BJP Elbowing Into UP Polls
A non-starter only until a few weeks back, the saffron party has blitzed its way to be among a top contenders in the state assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, scheduled to be on early next year. They are the first off the block for intensive campaigning along with social engineering to turn adverse caste equations in Uttar Pradesh to their advantage for the forthcoming assembly election in the state.
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has literally forced itself into serious contention when state assembly election is held early next year. Just until a few months ago, it seemed to be in danger of securing less than 48 seats it won last time.
But enthused with the unprecedented success in Assam and realising that UP with a share of 80 seats in the Lok Sabha, was a major factor in helping a party form the government at the Centre, it seems BJP’s top brass has gone into top gear and preparations have started as if the election date has already been notified.
The first salvo was fired from Shajhanpur, where a meeting attended by almost all senior leaders, was held. It was sort of a test balloon. The area has a large population of Muslims and farmers. The two-day meet turned out to be quite a success, with a very impressive turn out at Narendra Modi’s rally. It was quite a successful dress rehearsal for launch of election campaign in real earnest.
After Shajhanpur, the two-day National Executive meeting and a Rally which was addressed by the Prime Minister in Allahabad was indeed a declaration of the start of election campaign. The BJP also made a point by holding the meet in the city of Nehru-Gandhi.
It is in the holy city of Triveni, BJP claimed that it is now the only pan-Indian party as Congress is “shrinking” by the day and identified coastal states spanning from West Bengal to Kerala for its growth. It asked its workers to prepare the organisation for “big gains” in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
A resolution, ‘BJP is the party of Bharat’s present — It will be the party of Bharat’s future’ was passed at its national executive meeting. It claimed that it was emerging as the natural party of governance in many states and all the other parties had limited regional presence amid the decline of the main opposition party.
It is learnt that Amit Shah has started raising his army of volunteers for allotting 10 workers for each polling booth. And as there are 700 voters per booth, Shah’s volunteers have it easy, for they have to try and get just 70 people.
The only chink in their show of unity was the war of posters. It was alleged that posters with the face of a not so popular young leader were not official. The other thing, that is causing anxiety, is the vexed question of whether to declare a chief minister nominee before polls or don’t. The thinking is that if a choice is made, dissent could damage party’s interests.
A call for Congress-mukt Bharat was not surprisingly made again; after a statement from the National Executive referring to the party’s win in Assam and the rise in its vote share in Kerala and West Bengal, and the “unequivocal rejection” of the Congress by voters in the recent assembly elections in five states, said it noted with “pleasure” that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for a ‘Congress-mukt Bharat’ has today become a “people’s mission”. The BJP’s win in Assam signifies a “major ideological victory” for it, the resolution said, adding it came against the backdrop of “the threat of demographic invasion the state has faced from an unchecked infiltration from neighbouring Bangladesh for decades”.
“It has reached Himalayan proportions and signalled a death-knell to Assam’s identity… Successive governments turned a blind eye to this problem with an eye on their vote banks. “That is why the national executive doesn’t look at this victory in the Assembly elections as just another electoral victory alone. It signifies a major ideological victory for the party. We dedicate this victory to Maa Kamakhya, river Brahmaputra and Shrimant Sankaradeva—the symbols that epitomise Assamese identity,” it said.
Now Maa Kamkhya may bless Modi but the Leftists and Liberals would promptly accuse BJP of being a rightist, divisive Hindu Party. And that polarisation is being attempted. But such tactics could boomerang this time. The tension, in fact over the statements by various BJP leaders that the temple will surely be built in Ayodhya, already threatens polarisation.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley, however, rejected suggestion that the party expected unipolar politics in the country, saying it was not possible in an electoral democracy. “We don’t believe politics should be or can be un-polar. There is always some opposition party,” he said.
The forthcoming election will be fought bitterly. For all the parties have a lot at stake’. Akilesh Yadav would hate to be a one-time chief minister and fight fiercely to retain his gaddi. For Mayawati, its do or die situation. Having suffered a humiliating defeat in 2014 General Elections, if she does not do well it will be political death for her.
The BJP believes if it has to retain power at the Centre, it must have UP under its Control. And for that to fructify Narendra Modi has adopted the theme of development. He is asking for support to be able to develop various segments, industrial output, increased production of agricultural products and all round development. But he would be aware that caste polarisation is inevitable in UP and it has decisive role in the upcoming 2017 Assembly elections. “During the elections, we may see a ‘game’ of caste mobilisation in the background of slogans of development, good governance and an efficient law & order system, and also through the medium of caste representation.”
Muslims will be divided between Congress, SP and BSP. Mayawati is assured of 82 per cent of Dalits—who are 20 per cent of the population—and Mulayam would be sure of 90 per cent of Yadav votes. The BJP will depend largely on Brahmins, Vaish and Thakurs. Thakurs account for almost eight per cent of the total population of UP. Though they are not a large caste numerically, politically, they held an important position till the 90s.
Let Priyanka remain a Private Person
The clamour for Priyanka Gandhi Vadra to take over the Party’s campaign in Uttar Pradesh has been going on for a long time, without any signal from the matriarch. The Congressmen who had lost all hope of revival of party’s fortune by Rahul Gandhi turned to the only member of the Gandhi parivar, who had shown guts and the ability to charm her audiences.
But the demand slowly died down, possibly because matriarch ko gussa agaya, how dare demand was being made without any cue from her?
