As Yogi boasts of 2nd term in UP, Oppn looks at realigning social forces
The Uttar Pradesh Assembly polls are hardly six months away. But, the Modi-Shah promise, made in 2017, to make Uttar Pradesh another Gujarat, has failed miserably. With Yogi Adityanath at the helm, the state government has earned a dismal track record over the past five years with regard to increasing income and generation employment opportunities for people. There is indeed some resentment against the Yogi government on price rise and unemployment.
But experts say that it would be too early to draw any conclusions and it is more of a wait-and-watch game.
As the veteran journalist Shaira Naim told The Federal, “The pro-Hindutva bent of mind that set in across castes during the last elections, combined with high hopes on Modi personally, has not fully evaporated yet. The social justice politics and the secular agenda are now still on the backburner. Currently, the BJP is a well-oiled machinery that offers generous sops like houses, LPG and cash support to farmers among other things, to keep people’s anger under the lid. Every area committee member of the BJP/RSS is assigned 100 households from the electoral rolls, and they are doing meticulous election preparation by personally visiting these households.”
Stating that the surcharged communal atmosphere witnessed during the CAA protests has now thawed considerably, Naim said, “the anger against Yogi’s mishandling of the COVID-19 crisis has also abated. In this sense, many feel that the popular resentment is not strong enough to have a far-reaching electoral fallout.”
A recent C-Voter pre-poll survey has indeed found that Adityanath would be coming back to power. Adityanath himself has been boasting that he will break the tradition of the last 35 years to become the first chief minister in Uttar Pradesh to successfully return to office after completing one term in power. He has confidently claimed that the BJP, under him, would win 350 seats.
No opposition unity
In such a scenario, it would be expected of the opposition to show a stronger tendency to put up a united fight against Adityanath. Yet, strangely enough, the question of opposition unity is virtually absent in the pre-poll discourse. This, even though only the Assembly elections are six months away.
Election mood, of course, has set in. Parties have started selection of candidates and are already on campaign mode. All parties have started making all sorts of poll manoeuvers, except in the arena of opposition unity. So far, no opposition party has tried to spread across the message among voters that they would fight elections as a formidable opposition bloc.
Of course, only Mayawati and her Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) have openly declared that they would not have any alliance with any party. The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress have not openly said so, but there are no signals yet that they might form an alliance like in the last Assembly polls. Probably, after the drubbing they received in 2017, they don’t want to give ample time to the BJP before the polls, to dub them as ‘Bhai Jaan’ (pro-Muslim) alliance, as they did in 2017.
More focus on wooing communities
However, several political observers argue that it may be illogical to say that the opposition is not making any move at all.
Richa Singh, the official spokesperson of the SP (against whom the Yogi Adityanath government has filed 19 FIRs, and who was under house-arrest till recently) told The Federal that the “emphasis now is not on political realignment by wooing other parties but on social realignment by wooing other social forces.”
“For instance, the competition for the Brahmin votes is very sharp now. Mayawati held a Brahmin conference, at Ayodhya of all places, with the chants of Jai Shri Ram, and announced the formation of ‘Bhaichara Committees’ (brotherhood committees) at area level comprising BSP local leaders and prominent local Brahmins. Mayawati is personally promising full protection to Brahmins and, her close advisor and BSP’s general secretary Satish Chandra Mishra, is also harping on the virtues of Dalit-Brahmin unity. However, the response from Brahmins to Mayawati’s ‘Brahmin gambit’ is lukewarm this time,” she said.
True, the Brahmins are not responding to Mayawati in the same manner as in 2007, when the BSP won single-party majority by bagging 206 of the 403 seats, with support from the community and other upper castes. The Brahmins threw in their lot, with Mayawati then considering her a sure bet to put an end to what they saw as the ‘Goonda Raj’ of SP.
Not only Mayawati, even the Congress is wooing the Brahmins. The Congress high command has wisely decided that the party cannot afford to risk projecting Priyanka Gandhi as the chief ministerial candidate, given their marginal position on the ground. Instead, they hope to improve their role in the state politics by consolidating their own independent strength. This could well be a return to the old ‘Rahul line’ of the last decade. Though SP is seen as the main contender against the BJP, many independent ‘secular personalities’ are veering around to Congress than to SP, fed up with the prolonged political dormancy of Akhilesh Yadav. But, Naim feels that the new Congress activism has come too late in the day.
