Long before the election campaign picked up steam, the BJP leadership was caught completely off-guard by the infighting within the Mulayam Singh Yadav household. In the run-up to the elections, high drama in Lucknow initially upset the BJP’s political calculations. In the battle of perceptions, Akhilesh Yadav seemed to have gained a lot with the help of the media. Through vigorous ad campaigns, new idioms and catch phrases, a halo of 'victimhood' was conferred upon Akhilesh. What appeared to have rattled BJP strategists is the Samajwadi Party’s alliance with the Congress.
What appeared to have got the goat of BJP strategists was the realisation through internal surveys that the alliance may have been able to swing over 90 percent of Muslim voters in its favour — given the fact that a slight deviation in percentage points of voters would make a substantial change in terms of seats. Of course, the Samajwadi Party was seen sitting pretty with 30 percent of the Muslim-Yadav (MY) combination. And there was a fear that if a section of traditional Congress voters could transfer their votes to the Samajwadi Party, its kitty would go high.
Thus began the BJP’s counter moves that proved to be quite effectively in checkmating Samajwadi Party-Congress politics. BJP president Amit Shah strategised a multi-pronged move to shore up the BJP's prospects. Now look at the facts that would appear to be more than mere coincidence.
Take for instance, the campaign in the media picked up that Mayawati had given largest share of tickets (97) to Muslims. Similarly, it was not a coincidence that at the height of Akhilesh’s publicity blitz, an influential group of Muslim clerics came forward to support the BSP and Mayawati. They urged Muslims to vote for the BSP. For the first time, Muslims as collective social group found itself on tenterhooks regarding the selection of either the Samajwadi Party-Congress or the BSP.
As the campaign picked up momentum, this confusion was compounded when the Akhilesh-Rahul alliance proved to be a non-starter on the ground. For instance, the traditional upper caste voters of the Congress deserted in favour of the BJP while the BJP launched a sustained campaign to co-opt most backward classes (MBCs) which form nearly 36 percent of the state’s electorate. In western Uttar Pradesh, the party used Jat anger to its advantage by roping in non-Jat backward castes to its fold.
Of course, the spectacular BJP victory in Uttar Pradesh can only be ascribed to micromanagement of the polling booths by the party apparatus headed by Shah. Immediately after the Lok Sabha victory in 2014, Shah practically restructured the BJP organisation which was quite at variance with the old RSS-inspired sangathanist model. Leaders belonging to different castes were roped in to give adequate weight in proportion to their population.
The manner in which Shah restructured the organisation — obviously with the approval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi — is believed to have caused rancour among traditionalists within the BJP. But the objection was ignored with the belief that the BJP’s social expansion was sine qua nun for its organic growth. In the selection of candidates, this consideration weighed heavily despite resistance by well-entrenched upper caste cadre.
At the same time, micro-management at the booth level was just extraordinary. All traditional and impregnable bastions of the Congress and Samajwadi Party were identified and violated with superb planning that went down to the minutest details. Rampur Khas, a traditional seat of Congress strongman Pramod Tiwari in Pratapgarh, was identified by the BJP to check mate its rivals. Tiwari was not allowed to move in the constituency and his influence was effectively neutralised. Similarly Ajay Rai’s seat at Pindra in Varanasi was targeted to neutralise the influence of the Congress.
In effect, a team of nearly 600 volunteers was created and deployed after every phase of election to counter any attempt to rig the polls or influence the voters. "We have planned all these things well in advance and played our cards close to our chest,” said a top strategist of the BJP. Of course, amid all this planning, secrecy was the key word. At times there were moments of unease when the party got inputs that it didn't fare well in the first phase of the polls.
However, the party recovered fast and deployed its best foot forward for the next phases by inculcating a high dose of Hindutva undertones in the campaign and introducing the 'KASAB'-Kabristan debate. What appears to have clinched the election in favour of the BJP was the indefatigable campaign by Modi who slogged to see it through. Of course the election result in Uttar Pradesh is poised to change the contours of the country’s political landscape as the BJP will emerge for the first time in history as an indomitable political force across the country.
Updated Date: Mar 11, 2017 12:26 PM