Halfway through the polls of the Assembly of the UP, clear indications are emerging. These indications can have a definite impact on the outcome of the elections.
The first conclusion, which seems obvious, is that the impoverishment of the lower middle classes and the destitute poor in much of the rural UP has emerged as the best electoral hope of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Notwithstanding that this impoverishment and misery is a direct result of crony capitalism at its worst being followed by central and state governments, the ruling BJP is determined to cynically exploit it.
The BJP calculates that the utter financial helplessness of these sections will make them grateful for the provision of free rations (though only available until March 2022). In sociological terms, most of this “grateful” population is drawn from non-Yadav OBC and non-Jatav Dalits. People from other castes generally do not see the free ration as a dignified situation.
The other narrative that always seems to work for the BJP is law and order. The BJP has successfully sold the idea to much of the upper castes that Samajwadi Party (SP) rule would mean anarchy, and so these groups usually stick with the BJP.
The ruling party can be reasonably assured of the electoral allegiance of most upper castes, a reasonable slice of non-Jatav Dalits and extremely poor sections of non-Yadav OBCs. Add to that the BJP’s hardcore vote bank. So, with all the challenges facing the BJP, it remains an electoral force to be reckoned with. Whether or not that’s enough to give them a majority in UP is another matter.
On the negative side of the BJP, there is the failure of the communal polarization narrative of 2017. Desperate and continuous attempts have been made to polarize the elections along communal lines, but it does not work beyond the vote bank. basic.
Apart from that, Yogi Adityanath’s brutal style of governance has made him a big liability for the BJP. This resulted in a Muslim consolidation in favor of Akhilesh Yadav. It is becoming clear that Asaduddin Owaisi of AIMIM and even the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are unable to meaningfully engage in this consolidation. Similarly, Yadavs has also almost completely consolidated in favor of the SP. This was not the case in 2017. The Yadavs, in large numbers, had voted for the BJP even in the Yadav belts.
The other result of Adityanath’s weakness for his own caste is the usual lack of enthusiasm even among other higher castes. Many of them are reported to give silent support in many constituencies to the SP or BSP and Congress, depending on the candidate’s caste.
The other factor that has hit the BJP hard is its policy of handing over the monopoly of trade in agricultural products to a few privileged companies. This has led to enormous resistance among relatively better-off farmers, including the Western UP Jats, a loyal vote bank in the last three elections (2014, 2017, 2019). This development, notwithstanding the withdrawal of the Farm Bills, heralded the decline of the BJP in the UP in the current elections.
The most important clarity that emerged from the UP elections is the unmistakable polarization between the BJP and the SP and its allies. This results in many unique developments.
It should come as no surprise if the Eastern UP brings as much bad news for the BJP as the Western UP. The non-Yadav OBCs in the eastern UP, with the exception of the Nishads, appear to be consolidating behind the Samajwadi party alliance. OBC leaders Om Prakash Rajbhar and Swami Prasad Maurya are bringing huge dividends to the SP. This “wave” gives many Brahmin voters a chance to switch allegiance to the SP, despite their usual antipathy towards the party. Add to the above, the huge anti-incumbent the UP BJP government is facing.
The other conclusion that emerges is that a good part of the Dalits remain loyal to the BSP. However, there is an overhaul among some non-Jatav Dalits in eastern UP who might go with the SP alliance to defeat the BJP. The conversation between many of them seems to focus on the fact that the SP is the best bet since the BSP cannot defeat the BJP.
Finally, the best hope for the BJP is the fourth and fifth phase comprising mainly Awadh region of UP. Apart from the main challenger, the SP alliance, some errant challenges to the BJP may come from candidates from the Congress and BSP upper castes.
In summary, the SP alliance seems to be riding a wave against the BJP despite fierce resistance from the ruling party. Elections to the UP Assembly have become unmistakably bipolar. Farm bills, unemployment, rising prices, poor governance and huge fears over the questioning of reservations for OBCs and SCs have hit the BJP hard in UP. The narratives of free rationing and law and order do not seem to push the BJP to victory. If something else also works on the ground, this will only be known on the counting day of March 10, 2022.
(Dr. Shambhu Shrivastava is a political analyst)
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.