Modi and the BJP in May 2014 ensured a sweep that even the Ram Mandir activism could not generate in the past.
Gassed out after the interminable interplay of the Yadavs in their own version of the epic serial Game of Thrones, the fog of war has finally cleared with Tipuji emerging as the Samajwadi Sultan. Having been awarded the cycle symbol, he has readied a tieup with a struggling Congress. It is believed the Ghulam Nabi Azad-fashioned alliance has seen the younger elements in the Rashtriya Lok Dal, Congress and Samajwadi Party — Jayant Chaudhary, Rahul Gandhi and Akhilesh Yadav respectively — form a gathbandhan to stop the marauding BJP. In the 2012 Assembly election, the SP cornered 29.15 per cent of the votes, bagging 224 seats out of 401 it contested, while incumbent chief minister Behenji Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party could manage only 80 seats from the 403 it contested, with a voteshare of 25.91 per cent. In India’s first-past-the-post system, 30 per cent vote amounts to a lot. Narendra Modi’s BJP threw all these axioms out of the window by sweeping to 71 seats out of 80 in the May 2014 hustings, garnering 42.63 per cent of the votes. Cutting across all caste faultlines and combinations, the Hindu vote aggregated behind Mr Modi in an unprecedented development.
It isn’t politically correct to say that the Hindu vote consolidated behind the Modi phenomenon, but this was the only reality that emerged after a deep dive, which turfed out all traditional dogmas and bogeys that are inherent in the Uttar Pradesh polity. By winning 71 Lok Sabha seats, Mr Modi and the BJP in May 2014 ensured a sweep that even the Ram Mandir activism could not generate in the past. The 71-seat victory would have translated into 328 Assembly seat wins for the BJP had the Assembly polls been held simultaneously. More importantly, the BJP emerged as a runner-up in 62 seats. But that was the 2014 general election, where the SP could only win five Lok Sabha seats with 22.35 per cent of the votes. All five were Mulayam Singh Yadav family members, the Gandhis won two for the Congress, Ms Mayawati failed to bag a single seat while BJP ally Apna Dal won two seats. Despite not winning a single seat, Ms Mayawati had 19.77 per cent of the votes in May 2014, while the Congress, courtesy their pocket boroughs primarily, managed to squeeze out 7.53 per cent of the votes. The Modi sweep was overwhelming, it bested the BJP’s golden era in UP politics — 1991 — 51 out of 85, 1996 — 52 out of 85 and 1998 — 58 out of 85. Only the Congress riding the Indira Gandhi assassination tsunami in 1984 — when it won 83 out of 85 seats — has done better.
It is said that a week a long time in politics, but as we know in the theatre of the absurd called Puttar Pradesh, it certainly isn’t infinitesimal. Over the last two and a half years, we have seen endless dramas revolving around chachas, mamas and bhatijas. In true Ramayan and Mahabharat stereotypes, mythological characters have taken over the stage, from Kaikeyi to Bharat, from a slew of Shakunis, from Dashrath to Dhritarashtra, the cast can only be described as Homeric. Hobbled by four and a half uncles, young Akhilesh could never get his way around the ratpack, which kept whispering in Netaji’s ear. Governance went for a toss, bahubalis and mahabalis ran riot with lawlessness as their underlying credo.
The uncles kept Akhilesh sequestered administratively and yet the youth did not doubt Tipuji’s sincerity. His mass appeal and honest persona built on an edifice of integrity ensured the connect with common folk who in any case were distraught with their state slip sliding away due to the feuding Yadav family.
The BJP, after neutralising Ms Mayawati’s alleged cash economy through demonetisation, now has to contend with a resurgent Akhilesh, with Mr Gandhi’s Congress hanging on to his coattails. The Congress base is systematically being eroded state by state as it displays vacuousness and absence of intellectual capital. Like in Bihar, it has to remain a B-Team, a non-sequitur holding on to crumbs for dear life. Till Mr Gandhi decides that he is a full-time politician, one who is rooted and grounded, there is going to be a trust deficit about his intentions. Moreover, he has to show intent and not make wild and unsubstantiated allegations, which fall flat when subjected to acute catechism.
For the BJP, UP is going to be a seminal election, which it has chosen to fight without a face. The PM is being projected as a CM, he is following his usual bruising electioneering style, but that may not be enough. The one man who the BJP could project in UP is home minister Rajnath Singh, who is most reluctant to accept the job, while other candidates lack heft and stature — head priest of Gorakhnath temple Yogi Adityanath and Keshav Prasad Maurya — simply don’t fit the bill. It will be almost impossible for PM Modi to replicate his general election successes. The Hindu vote will not consolidate behind him in an Assembly election.
The contrarian view is that this exactly happened in Assam and the Jammu region where the BJP succeeded with this stratagem. The complexities of UP go beyond the caste and social calculus, while Ms Mayawati did succeed in 2007 with her model of social reengineering, it is the youth who may well decide this election. The PM’s personal equity remains enormously high, even demonetisation could not impact it. He remains the BJP’s number one vote-catcher, but you cannot win a state like UP primarily on that appeal.
The Muslim vote is also a factor and while 68 Muslims won in the 2012 Assembly polls and they were runners-up in another 64 Assembly segments, their vote will gravitate back to a renascent Akhilesh who seems to have cut the umbilical cord with those who had reined him in. The western UP tinderbox remains a hump that everyone wants to cross peacefully and without any incident. If the BJP does win and Mr Adityanath becomes the CM, then brace yourself for hothead-style politics, which will create tumult and rock the equilibrium. The clarion call for Ram Mandir will once again rise from the rooftops.
If one looks at the 2012 Assembly poll data, the SP got 29.15 per cent of the votes, which was up 3.72 per cent from the previous Assembly elections, the Congress got 11.63 per cent, also up 3.03 per cent, while the RLD got 2.33 per cent. Between them, they do appear to be reasonably formidable challengers to a rampant and popular PM Modi. On Sunday night PM Modi was in attendance at the BJP headquarters in Lutyens’ Ashoka Road, overseeing the election preparations along with Amit Shah, Mr Singh and Nitin Gadkari. The BJP knows that it has a fight on its hands, not just in UP, but in Punjab where all seems lost, and Goa as well. This will be perceived to be a mini-referendum on demonetisation. Agreed that state issues and local arithmetic is different, but even, then for the PM himself, a lot is at stake, for he retained Varanasi as his constituency. Epicentre Ram Mandir is also in UP and while the PM and the top BJP apparatchiks have not gone to town on building the temple yet, the hotheads in the UP BJP certainly have this on their agenda. In fact, there has been no polarisation yet in UP, but the phased elections are still some time away. The PM has no readymade CM candidate for UP, he has to personally run ops in the state, the overhang of a liquidity crunch may have scarred us, but the Indian voter has shown that he delivers the death blow when it matters by pressing on the EVM.
When there are no clear options available, the best thing to do is to do nothing, for the very momentum of history will take you beyond the pale. Every day from here on will be a mile marker in what pundits are already describing as the mother of all battles. History and its momentum may well reward Tipuji in this election.