Indian politics has undergone a tremendous change. Uttar Pradesh results the proof
Uttar Pradesh results are a sign that politics in India has undergone a tremendous change.
In the 2019 general elections, the BJP has once again swept Uttar Pradesh, pushing aside the much-favoured SP-BSP-RLD mahagathbandhan (alliance) and the Congress which, fresh from its success in three state assembly elections, was viewed as having revitalised itself under the leadership of Rahul Gandhi.
Despite an aggressive and highly competitive campaign, the results show that the alliance could not make a dent; it won just 15 seats, the BSP 10 and the SP 5. The BJP won 62 seats, down from 71 earlier, but increased its vote share from 42.63% (2014) to 49.6%, while SP-BSP vote share dropped from 42.2% (2014) to 37.3%.
The alliance put up a fight in western UP, winning at least half of the 14 seats of the Meerut, Moradabad and Saharanpur divisions; elsewhere it lost badly, particularly in eastern UP where it had won Gorakhpur and Phulpur in the by-polls in 2018.
The formation of the alliance in UP prior to the 2019 elections was seen as a significant strategy, as the combined vote share of these parties in 2014, and the forging of a Jat-Yadav-Jatav-Muslim combine would limit the seats the BJP could win, and thereby stop its march to the Centre. Its disappointing performance can be understood by placing it within the post-Mandal discourse and power struggles in UP.
The formation of the alliance was possible because for dominant intermediary castes like Jats, Yadavs and Jatavs, the rise of Modi in 2014 signified the decentring of their political prominence. But it created a counter-mobilisation of lower OBCs and smaller Dalit groups which, unwilling to return to a Yadav-Jatav dominance, have moved towards the BJP in even greater numbers in 2019. These power struggles and resulting shifts can be traced to the manner in which the SP and the BSP, as parties of social justice, have represented the lower castes.
Throughout the 1990s, the SP failed to weld the backward classes into a cohesive political community. While class-based changes due to education, urbanisation, vernacular newspapers, satellite TV etc, exacerbated the already existing divisions, the SP, when in power, undoubtedly favoured the Yadavs. It led to the emergence of the Most Backward Classes, who feel they are the most neglected and have in recent years become very demanding. It is a section the BJP has been able to tap.
Similarly, the BSP, since the mid-1990s, with its preoccupation with power, has not been a democratising force like in the past when it moved downwards to mobilise the smaller, poorer Dalit groups. They, therefore, view it now as a purely Jatav party. It is this new voting bloc of the non-Yadav and non-Jatav Dalits, who constitute a substantial section of the electorate, that has been profitably mobilised by the BJP, first in 2014 and now in larger numbers in 2019.
While caste retains its importance in UP, the 2000s have also witnessed within this category, an upwardly mobile aspirational class, strongly attracted to Modi’s promise of development. The collapse of the Congress party in UP, most evident in the defeat of Rahul Gandhi, provided greater space to the BJP.
Despite a spirited campaign, the Congress has not been able to revitalise its organisational base, find fresh young candidates or spread its message of NYAY. In a state where identity remains important, the party does not have a single lower backward caste or Dalit leader; or young upper caste leaders to match those in the BJP. In many places the candidates put up by the Congress cut into the vote share of the alliance, and the introduction of Priyanka Gandhi came too late to make an impact on the ground.
There was a no clear message on whether Rahul and Priyanka were fighting to win in 2019 or for a longer-term revival of the party. Clearly, the Congress has not stepped out of the existential crisis that enveloped it in 2014, at least in UP.
However, a key reason for the victory of the BJP in UP has been a highly personalised and plebiscitary-like electoral campaign by Modi to build his brand image as a strong leader and performer. Three strategies used by him were effective in mobilising the electorate.
A divisive and communal campaign that attempted to consolidate the Hindu vote by attracting the lower backwards and smaller Dalits into the saffron fold; the use of nationalism by constant reference to the Balakot strike against Pakistan in a state which is a major recruiting ground for the army; and third, the BJP ably marketed Ujjwala, PM Awas Yojana and Swachh Bharat schemes through a huge personal and digital outreach programme; among the seats that experienced the most outreach, 19 were in UP.
In sum, these elections illustrate that Indian politics has undergone a tremendous change. Caste calculations alone cannot ensure success; the sweeping victory of the BJP lies in its ability to recognise and cater to the rising social and economic aspirations of the poorer sections.
The mahagathbandhan remained anchored in the Mandal discourse of the past, which has lost relevance. Dynasty cannot help the Congress in the absence of strong and credible leadership and organisation on the ground.
However, whether we like it or not, the most important has been the marketing of a strong, charismatic leader. While UP is undoubtedly plagued by joblessness, farm distress, sugar crisis and poverty, Modi’s image and message that he can fix these problems, if given one more chance, seem to have resonated among the electorate, particularly the younger generation.