least until the 2017 Assembly election,” says Kumar. “The spate of communal clashes in UP after the Lok Sabha election was inevitable. What the BJP is doing in the state is obvious: it’s out to create a monolithic Hindu vote bank. The strategy helped the party reap rich political dividends in the 2014 General Election and it wishes to repeat this process for the 2017 polls. Fomenting communal polarisation is an easy way to make forays into new areas as creating an organisational base to resurrect the party is a long-drawn and arduous process.”

A senior BJP leader, however, told TEHELKA that his party is not doing anything to abet communal polarisation. “We are only highlighting the unabashed appeasement of Muslims by the Samajwadi Party government and the rest will follow on its own as has happened in Kaanth and other places,” he says. “Right now, the focus of the party is on strengthening its support base among the most backward castes among the OBCs, besides completing the unfinished task of sprucing up the organisational structure at the grassroots level.”

Former state BJP president Om Prakash Singh claimed that only his party can “cross the threshold of 30 percent votes as the SP and the BSP are in disarray and the Congress has become irrelevant”.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP recorded a vote share of 42 percent while the SP was at 22 percent and the BSP at 19 percent. Political analysts, however, feel that the next electoral battle in the state is not going to be a cakewalk for the BJP. “Influenced by the development agenda, the electorate of UP had voted for Narendra Modi, not for the BJP,” says AK Verma, author and teacher of political science at Christ Church College, Kanpur. “The BJP would have won in UP even without Amit Shah. It will be an uphill task for Shah to replicate the results of 2014 in the 2017 Assembly election. As national president of the party, he is starting from a very high trajectory, so it’s bound to go down. For the BJP, it would be a great folly to tackle the quicksand politics of UP through Shah’s viewpoint. The traditional model of caste and communal politics collapsed in the parliamentary election because the social groups loyal to the SP and the BSP knew that their leaders would have no role in the next government at the Centre as an UPA-3 was not even a remote possibility.

“Amit Shah actually faces a huge challenge in the state. The huge rise in the BJP’s vote share from 15 percent in the March 2012 Assembly polls to 42 percent in the 2014 Lok Sabha election made all the difference. Despite losing badly, the vote bank of the Samajwadi Party remains intact. Both the SP and the BSP would remain major players in 2017 Assembly election. The BJP may gain if the Modi government is able to deliver on its promises of development and employment generation, and if the RSS network is able to penetrate the rural areas and mobilise support for the BJP.”

Moreover, for the parliamentary election, the BJP had projected Modi, who had a proven track record as the Gujarat chief minister, but in Uttar Pradesh, they have no such leader. Only after settling its own leadership issues can the BJP consolidate in the state.

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