The people of Uttar Pradesh have spoken. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is now being called the Bharatiya Juggernaut Party following its massive win in the UP Assembly Elections 2017. Of the 403 Vidhan Sabha seats up for grabs, the party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi managed to win 323 seats. This, despite not having put forth any chief ministerial candidate, is a mammoth win.
The last party to win over 300 seats at the assembly elections in UP was the INC (I) in 1980, when the party gained 309 seats in (undivided) Uttar Pradesh.
With the 2017 victory, the BJP has routed its main opponents – the Akhilesh Yadav-led SP–Congress combine (54 seats), and the Mayawati-led BSP (19 seats). We are now set to witness a saffron Holi in one of India’s major states. An analysis of the reasons for such a victory could be a combination of both BJP’s core strengths and of the failures of its opponents to mobilise grassroots level support in the state.
The Muslim Vote Bank
Muslims constitute a fairly large proportion of the electorate in the state of Uttar Pradesh. The Muslim vote bank is one of the most wooed in the state too. It was widely anticipated that the Muslim voters of the state would vote against the BJP and its “Hindutva” agenda.
Congress has traditionally held the hearts and the mandate of the Muslims, at least in the urban constituencies. This was the main reason why the SP tied up with the Congress to contest together. Mayawati tried to bring together the Muslims and the Dalits to vote for her. Neither strategy worked.
The BJP took a huge risk by not offering a single Muslim candidate an electoral ticket – a move that was highly criticised ahead of the elections. The BJP managed to dominate 74 of the 113 Muslim-dominated constituencies, many of them with up to 40 percent Muslim population. This does not necessarily mean that the Muslims of the state voted for BJP. It is possible that the Muslim votes were split between the SP and the Congress.
What is undeniable, though, is that the BJP has remained extremely circumspect in deploying its campaign strategy.
Moving Away From The Congress
Caste politics has been the pivotal decider in Uttar Pradesh for a long time. The state has remained polarised and deeply divided along caste lines for decades now. Ever since the state started to slip away from the Congress in 1989, the caste blocs were fragmented and went to local parties like the BSP and the SP. The very strength of the BSP has been its Dalit supporters, while the leading family of the SP has banked on the Yadav strength.
It now looks like BJP’s reverse social engineering strategy has played out very effectively, managing to stitch together the various castes such as the Yadavs, Jats, Kurmis, and even the Dalits into a united electoral bank. This could also mean a decisive vote of the people of Uttar Pradesh against caste politics.
Fielding former BSP leaders such as Babu Singh Kushwaha, Daddan Mishra, Badshah Singh, and Awadhesh Kumar Verma could have brought in a great deal of Dalit votes into the BJP fold. Somewhere in this entire scenario, demonetisation failed to be a major issue.
The 2017 assembly elections were pitched as the launch of a new generation – be it Akhilesh Yadav or Rahul Gandhi and his sibling Priyanka Gandhi. INC now faces a major leadership crisis and needs some introspection on the role of the Gandhi family in what could be its battle for existence.
“Trishankhu Vidhan Sabha”
In the early months leading up to the Uttar Pradesh Vidhan Sabha elections 2017, Mayawati and the SP seemed to be the greatest opponents that the BJP would face. Mayawati, however, failed to capitalise on the initial momentum and SP stepped up to claim the limelight. At this stage, perhaps, SP could have managed to garner quite enough support to return to power.
The dramatic feud between the party supremo Mulayam Singh Yadav and his son, the state’s CM, Akhilesh Yadav, shook the faith of the electorate in the party’s ability to form a stable government. Akhilesh was ousted from the party and later reinstated, but Mulayam abstained from actively campaigning for his son in the run up to the elections. PM Modi in his Poorvachal campaign had said – Don’t vote for a Trishankhu Vidhan Sabha (a divided assembly). That is the sentiment that must have dominated the minds of voters across the state of UP.
The Shift To Brand Modi
BJP has overwhelmingly credited PM Modi for the electoral victory in UP. Undoubtedly, Brand Modi managed to work its magic with the PM himself campaigning heavily ahead of the seventh phase. The BJP has managed to bag all eight seats in Varanasi, the PM’s home constituency. Throwing accusations of communal polarisation to the wind, the economically backward classes of UP have united to back Modi and his brand of leadership. While on the one hand this could be BJP’s stepping stone to gain the confidence of Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Karnataka in the upcoming assembly elections, it also places upon the party a huge pressure to launch a massive developmental campaign for the economic uplift of the masses in Uttar Pradesh.
Big Question Ahead
BJP has won the mandate of the people of Uttar Pradesh. But there is still one major unanswered question that looms over the state. Who will be the next Chief Minister? A number of names such as Rajnath Singh, Keshav Prasad Maurya, Yogi Adityanath, Srikanth Sharma, Dinesh Sharma, and Manoj Sinha have been suggested as possible CM candidates for the state. It remains to be seen who among these will be the face of BJP in the state for the next five years.