Modi's BJP scored a thumping victory in Uttar Pradesh, home to one in six Indians, winning the biggest majority in the state for any party since 1977. Photograph: (Reuters)
The chief ministerial candidate must resonate with Hindutva-minded voter, the OBCs and the Dalits, with the ability to take everyone along
There cannot be one definitive reason for the Bharatiya Janata Party’s sweeping win in the 2017 Uttar Pradesh Assembly election, though Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s charisma is certainly the most dominant one. Party president Amit Shah’s effective strategising and micro-handling of the election campaign — right from candidates’ selection to booth management — is the other major contributor. Then there are the self-goals that the BJP’s rivals scored. The internecine quarrel in the Samajwadi Party, the ill-advised alliance it struck with the Congress, the Bahujan Samaj Party’s taking for granted the Scheduled Caste votes and the Congress’s lack-lustre image in the State played significant roles in the BJP’s grand triumph.
If the party won the 2014 Lok Sabha on the resonance of expectations from it and the people’s disgust with the Congress-led UPA regime’s performance, it was the confidence among voters that those hopes would be realised and distrust of the two principal regional parties, which has fetched the BJP more than 300 seats in the 403-member Uttar Pradesh House. But this is only the overarching message; the finer points are more interesting.
To begin with, the BJP is gaining rapidly at the expense of the Congress which dominated the State’s political landscape before it went into disrepair from the early 1990s. Of the 10 Assembly seats in the Nehru-Gandhi stronghold of Amethi and Rae Bareli, the party has won six. In Rahul Gandhi’s Lok Sabha constituency of Amethi, just one Assembly segment voted for the Congress-Samajwadi Party partnership, while the situation was marginally better in Rae Bareli where it got three seats. This is not any better than the 2012 performance, when the Congress managed just two of the 10 seats in the twin regions.
Although it contested this election in partnership with the formidable Samajwadi Party, and on more than 100 seats, the Congress’s strike rate was abysmal. The party could not even touch the double-digit figure and ended up with a number lower than the regional Apna Dal — and just about the same as the lesser known Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party. Both these regional outfits are BJP allies. Overall, the Congress has managed just one-third of the seats that it had in the State in 2012. In other words, it dragged down its already struggling partner, the Samajwadi Party, to a new low.
The other interesting contributor to the BJP’s monumental victory is the minority factor, and there is an irony to this. The Bahujan Samaj Party had given close to 100 tickets to Muslim candidates while the Samajwadi Party had over 50 of them. The idea was to lure the minority community through a consolidation of their votes. The consolidation did happen, but not in the manner these two parties had planned. In Saharanpur, Deoband and Muzaffarnagar — all Muslim-dominated constituencies — the majority voters coalesced in response to the minority challenge and went the BJP’s way. In 2012, the BJP had not won a single seat in Muzaffarnagar district; this time it bagged all the six on offer. The majority consolidation was also evident in the Mau region, where don Mukhtar Ansari has a hold. Although he managed to win the Mau seat as a BSP candidate, his son and brother lost the other seats in the region.
The majority polarisation (particularly in the post-Muzaffarnagar riots backdrop) played out in other ways too. The BJP’s wins in Jat-dominated regions is a good instance. The Jats, who comprise some two per cent of the State’s total population but are located in large numbers in western Uttar Pradesh, had announced their determination to vote against the party for a host of reasons. But the minority factor ensured that virtually the whole lot of non-Jat voters, including the Other Backward Classes, pitched in for the BJP candidates. The Jat marginalisation was so complete that even in the Jat heartland of Baghpat, once the stronghold of Jat leader and former Prime Minister Charan Singh, the Rashtriya Lok Dal, led by his son Ajit Singh, the voters preferred the BJP. The RLD won just one of the three seats there. Given that 13 of the 15 Jat candidates of the BJP succeeded — despite considerable opposition from their community voters — the majority polarisation, including that of the non-Yadav Other Backward Classes and the upper castes (Brahmins and Kshatriyas voting together for the same party), cannot be downplayed.
What worked additionally for the BJP was the minority vote fragmentation alongside the majority vote consolidation. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Samajwadi Party’s Muslim candidates clashed with one another in many constituencies, especially in Muslim-dominated ones. Minority votes got massively split, leaving both these parties stranded. For example, the BJP won all the eight seats in Sant Kabir Nagar and Siddharth Nagar districts in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which have a substantial number of Muslim voters. Nearly similar was the case in Bahraich, which again has a sizeable Muslim presence — the BJP won all but one. it secured two seats in SP leader Azam Khan’s Rampur district and registered wins in Amroha and Moradabad. It did well in Saharanpur too. Of the 140 constituencies where the Muslim population is 20 per cent or more, the BJP and its ally, the Apna Dal, won 109. There is no way the BJP could have managed these victories without a significant split in Muslim votes between the BSP and the SP-Congress combine. In hindsight, therefore, the BJP lost nothing by not giving tickets to a single Muslim candidate and its rivals lost out by going overboard in offering such representation.
One obstacle crossed, the BJP has two challenges ahead. The first and the most immediate one is the choice of a chief minister. There are many claimants and the party has to select one that has the ability to take everyone along and not cause fissures, both within the party and society. This should rule out the likes of Yogi Adityanath and Mahesh Sharma, although both played important roles in the party’s massive win. State party president Keshav Prasad Maurya is a strong contender — being from the OBC is an added advantage — along with the dark horse and Lucknow Mayor Dinesh Sharma. Both Maurya and Sharma are known to be in the good books of Prime Minister Modi and Amit Shah. But so is Union Minister Manoj Sinha. And, if one talks of a Union Minister shifting from Delhi to Lucknow, there is also Rajnath Singh. The candidate must resonate with the Hindutva-minded voter, the OBCs and the Dalits (a good segment of which appears to have backed the BJP this time, as it did in 2014, and busted the BSP’s attempt at recovering lost ground). It’s a task that the Modi-Amit Shah duo will find almost as challenging as winning Uttar Pradesh.