MODI’S CLEAN Saffron SWEEP of UP
Using cricket as electoral analogy, the Lok Sabha elections in UP saw Mulayam Singh Yadav clean bowled, Mayawati doing a hit-wicket, and Rahul Gandhi coming out as night-watchman
AK Verma Kanpur
The saffron sweep in Uttar Pradesh (UP) was devastating, though not unexpected. The writing on the wall was writ large, but many chose either to ignore or underplay it. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 71 seats and its ally, Apna Dal (AD), two seats—Mirzapur and Pratapgarh—that were ceded to it. Thus, the BJP-AD combine won 73 out of 80 seats. All others were completely decimated. The Congress could retain only the seats of its president and vice-president from Rae Bareilly and Amethi, respectively; the SP’s contingent was reduced to a band of five members from Mulayam Singh Yadav’s family (Mulayam won from Mainpuri and Azamgarh both, daughter-in-law Dimple retained Kannauj by a thin margin, nephew Akshay Yadav (Ram Gopal Yadav’s son) won Ferozabad, and another nephew, Dharmendra Yadav, retained Badayun. The BSP, shockingly, drew a blank.
The BJP sweep is understandable; Modi capitalized on the double anti-incumbency stress faced by voters—one against the Congress at the Centre and the other against the Akhilesh government—and proposed a model of governance and development that offered a platform to channel anger against both. But the complete rejection of the SP and the BSP is beyond comprehension for many.
If we analyze the SP’s rout, the Akhilesh government seems to have dug its own grave. The young CM never projected himself as capable of the gigantic task at hand and was a victim of multiple power centres within the party and the government. He came across as a hapless ‘first time minister’ captive of the twin loads of family and minority appeasement, and in spite of his ‘techie’ and youthful identity, allowed things to get out of hand. The nadir of his reign was the Muzzaffarnagar riots; its mishandling dented his secular credentials, as many suspected his party and government’s role in allowing the riots to go out
Second, the SP government’s populist policies also did not impress people—the laptop distribution was a fiasco and the government had to put an end to that. Also, one cannot notice any substantial policy initiatives by this government, barring some long-term projects in the energy and infrastructure sectors. Failures to keep law and order did much to offset any developmental credit. Akhilesh neglected to realize that Indian democracy had moved beyond ‘lollipop and freebies’ politics to a mature, substantive politics, where real issues need proper addressing.
Third, Mulayam’s insistence on wanting to be prime minister and his hollow exhortations to partymen to get him 70 out of 80 seats in UP made him a laughing stock. Party workers used that to take all sorts of liberties in the garb of making netaji India’s next PM, bringing much disrepute to both party and government.
Moreover, the father-son duo failed to appreciate that despite being the absolute majority, they had been elected in 2012 on a vote share of 29 per cent—the lowest on which any government was formed in UP since Independence. They failed to keep their constituency intact, much less expand it. Even the Yadavs were getting angry because only the Yadavs with Saifai (Mulayam’s village) connections were benefiting. That is why we see a 20 per cent decline in Yadav support for the SP (2014: 53; 2009: 73). Similarly, more-backward and most-backward OBC support for SP also declined by 12 per cent (2014: 13; 2009: 25), according to Lokniti, CSDS data. In fact, the SP lost in all social denominations, except Muslims. In spite of Muzzaffarnagar, Muslim support for SP not only remained intact but went up by 28 per cent (2014: 58; 2009: 30). The SP still managed to retain a vote share of 22 per cent, but its reputation as a party of governance was seriously eroded. The party allowed itself to be clean bowled by Modi’s positive and development-centric googly.
But why were Mayawati and her BSP decimated so cruelly? The party failed to open its account in UP as elsewhere. The conventional analyst would mock Mayawati’s debacle, but the lady might actually be smiling behind closed doors, patting herself on the back for being truly successful. That’s because her chessboard objectives this election were not to get seats, but to ensure the defeat of her archrival, Mulayam. Mayawati ensured the SP’s defeat by surreptitiously transferring the Dalit votes to the BJP, realizing that one step backward would mean two steps forward in the next assembly elections in 2017. The Lokniti, CSDS data indicates that Jatav support for BSP declined by 16 per cent (2014: 68; 2009: 84) and non-Jatav support by a massive 35 per cent (2014: 29, 2009: 64). But the interesting part of the story is that the support was en bloc transferred to the BJP, which increased its Jatav votes by 14 per cent and non-Jatav votes by 37 per cent. By orchestrating this shift, Mayawati not only inflicted embarrassing defeat on the ruling party in the state, but also ensured Mulayam’s irrelevance in both the UPA and the Third Front—though both have faded into oblivion after the results were announced. The Dalit voters in UP were very clear that this election was not about behenji and they would vote for her next time in the assembly elections. So, it would be wrong to write off Mayawati in the politics of the state.
However, Mayawati’s entire effort would now be on reinvigorating her cadre and impressing upon them to return to the BSP after helping her in decimating Mulayam. This would be met with stiff resistance from the BJP, which may thwart Mayawati’s design by offering quick and substantive benefits to Dalits to retain them in the BJP camp, impressing upon them the irrelevance of identity politics pursued by her.
Do the UP election results point to a new politics in the state? Certainly. For there are a few new factors: (1) PM-designate Modi made Varanasi his base, which indicates a possible long-term BJP strategy to demolish the caste-parties and caste-politics through the model of development politics; two (2) by bringing a strong OBC PM, the BJP seems not only to have challenged Mulayam’s leadership, but also effectively intervened in the ‘backward discourse’, which had so far been monopolized by Yadav and the SP (Mulayam’s failure to homogenize the OBCs may offer the BJP and Modi an opportunity to do that through the route of development and inclusive politics); (3), Amit Shah, election in-charge of UP for the BJP, must be a nightmare for all other political parties whose organizational structures are fickle and fragile—Shah’s efforts have been recognized and appreciated by one and all, and he may never allow the BJP’s organization in UP to be what it was before the 2014 elections.
The revival of the Congress in UP is another issue. The party may draw its inspiration from the 1977 LS results, when it did not win even a single seat but bounced back to 51 LS seats and 309/425 assembly seats within three years, by 1980. But the difference is that, then, the Congress had a strong leader in Indira Gandhi; today, there is no evident contender—certainly not Rahul Gandhi, whose role may be just like a night-watchman waiting to hand over the baton. The bogey being raised in some sections of the Congress to rope in Priyanka Vadra may be counterproductive, owing to the controversies surrounding her husband, Robert Vadra. Ideally, the Congress has a unique opportunity to coolly concentrate on revamping the organization away from the responsibility of running the government. This is the time for being a major transition from the family-run party to a party founded on democratic norms, giving equal opportunity to all.