But Ghulam Nabi Azad who has been made in charge of election in UP, revived the demand for Priyanka to be given a larger role in campaigning when he stated, “Hope Priyanka campaigns outside Amethi, Rae Bareli”.
The voices demanding Priyanka Gandhi to come to the forefront is gaining traction. “Priyanka lao, Congress bachao” – has been the refrain among Congress workers in Uttar Pradesh for quite some time now.
In private Congressmen have been saying that the party’s fortunes cannot be revived by Rahul Gandhi. ‘I am sorry but he has neither the leadership qualities nor any comprehension of Indian politics’ said one of the party men. They openly says that Priyanka has the charm to woo audiences and the ability to connect with people. Many well-wishers of the Congress in the media have also joined the chorus or been co-opted to endorsing the prescription. Therefore, Azad’s statement is no surprise and is part of a carefully crafted “soft launch” strategy to use a marketing parlance. Yet, it is loaded with presumptions.
There are of course some sober elements who say very little is known about Priyanka Gandhi, not just to the general public, but also to large sections of Congressmen and leaders – beyond her stunning looks, charming smile, elegant cotton saris and hair-style that reminds people of her grandmother. The rest are largely impressions gathered from snippets on TV and occasional crisp sound bites – mostly while campaigning for her mother or brother in the family constituencies of Amethi and Rae Bareli. Beyond this, her rare extended interaction with the press and public was in an interview with a high-profile news anchor some years back, which not many would have watched given the paltry viewership of English news channels in India.
She could be a greater disaster than Rahul. He has at least spent 10 years in politics. Priyanka has no knowledge of real politic. Yes, her Hindi is excellent thanks to the late Mrs Teji Bachchan – mother of Amitabh Bachchan. It was, perhaps, the only acknowledgement in many years by any Gandhi about the contribution of the Bachchans to their family. Not much is known about her political acumen – except that she is a key member of the Gandhi family council.It is generally believed she was the one who made Rahul Gandhi agree to that disastrous interview with Arnab Goswami on Times Now – which, by popular consensus, was the last nail in the coffin of Congress campaign for 2014 elections. If that is correct, one cannot give her high scores for political judgment and media strategy.There are other rumours, or shall we say gossip – about her temper, mood swings and arrogance – but few dare speak of them above hushed tones. Also Vadra is a liability. The moment she comes out, all dirt from his cupboard be thrown at her.
Its better she is still a private person. Though it is said that, there is nothing “private” about public personalities, it would not be proper to talk about her personal life. But since she has given no definitive indication of her aversion to entering politics – it is not unfair for us to expect her to clarify her position on various allegations against the family. Here, one is making a distinction advisedly between “family” (sasuraal) and “paternal family” (maaika) as is the custom of this country.
As one columnist said ‘Like she asserts with a great deal of justifiable pre, “Main Rajiv Gandhi ki beti hoon” – one would have liked to hear her say: “Robert Vadra mera pati hain” (not “Main Robert Vadra k ipatni hoon” or “Main is ghar ki bahu hoon”, feminists take note) – as per Indian tradition, which the Gandhi family avers by.”
In any case the party in such a poor state and the mother and son now bereft of all charisma, Priyanka will be better off being a socialite. While Sonia Gandhi takes every opportunity to remind us she is the “daughter-in-law” of the Gandhis, we have not heard Priyanka make any such claims about being a “Vadra bahu”.
So far, there is not much of empirical evidence available on her political fungibility, except that she displays streaks of Indira Gandhi – that can be good or bad, depending on which traits one is alluding to. If by any chance, she has traces of the Emergency avatar of her grandmother, or the 1984 riots image of her father, then there is enough reason for the country to worry. Therefore, for the present, it has got to be a pure leap of faith for Congressmen, Congress supporters, Gandhi family retainers and fan clubs alike – banking entirely on her dynastic credentials and charisma.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh is one of the few main Thakur leaders significantly involved in UP politics. The main reason behind the strong political position of the Thakurs is the fact that they have enjoyed socio-economic dominance for a long time. They have been the rural elites – possessing muscle power – and are considered to be the opinion makers. During the elections, they have been one of the leading and influential castes involved in booth management, owing to their muscle power and social dominance.
In BJP, Rajnath Singh is the most influential and well-known Rajput leader. But, post the 90s, the Thakurs lost their significance when numerically larger castes like Yadavs, Kurmis, and Chamars became more influential in the electoral politics due to their wealth, power and voice.
Samajwadi Party has Amar Singh and Raja Bhaiya are two important rajputs. But all the parties will try social engineering to change the set pattern. BJP had in 2014 election poached about 18 per cent of Dalit votes. Area-wise BJP is well-placed in most parts of the west due to Muzaffaragar riots. In Central UP, Mulayam Singh is strong. In the East it is to be see how much Varanasi impacts in the surrounding areas.
Caste will be given preference by most voters over party . Which means that Rajnath Singh and Sangeet Som will become active in Western UP, while in Eastern UP, BJP may get the benefit of Yogi Adityanath’s solidarity with Rajnath Singh.
If Amar Singh and Raja Bhaiya organise aggressive and active campaigns in favour of SP in Western UP, then it may attract Thakur votes from various regions of Central UP, Bundelkhand and Purvanchal.
It remains to be seen which party does the best social engineering, for that party will have the best chance of controlling UP, the political cauldron of India.
By Vijay Dutt