PM Modi has changed BJP's caste arithmetic leading to a big win in Uttar Pradesh Photograph: (AFP)
BJP realised early its appeal with upper caste won't get enough votes, OBC-Dalits were key to victory in Uttar Pradesh
Even as Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah credited his old colleague and now India's Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, for the clear sweep of votes in Uttar Pradesh, many other factors, including his own work in the state from as early as 2009-10 played a crucial role.
Brand Modi was definitely at work in 2017 as it was in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, but the process of converting it into votes was painstaking and tedious. What worked was the BJP's focus on farmers, the poor and disadvantaged voters, not ever considered its core vote, which is identified as upper caste, upper class, traders. The BJP realised early its appeal among Brahmins, Rajputs and other land-owning communities will not garner enough votes to record a landslide victory.
"The first election promise by the PM to the voters of UP was that he would waive all farming and agriculture loans. Ours is a farm-centric state. That immediately had a positive impact," said Virendra Singh 'Mast', BJP's Kisan Morcha (farmers' cell) chief who is also from a farmer family.
'Mast' was put in charge of dousing the sentiments of farmers riled by demonetisation right before the sowing season. He details how the BJP cadre got to work after the 2014 win to put its organisation in place in the districts.
"After the demonetisation, we held sabhas in every district in which 500-600 farmers would gather and share their views on the government's step. People were inconvenienced, but they also realised that this was a pro-poor move and for the betterment of the country. Farmers anyway don’t have a culture of over-spending, so they were not really affected," he pointed.
Some argue that the loan waivers were offered to soothe frayed tempers over lost crops.
The party's strategists, however, say that this was part of a larger plan of acquiring and retaining new vote banks and not just a move to dilute the negative impact of demonetisation. They insist that demonetisation worked favourably for them as it showed PM Modi as a man who was prepared to go against the party's core voters, the trader class, who were the worst hit by demonetisation.
The solution was a slew of pro-poor moves – most popular among which was the Ujjwala scheme. The BJP ensured 40 lakh gas cylinders were distributed in UP alone.
"If you count five members in a family, that is straight away 2 crore votes in BJP's kitty. These are people who never voted for BJP. Modi has changed the party's caste arithmetic. There's a shift in our core voters. People who never voted for us are voting for the BJP. It's like Indira Gandhi's (former prime minister) appeal among the poor and underprivileged," said a BJP strategist.
His point is borne out by 'Mast' who is also BJP's Bhadohi MP: "We distributed 96,000 cooking gas cylinders among women in my parliamentary constituency alone under Ujjwala. It really helped our image among women voters." He credits the BJP's soaring fortunes to the PM's appeal among voters, but baulks at the term 'Modi magic'.
"What magic? The term magic means something happened suddenly in a moment. A lot of work has gone into this and the voters are convinced that Modi means business when it comes to delivering on promises," he told WION.
Party strategists have called this verdict three days ago and said they either expected to sweep the polls with far higher number of seats than the predicted 190-210, or a crushing defeat with less than 130 seats.
"We needed to galvanise voters from other sections who don’t normally vote for us. The non-Yadav OBC (other backward classes) vote and non-Jatav vote needed to come to us in order to record a convincing majority. It was important to retain the 4-8 % new vote banks ," said a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) functionary.
It was important to get the caste arithmetic right and ensure a consolidation of votes. "The consolidation of votes was across caste lines, among OBCs and Dalit, in BJP's favour and not along Hindus and Muslims as portrayed by the media. BSP chief Mayawati's Dalit supporters are silent voters. This time they have just quietly voted for the BJP," he said.
However, PM Modi's shamshaan and kabristan (cremation ground and graveyard) rhetoric definitely touched a nerve with the predominantly Hindu voters, mainly of whom felt the SP government was busy appeasing the Muslims, leading to a consolidation of the majority vote.
"Contrary to the popular theory in the media that the Jats in western UP did not vote for us in the first and second phase, large sections in the community have cast their votes in our favour. In Baghpat assembly seat where 50 per cent of the voters are Jats, the Ajit Singh-led Rashtriya Lok Dal's candidate is trailing behind our BJP man by 50,000 votes. This would not happen without Jat votes," the RSS source said
The infighting within the Samajwadi Party family and its consequent tie-up with Congress also worked for the BJP as voters saw the latter as a more viable option that will get things done on the ground. State government in friction with the Modi government have not been able to get much done where Centre's support is required.