In December 2006, the Bharatiya Janata Party held its national council meeting in Lucknow. This ended up being the last party conclave that Atal Bihari Vajpayee attended. The former prime minister’s valedictory address thus became immortal as a lesson for the future.
Vajpayee had said, “The situation in Uttar Pradesh is a challenge and we must face up to it. We have to raise the party again in Uttar Pradesh and make it influential. We all know that the road to Delhi goes through Lucknow. The key to changing the political map of the country lies in Uttar Pradesh. Even the name, Luck Now, Luck Now is significant when you break it down. This luck will not come to us on its own, we have to grab it.”
Vajpayee was the then member of Parliament from Lucknow and had won the seat five times since 1991, always securing over 50 percent votes. But, one-and-half years before this very national council meeting, his party had lost at the Centre and the Mulayam Singh Yadav-led Samajwadi Party government was in power in Uttar Pradesh.
Luck didn’t smile on the BJP until 2013 when BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi decided to send his trusted party colleague and the then newly appointed national general secretary Amit Shah to Uttar Pradesh to grab that ‘luck’ and unlock the key to'Luck Now’ that Vajpayee had once spoken about. In 2014, BJP secured 73 seats (with two seats won by ally Apna Dal) out of 80 parliamentary seats in the state. The BJP went on to win the General Election with a big majority (282 seats).
With six phases of polling over and only the seventh and final phase to be held on 19 May, speculations is rife over Narendra Modi-led NDA government’s return to power and the seat share that comes the BJP’s way in Uttar Pradesh.
BJP’s rivals are making claims of forming an alternative government hoping that the gathbandhan (alliance) of Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party and Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal, and the sheer arithmetic of their combined vote bases of Muslims, Yadavs, Dalits and Jats can brush aside the BJP in the state. Then there are also those who are giving the BJP no more than half the seats it secured in 2014, going down to as low as even one-fourth.
After extensively travelling within Uttar Pradesh and interacting with voters across the social strata, from varied caste and communities in suburban and rural parts of western, central and eastern Uttar Pradesh, this writer assessed that those who have been basing their predictions (in terms of numbers) on the perceived arithmetical strength of gathbandhan will be in for a big surprise on 23 May.
Muslims are voting tactically, almost as a community, to oust the BJP. They are voting for the SP-BSP-RLD combination except in Amethi and Rae Bareli, where the gathbandhan hasn’t fielded candidates against Congress’ first family, Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi. But there is a division in the Dalit vote, especially non-Jatav Dalits and there’s a split in Yadav vote also, particularly where the BSP (not SP candidate) has been fielded by the gathbandhan. Jats in western Uttar Pradesh are in any case divided between BJP and RLD.
The BJP, on the other hand, has upper castes, non-Yadav OBCs including those from extremely backward castes, a good number of non-Jatav Dalits (Mayawati belongs to the Jatav or Chamar community) and sections of Yadavs on their side. The Congress does not exist on the ground except for Rae Bareli and Amethi. Rahul’s Nyay or 'Ab Hoga Nyay’ is either not heard of and among those who have heard, it does not invoke more than passing ridicule. Priyanka Gandhi, hyped as Congress’ Brahmastra (mythical divine weapon of Lord Brahma) has failed to make an impact on the ground.
Voting preferences differed among family members who would traditionally vote as one. Now elders prefer the gathbandhan but women and the younger lot are rooting for Modi. There are also undivided, extended Hindu families where cousins stand at the opposite ends of the political spectrum. Unfortunately for Modi’s rivals, split in families’ voting preferences is going in favour of the BJP.
It won’t be a surprise if BJP comes down from its 2014 numbers in the state but the issue is if the saffron party will be able to halt that loss at 10, 15, 20, 25 seats or more. Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati, the bua-babua duo coming together to take Ajit Singh as its junior partner has no doubt made the battle tough for the BJP and a highly engaging one. But at the fag end of polling I can say that the BJP is poised to score good numbers from Uttar Pradesh. The initial hype by sections of columnists and pollsters is far less likely to translate into reality.
Nothing that I saw on the ground convinced me that the campaign of the gathbandhan or the Congress is getting any purchase. The projections of a big dent to the BJP numbers, based on the old template of looking at UP elections only from the prism of caste fortifications, are questionable. This template has proved useless twice already (2014 and 2017) but its proponents have still not shaken old habits. The BJP is defending 73 seats. So the question is only about how much it is losing. I am willing to say, not much. A figure in the high fifties is what I am seeing with the caveat that I won't be surprised if it's more. The irresistible force called Narendra Modi is breaching the immovable caste fortress of Uttar Pradesh, yet again.
It is important to note what has changed for Modi and BJP. In 2014, as a challenger, Modi generated hope and the popular votes that he got was a combination of negative votes against a discredited Manmohan Singh regime and positive votes for his own development model. This time around, on talking to people across the state, particularly men and women from the lower rungs of social hierarchy, one can sense that hope has now turned into trust for the prime minister who worked hard to deliver basic needs to common people on the ground – be it toilets, concrete houses, cooking gas or bank accounts. Their vote to him, irrespective of what the final number may be, is a positive vote and not guided by what some describe as the TINA (there is no alternative) factor.
Take Ghazipur for instance, where Union minister Manoj Sinha is pitted against BSP’s Afzal Ansari from gathbandhan. Here, the Yadav community has around 3.60 lakh voters, Muslims 1.60 lakh and Dalits 2.60 lakh strong. Going by simple arithmetic, this gives an edge to Ansari and the gathbandhan but a large number of Yadavs and Dalits are favouring Sinha or Modi because of the development the region has lately seen.
Modi draws a great deal of strength from the younger lot, particularly first time and second-time voters. On talking to them in rural areas, at nondescript chai and paan shops or at gates of colleges in suburban blocks, districts or in university campuses in the state capital, seven to eight out of 10 would utter the surname Modi. The issue of employment lingers heavily on their minds but they are willing to believe more in Modi’s ability than in Rahul’s promises or in Akhilesh and Mayawati’s ability to create the structures for job creation. The surge of nationalism and surgical and airstrike at terror camps are also helping enhance the trust in Modi.
What is making the real difference in favour of Modi is the sheer number of lavarthi or beneficiaries who have received pucca houses, electricity supply after living for decades in darkness, toilets that have given some dignity to women, gas cylinders, two instalments of Rs 2,000 each under Kisan Samman Nidhi to one or more adult family members and other benefits such as Mudra loans. What has made them even happier is the fact they got it all without making rounds to offices of babus and local netas, without giving hefty cuts to intermediaries. A vast number of such beneficiaries are willing to believe in Modi and breaking stereotypical perception about a given caste and his or her voting choice.
Results from Uttar Pradesh may yet again surprise pollsters and analysts who predicted BJP’s doom in Uttar Pradesh.
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Updated Date: May 16, 2019 15:55:28 IST