UP polls: Amid SP feud, BJP fears Dalit-Muslim unity, prepares to fight Mayawati
BJP is concerned with the Samajwadi Party feud, as it could translate into potential electoral gain or loss for them in the upcoming UP Assembly elections.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is keeping a close eye on each development in the ongoing family feud within the ruling Samajwadi Party. Their concern with the infighting within the Yadav clan, however, is strictly limited to political purposes as it could translate into potential electoral gain or loss for them in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
A recent emotive statement issued by powerful Samajwadi Party (SP) leader Azam Khan, who happens to be the Muslim face of the ruling party in UP, has put the BJP on alert. Khan virtually wrote off the prospects of SP in the upcoming elections, while adding that the Muslim community still had time to think and ensure that a BJP government is not formed in the state.
"The Muslim community and leadership want to move with secular Hindus (read Mulayam Singh Yadav and company) but it does not want to fight a lost battle. Nor does it want to be associated with untrustworthy political forces. The ongoing political developments in the state and nation have placed Muslims in a deep sense of anxiety because they sense a very dark future. It is a matter of regret that without doing anything for the community, they (BJP) consider Muslim vote as their fiefdom. But Muslims are neither water bubbles nor thali ke baingan, which can be tilted to any side at will," Khan said in his statement.
His statement is relevant not just in the context of the SP feud but is also reflective of the Muslim community's feeling at large, that could have its own bearing on the outcome of the UP polls.
From BJP's perspective, a down and out SP doesn't serve as good news. It needs the SP to have a good presence in the state, if not a very strong one. It will be counting on the usual rabble-rousing speeches of some of the SP leaders, aimed at assuaging the feelings of the Muslim community.
The SP's alienation of the Muslim community helps the BJP to cash in on the counter polarisation in the state. Like in the 2014 parliamentary elections, the BJP pitched SP as a villain and took advantage of the latent feelings among the Muslims. A weakened SP is still acceptable for the BJP but only if it is seen to be in the fight – in the reckoning for power – as in a tri-polar election (between BJP, BSP and SP), even a small vote swing could determine a win or loss.
But now, the prospects of a bipolar election between BSP and BJP looms large on the horizon. Going by the present developments, SP is already relegating itself to the third position. After talking to a number of senior leaders in the BJP, both in the government and in the organisation, Firstpost got a sense that while they were still hoping for a tri-polar election, they are now coming to terms and gearing up for a head-on fight with the BSP; weighing its pros and cons, and preparing accordingly.
A senior party leader said: "Initially, we thought that a fight within the Yadav family was a noora kushti (fake/fixed wrestling bout) but now it looks to be real. The problem is that if SP is not seen as a strong force, then the Muslim consolidation might happen in favour of BSP. Though it is true that the Brahmin community, which had propelled BSP to power in 2007, will go with the BJP this time, our fear is a possible Dalit-Muslim consolidation in favour of Mayawati."
Another BJP leader, rooted to the ground in UP, said: "A potential Dalit-Muslim consolidation is a matter of concern for us. It worries us on two counts. First, it may give Mayawati a numerical edge if she is able to win the confidence of some other communities. But more than that, a Dalit-Muslim combination is a secularists dream and they have been working in that direction for some time."
"Second, this kind of a combination would be bad news for us. Remember, we supported Mayawati on more than one occasion to let her become the chief minister. That was on an ideological count because the Sangh Parivar's philosophy was to bring Dalits into the Hindutva fold. That process has been ongoing for the last 30 years. For the past two years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is sincerely working on upliftment of the Dalit community and the party too is working in tandem, devoting so much of its time and energy. There is still some time left and I hope that in the days to come, things would indeed be different on the ground."
BJP is also relying on Mulayam's cumulative goodwill in the Muslim community, and hoping that the SP supremo will still manage to get some Muslim votes, effectively reducing the Muslim vote share of the BSP. The developments within SP since Thursday has many in UP political circles believing that a patch up within the Yadav clan is on the cards and that they would ultimately fight the election as one party.
There is another angle to this already complex equation in UP. Given a situation where the SP goes into the elections as a marginal force and the Muslims move over to the BSP, then the Yadavs, at least in some pockets, would vote for the BJP in order to block Mayawati's chances.
As it is, the BJP is working heavily on its Dalit outreach program. At the same time, it is keeping the latent Hindutva tone alive for cashing in on polarisation of any kind. It is not without reason that Modi chose Lucknow as the venue for Vijayadashami celebrations, where he began and ended his speech with chants of 'Jai Sri Ram, Jai Jai Sri Ram'. Similarly, Amit Shah, in his Etawah rally (a Mulayam stronghold) talked of the surgical strikes and issued the 'Jai Jai Sri Ram' chant.
Then came the public debate on the proposed Ram Museum in Ayodhya. The party leaders did not want to talk on the contentious issue of Ram Mandir but still wanted to convey a message that they were sincere about Lord Ram and had not abandoned him.
According to a BJP leader, when engaged in an electoral battle resembling a war, forceful slogans are important to raise the morale and fighting power of the party's cadre and sympathisers. The 'Jai Jai Sri Ram' chants, according to him, fit that bill perfectly.
And now that Modi and Shah have both sounded the symbolic 'battle cry', the rank and file would be happy to follow the slogan, one that was a rousing greeting in the party and the Sangh Parivar throughout the 1990s.
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