Yogi Adityanath, Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh (UP) in India, has managed to reclaim a huge amount of electoral ground in the upcoming elections, now less than five months away.
Yes you read it right. I actually wrote that the BJP, which had been hugely worried about the most important elections (UP sends 80 members to the Lok Sabha) with Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Home Minister, Amit Shah holding several review meetings with Yogi and the Sangh, is now cautiously optimistic.
I spoke to a number of senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), Congress party and Samajwadi Party leaders before writing this SWAT analysis and while all leaders make tall claims about winning, the real contest will be between Yogi Adityanath and Akhilesh Yadav.
And, the BJP is now sanguine about getting the complex matrix of the “Hindu Samaj” (Hindu community) just right by attacking Yadav on just being a representative of the Yadav caste in the Other Backward Caste (OBC) castes and the old BJP trope of “appeasement of the minority community” (read Muslims).
Perspective: The BJP did not give a single ticket to a Muslim candidate in the last UP assembly elections and the election saw the minority community’s representation in the 403 state assembly seats drop to a historic low of only 25 legislators. Muslims make up nearly 19 per cent of the UP electorate and had 68 legislators in the 2012 Vidhan Sabha.
Yogi back in the game
Senior BJP leaders admit that they were extremely worried about retaining UP — post the second vicious wave of the pandemic which saw dead bodies floating on the most sacred Ganga river and the Yogi government seemingly unable to cope with the tragic situation.
UP, despite being India’s most politically important and populous state, has a primitive medical infrastructure in place which all but collapsed during the second wave of Covid-19. The state is currently unable to cope with a mystery viral fever causing deaths in many UP cities like Firozabad.
So what makes the BJP so sanguine about winning the big fight? Well the reality is that despite UP being so key to political fortunes and the victor getting a boost for the general elections, opposition parties have not been able to get their act together.
Four term UP Chief Minister, Mayawati, who is also the chief of the BSP is an anaemic pale shadow of her former combative self. Mayawati barely steps out of her heavily guarded home in Lucknow, forget about public agitations. She has steadily been shedding her vote bank with new accretions in her traditional Dalit voters. The BJP has been successful in weaning away Dalits to chalk up two historic victories in UP.
Mayawati is left with only her own Jatav Dalits who still vote for her. She had successfully cobbled together a Brahmin Dalit alliance to storm in to power. That alliance is history today with the upper castes in UP firmly behind and backing the BJP.
Says a senior Congress leader to Gulf News, “the BJP gave us a chance with their dismal performance in the government during COVID and Adityanath’s favouring of his own Thakur caste to the exclusion of others. Yogi filled Pancham Tal (fifth floor where the CM sits in the state secretariat) with Thakurs, and nobody wooed the Brahmins who were upset about their ejection from the levers of power).”
Congress has zero chance
Priyanka Gandhi who fancied herself as the leader who would win back UP for the Congress has publicly accused Mayawati of being the “B” team of the BJP. Mayawati’s political silence does give traction to the stories relished in Lucknow’s courtly power circles. She has several cases of disproportionate assets lodged against her by CBI, India’s premier investigative agency.
Gandhi’s challenge however seems confined to electoral tourism in UP and jibes on social media. The UP voters do not take her and the Congress too seriously. Says a SP leader, “Gandhi and Congress come to play election games in UP. They have nothing to do with UP.”
The Brahmins, aggrieved by the BJP’s attitude, could have turned to the Congress and given it a power shot because the community has outsize influence as compared to its numerical strength but, the hyper-aware voter can detect that Gandhi and the Congress have no skin in the game.
Monk, macho men and muscle power
The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which acts as a force multiplier of the BJP, is working hard in UP with a single message: Keep the Hindu Samaj together as an electoral force. So while the farmers agitation against the three farm laws has seen Jats — a powerful farming and land owning community — unhappy with the BJP in western UP — their stronghold — the RSS is on the ground, trying to make up for anger.
Yogi Adityanath’s citadel of eastern UP where he is the mahant (head priest) of the powerful Gorkarnath Mutt appears to be infallible. RSS and muscle power is a heady combination in UP where voters like to see their politicians as both macho and muscular. So far the Yogi flex is unmatched in eastern UP.
So where does that leave former UP CM, Akhilesh Yadav? This time around Yadav does not have an albatross alliance (SP-Congress alliance or SP-BSP alliance) weighing him down and he is working hard on the ground to reclaim power.
The trouble is that he has lost a large part of his base and the BJP is already attacking him as the real contender with their “polarisation techniques. Yadav is caught in a trap: the moment he appeals to Muslims — a traditional SP vote base — the BJP attacks him and gets the Hindus united.
So while it is true that Yogi Adityanath has run a terrible government, currently winning or losing UP has nothing to do with government deliverables but, everything to do with caste and communal issues. And, nobody can do that better than the BJP. It also helps to be in government and have the largest war chest in the field. Expect fireworks in UP.