There is speculation within party circles that the Congress high command may project Promod Tiwari, a veteran liberal in the Congress tradition, as the chief ministerial candidate, and with that, wean away as many Brahmin voters, who have been disgruntled with the BJP, as possible. Side by side, the Congress is also wooing Muslims, hoping to wean away a sizable chunk of them from the fold of Samajwadi Party. This apart, they are also trying to woo the Most Backward Classes (MBCs). The BSP is also doing exactly the same, albeit with greater attention on MBCs than on Muslims.
According to Mohammad Salim, a prominent activist in Mirzapur, “SP is going all out to bring the MBCs back to its fold. Akhilesh has already declared that they would go for an alliance only with the small caste parties. Almost all major non-Yadav OBC communities, like Patels, Nishads and Rajbhars, have thrown up their own leaderships and are bargaining with all the major players for more Assembly tickets and are angling for possible future ministries. They are disappointed that despite their total support to the BJP in the last elections, what they got in return has not been proportionately adequate. There is some resentment. Some small caste parties based on caste identity politics have emerged, like Suheldev Bharatiya Samaj Party (SBSP) of Rajbhars, under MLA Om Prakash Rajbhar, Nishad Party led by Dr Sanjay Nishad, Apna Dal of Patels, which is already supporting the BJP, etc. Only the Mauryas have not formed their own party but have cast their lot entirely with the BJP because of the presence of a Deputy CM like Keshav Prasad Maurya in BJP, who is now locked in a power struggle with Yogi and angling for Chief Ministership.”
Three days back Ram Achal Rajbhar and Lalji Verman—the prominent leaders known to have considerable following among MBC castes Rajbhars and Kurmis/Patels respectively—expelled by Mayawati in the recent past met Akhilesh Yadav. Both are expected to formally join SP in October in mass conventions organised among their own caste followers. Some observers feel that this has precipitated an existential crisis for Mayawati’s BSP as other caste leaders and Muslim leaders are deserting her.
Meanwhile, after the induction of Anupriya Patel into the Union Council of Ministers in the recent ministry reshuffle by Modi, Apna Dal, which was appearing to be veering away from the BJP with some dissent, has now formally reiterated that would contest with BJP only. Likewise, Dr Sanjay Nishad’s Nishad Party has also formally declared that they would go with the BJP.
Meanwhile, Muslim strongman Atiq Ahmad had earlier left BSP only to join the Apna Dal. Now with Apna Dal moving towards the BJP, he has switched over to AIMIM. On September 25, AIMIM held a rally in Allahabad in which the participation, especially by Muslim youth, was massive. Despite allegations of AIMIM being a B-team of the BJP or of acting as a splitter of Muslim votes, a good section of Muslims get attracted towards this party. Om Prakash Rajbhar, who was trying to float a front of small caste parties along with AIMIM, did not participate in that rally. This means Rajbhar, Nishad and Kurmi votes are being polarized between BJP and SP.
Gyan Singh Patel, the BSP in-charge of Prayagraj district says that these parties are vocal, but their electoral hold over their own communities is still untested.
“There is a scramble for power among them. But among the ambitious elements in these small caste parties, there is not much hope that they could wield power inside the BJP as it is a centralized party with powerful all-India and state leaderships. Samajwadi Party, BSP and even the Congress—all are wooing them and are promising more tickets to candidates from these castes. But, at the last moment, when they see no viable alternative, the communities as a whole would decide to go with the BJP again and try to increase their share in positions of power from within the BJP fold,” he says.
Possible tie-up between Congress and SP?
Zafar Bakht, a prominent civil society personality, is of the opinion that behind-the-scene negotiations between the SP and the Congress are always on, and at the last moment they could reach a poll alliance. After all, a pre-poll alliance is better than post-poll tie-ups. But, a BSP leader is sceptical. In his opinion, even if the SP and Congress come together, they can hope to win at best 10–15 additional seats, and not 100–150 more needed to dislodge the BJP from power.
Zafar Bakht summed up the current scenario in Uttar Pradesh as follows:
“In 2017, it was primarily a Modi wave. The social justice parties—be it SP or BSP—stood much discredited with the record of 25 years of their rule. The stage was set for a return of the upper caste consolidation, and the BJP achieved precisely that with support from the MBCs. Now Modi wave is receding compared to 2017. The SP and BSP political strata, who have tasted power in the past, are regrouping. Presently, they are appealing to their own castes and have become more aggressive at their own level. But they are not strong enough to dislodge the BJP from power, either individually or even by coming together. Still, they can make a substantial dent in the BJP’s total number of seats. BJP’s tally will not be 350 as Yogi claims but perhaps 100 less than that. But the unexpected can also happen as the polling day nears.”