UP Assembly Election 2017: BJP’s stunning win, SP-BSP rout point to the death of caste-based politics in India

There are many ways of looking at BJP’s stunning win in Uttar Pradesh. One important aspect of it was highlighted by party president Amit Shah. While tackling a question on Saturday on whether BJP got the caste equation right, Shah said, “Move beyond casteism. Politics of performance has won. This is a defeat for dynastic and caste-based politics”.

Simple words, but with a world of truth between the lines. If 2014 hadn’t brought the truth home, UP 2017 ought to make it clear that the time is up for casteism. Politicians, governed still by the 1990s mindset must read the writing on the wall and change their caste orientation or be cast aside.

If a supposedly “bania and upper-caste party with a majoritarian agenda” can rewrite the electoral history of Uttar Pradesh by winning over 300 seats – a feat rarely achieved anywhere, leave alone India’s most culturally diverse state – then it stands to reason that we must change our intrinsic understanding about what drives the electorate in modern India. And the truth, staring right at our face if we are willing to stare back at it, is this – the Indian electorate is emerging out of the caste and community trappings that they have so long been subjected to. We may be still not fully there yet but the trends are unmistakable. Uttar Pradesh voters have demolished the parties whose raison d étre was a caste or community coalition. Think about the ruling Samajwadi Party’s move to join hands with a moribund Congress. Why did Akhilesh think it fit to allot over a 100 seats to Rahul Gandhi-led Congress which has come a cropper everywhere and has even pulled down its partners in alliance? It is because the SP chief minister thought that aligning with Congress will prevent a fracturing of the Muslim votes.

Akhilesh suffered from a self-inflicted wound even before the polls had started by co-opting a damaged brand and a failed party not because he chanced upon a new narrative to offer to the electorate, but because he wanted joint ownership of the 19.1 per cent Muslim votes. This propensity of looking at the electorate as a combination of different castes and communities is a concept that is fast losing currency.

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

File image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Consider the fact that BJP has won in both Dadri and Deoband, two seats in Muslim-dominated areas without fielding a single Muslim candidate. This shows where the likes of Akhilesh, Rahul and Mayawati were wrong and where Narendra Modi-Amit Shah were proved right.

The so-called secular parties trapped Muslims, many of whom are young and aspirational, looking for jobs, opportunities and better standards of living, in their identities whereas Modi liberated them as citizens with an equal say in India’s nation-building process. Where the “secular parties” drove fear, Modi talked about hope. This language had brought him to power in 2014 and it reinforced his popularity three years later in what may be termed as a quasi-midterm polls.

Similarly, the story of caste-based politics is also nearing its logical end. Here, Modi had less to do. In fact, he has been the beneficiary of a process that has been set in motion with the opening up of the economy in 1990s. The Mandal movement that had as its fulcrum social justice for the backward, semi-backward classes and the subalterns is now in the natural process of death as more and more Indians are pulled out of desperate poverty.

Most of these regional caste-based outfits were coping with the winds of change by turning more and more inclusive from being exclusionary outfits. Think about Mayawati’s move from ‘bahujan’ to ‘sarvajan sukhay’ as BSP turned from a party of Dalits to a party that also represented upper castes – quite against its grain under Kanshi Ram.

That moment is over. As the need slowly diminishes for social justice among the subalterns and backward classes, parties like the RJD, JD(U), SP, BSP will find it harder and harder to keep afloat if they do not rethink their ideological moorings and initiate a change in orientation.

Let me hasten to add that I am not suggesting there are no more poor people in India or none among India’s subalterns need social justice. What I am saying is that the caste orientation has changed to a class-based duality and once again, Narendra Modi seems to have got wind of this change ahead of others.

The genesis of BJP’s stunning victory in UP lies in the fact that Modi has recognised correctly the change from a caste-based multi-polarity to a class-based bipolarity where there are essentially two classes – the rich and the poor. And he has proceeded to co-opt, adopt and represent the voice of the poor with all his might. He has assiduously addressed the poor and is slowly changing BJP’s core base from a trader-based party to a party that is backed by the poor.

It is here that Modi’s opponents in UP lost the game. They remained stuck in their set-in-stone caste based equations (think BSP’s Dalit-Muslim combine or SP’s Yadav-Muslim base) while Modi erased these fault lines with his cross-caste appeal. And the result indicates that a large part of SP and BSP’s voter bases (Jatav and non-Jatav Dalits, Yadavs, OBCs, Kurmis, Nishaths) broke away in favour of BJP – including a section of Muslims.

The lesson for BJP’s rivals is clear. Move with the times or be left behind.

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2017 13:09:40 IST

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