UP Election 2017: BJP high on hubris, still blind to ground realities, changing caste equations

Hubris has consistently been a fatal flaw of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its top leadership. After the 2014 Lok Sabha victory, the party's winning streak in Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections subsequently convinced the party leadership of a rather infallible formula of electoral success: Sell Narendra Modi's image and ignore local leadership.

In Delhi and Bihar, the party leadership met its nemesis. But these electoral setbacks have not changed the party's conduct in India's largest state, Uttar Pradesh. There are even indications that BJP's cadre has been getting increasingly alienated from the party leadership, just as the first phase of polling in crucial western Uttar Pradesh is around the corner.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi's charm may not result in expansion of BJP's base. PTI

Reasons are not far to seek. The party made the cardinal mistake of ignoring its core constituency, the upper caste — Brahmin, Rajput, Bania and Kayastha. Unlike in Bihar, where the upper caste base is smaller, Uttar Pradesh has a sizeable chunk of upper castes, which comprise nearly 25 percent of the electorate. But in order to win over the non-Yadav backward castes, the party wrested traditional upper caste seats and handed them over to backward caste leaders.

What appears to have irked the party cadre is the fact that nearly 140-odd candidates put up by the party belong to turncoat politicians — those who joined the party in the last five years. Similarly, in eastern UP, upper caste leaders were randomly replaced by backward class candidates without factoring in the caste calculus.

That the caste equations have gone haywire is evident by the fact that upper caste central ministers and MPs were not even coaxed to camp in their constituencies, to exercise their influence on social groups and persuade them to vote for the BJP.

However, that is easier said than done. For instance, central ministers like Mahendra Pandey or Manoj Sinha would be too overstretched to persuade people to vote on caste lines. Similarly, it would be next to impossible to expect Rajnath Singh to exercise his influence over Rajputs at a time when he appears to be substantially marginalised within the BJP in his home state. Another union minister Kalraj Mishra is also quite subdued by the new style of campaign devised by a new set of leadership, which in its well-conceited wisdom, refuses to listen to patriarchs.

Apparently for BJP, Uttar Pradesh appears to be a classic case where the party has persistently refused to learn the right lessons. Take for instance 1991, when BJP came to power for the first and last time on its own in the state and Kalyan Singh became chief minister. In the post Mandal-Mandir phase, the party offered an alternative political discourse, one rooted in religious symbolism (Ayodhya), yet promised clean politics. The party was backed by powerful upper castes and non-Yadav OBCs in large numbers. But the upper caste leadership within the RSS-BJP combine ran down the Kalyan Singh government and subsequently alienated the backward classes from the Hindutva fold.

Post the demolition of Babri Masjid, BJP's growing marginalisation proved it beyond doubt that the party had lost not only its core upper caste constituency but also estranged backward classes lock stock and barrel.

There is no doubt that the 2014 Lok Sabha election was an exception. Rising on a high tide of expectation, Narendra Modi's image transcended caste boundaries and the BJP swept polls on the promise of ushering in development and clean government. Modi's credentials as a backward leader also gravitated backward classes to the BJP. Of course, ground realities do indicate that the prime minister still retains his charm among a large section of upper castes and backward classes. But it would be a grave political error to assume that his charm would automatically be transferred to the expansion of the BJP's base.

However, party strategists still refuse to see the writing on the wall. They have resorted to tokenism by appointing no-so-clean Phulpur Lok Sabha MP, Keshav Prasad Maurva as state unit president in order to attract non-Yadav OBC voters to its fold. In their fit of hubris, they seemed to have grossly ignored the ground realities which are increasingly turning again the BJP.

Updated Date: Feb 04, 2017 16:02 PM

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