If Modi is winning UP elections, why the language of desperation?
Wasn’t BJP really confident it would be smooth sailing this election?
As the seven-phased Uttar Pradesh Assembly election heads for the penultimate round, the narrative of all political parties has witnessed a sea change.
If Prime Minister Narendra Modi went off the tangent to raise issues like “kabristan (graveyard)” and “shamshan (crematoria)”, “Eid” and Diwali, UP chief minister and Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav stooped lower by dismissing his adversaries as “gadhas (donkeys)”, while Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) supremo Mayawati did not mince words when throwing the religious bait, as she repeatedly declared in her speeches that she had given tickets to nearly 100 Muslim candidates.
What followed made the campaigns questionable: perhaps, realization dawned within the BJP that taking the communal line was no longer Modi’s cup of tea.
This prompted party chief Amit Shah to change the track from “Hindu-Muslim” to terrorism – apparently in the hope of evoking patriotic sentiments.
But the manner in which he chose to do so was quite weird. It began with the twisted acronym of Kasab – read as ‘K’ for Congress, ‘SA’ for Samajwadi Party and ‘B’ for Bahujan Samaj Party. However, it failed to gel with the voters.
Akhilesh Yadav may have paved the way for BJP to win UP polls!
Uttar Pradesh chief minister Akhilesh Yadav has possibly made two “fatal” errors.
The first was to over-emphasise the Samajwadi Party’s traditional appeal to Muslims. This has set off a counter-polarization backlash.
Non-Yadav Hindu voters are increasingly disillusioned with the SP’s pro-Muslim tilt. Most people admire the development work Akhilesh Yadav has done, especially in the past two years. The roads in urban Uttar Pradesh are smoother, many villages get 18 hours of electricity, thuggish SP MLAs have been refused tickets.
The BJP has been accused of polarizing the UP elections. And it has. But critics forget that UP was first polarized by the SP and the Congress.
Muslim polarization is not what the middle-class English-language media likes to dwell on. The 1985-86 Shah Bano case was the Congress’ contribution to creating a communal divide in Hindu-Muslim relations, leading to a revival of the demand for a Ram temple in Ayodhya and culminating in the demolition of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
The polarization the Congress set into motion in 1985 was gleefully grasped by the BJP, then only a five-year-old party.
Hindu polarization followed.In Uttar Pradesh today, the same sequence is playing out. For decades the SP has used Muslim polarization to supplement its Yadav vote bank and secure a vote share above 30 percent. Without the Muslim vote, the SP would get less than 75 seats in the UP assembly.
The second error Akhilesh made was to allocate to the Congress as many as 105 seats. The original polarizer, the Congress, now falls between two stools. Its erstwhile Muslim vote bank has lost faith in it and defected to the SP. Hindus, deeply resentful of its pro-Muslim bias, have deserted it for the BJP.
The Congress’ strike rate in these elections is, therefore, unlikely to be much higher than 25 percent. Sensing this, Priyanka Gandhi has stayed away from active campaigning, confining herself to two appearances in her family’s pocket town of Amethi, defeat tarnishes her image as the Congress’ last trump card in the 2019 Lok Sabha election.
If the Congress ends up with just 25 seats, Akhilesh will need to win over 175 seats of the 298 the SP is contesting to secure a majority in the assembly. That represents a strike rate of nearly 60 per cent (175/298)
Even if the SP achieves a strike rate of 50 per cent in its 298 seats, it will end up with around 150 seats. Add the Congress’ 25 seats and the alliance’s tally of 175 will fall tantalizingly short of a simple majority.
Had Akhilesh held firm and allocated around 60-70 seats to the Congress, as he originally intended, leaving 340-odd seats for the SP, the alliance could still have scraped through. It might still do so, though the odds have turned against it in the second half of the UP campaign.
The dangers of excessive “minorityism” were underscored last week by the results of civic elections across Maharashtra. The Congress and the NCP’s Muslim vote bank has been split by small Muslim-only parties like the AIMIM.
In Mumbai, the BJP and the Shiv Sena collectively accounted for an extraordinary near-75 percent (166/227) of the seats in the BMC, wiping out the NCP and marginalizing the Congress — both victims of pro-minority polarization.
The echo from Mumbai — and the rest of Maharashtra where the BJP last week swept the Opposition aside — may carry all the way into the heartland of Uttar Pradesh.