As Uttar Pradesh goes into the Assembly elections, with the first phase of polling getting over on 10 February, electoral speculations are on full swing. For a state like Uttar Pradesh there are several factors at play that would decide the poll outcome. And after going through each of these factors, it seems the BJP has an advantage over others despite anti-incumbency and farmers’ protests.
Caste fault lines
A lot has been said in recent times about the Brahmin-Rajput rivalry and Brahmins’ anger with the BJP. Shashikant Pandey, HoD, Political Science at the Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University (BBAU), Lucknow, however, feels that this perceived anger has been blown out of proportion. Gilles Verniers, associate professor, Political Science, Ashoka University, also shares the same view. While Pandey calls the perceived rivalry as a “rivalry within family” Verniers thinks it's “an inflated rivalry”.
Be it the Ram Janmabhoomi Trust, the Shri Kashi Vishwanath Nyas Parishad, the UP Higher Education Services Commission, the UP Public Services Commission, and even the Yogi ministry, Brahmins remain the main decision-makers in the Yogi government. In the 2007 Assembly elections, 46 out of the 80 Brahmin candidates fielded by BSP emerged victorious with Mayawati forming the government in UP. However, the CSDS-Lokniti study reveals that a mere 17 per cent of Brahmin votes went to the BSP in 2007.
BSP chief Mayawati has not been asserting lately and remains low profile. Her electoral fortunes have not been favourable, so it would be an exaggeration to say that she would be able to throw any serious challenge this time. Satish Mishra, the deputy of BSP supremo, in August 2021 promised support for the construction of Ram Mandir. The BSP is trying hard to unite the Brahmin voters in its favour.
Similar attempts have been made by the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Congress. The SP has organised a series of Brahmin Sabhas in Uttar Pradesh apart from setting up a ‘Bhagwan Parshuram Trust’.
The opposition party’s effort to ‘unite Brahmins’ seems to be awkward because as per the CSDS study, 82 per cent Brahmins voted for the BJP in the last Lok Sabha elections. Collectively, the Brahmins are more likely to connect with the tokenism, imagery, issues, and politico-religious posturing of the BJP than any other party.
The SP has a loyal vote bank in the form of Yadav community which forms around 10 per cent of the state’s population. The non-Yadav OBCs constitute 35 per cent of Uttar Pradesh’s population consisting of diverse communities like Kurmis, Koeris, Sahus, Sainis, Kashyaps, Mauryas, etc. Post-Mandal, most of them remained with the SP until an over-dominance of Yadavs in the party drifted them all. The BJP started wooing the OBCs by projecting leaders from the community like Vinay Katiyar, Kalyan Singh, Uma Bharti, etc. The BJP got 72 per cent vote share from non-Yadav OBCs and a 23 per cent vote share from Yadavs in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls (CSDS data). Clearly, the OBC outreach efforts have worked for the BJP.
Like OBC, the Dalit votes are also non-monolithic. Mayawati got an impressive 86.7 per cent Jatav votes in 2017 Assembly elections and 75 per cent Jatav votes in 2019 Lok Sabha elections. But 45 per cent of the non-Jatav SC votes were bagged by the BJP in the 2019 elections. The non-Jatav SCs and the non-Yadav OBCs have deserted the BSP and SP respectively for the BJP. The Rajputs are 7 per cent of the total UP population and the community has rallied rock solid behind the BJP. A CSDS data points that 89 per cent of community votes went to the BJP in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. It doesn’t look like drifting away from the BJP.
Law and order
The Yogi government has gone hard on the state mafia. Most of them, be it Mukhtar Ansari, Atik Ahmed, Brijesh Kumar Singh, Munir or Akash Jat, are in jail with their assets attached. UP was a state marred down with musclemen and criminal warlords but now under Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, the law and order has been revamped. Yogi’s return to power would ensure that criminals remain under gallows while a regime change would unleash the mafia on the state.
Corruption and Welfare
The SP-BSP rule was frequented with cases of corruption. Gomti riverfront scam, Smarak Scam, Recruitment Scam, Foodgrain Scam, Sugar Mill Scam… the list is long. Yogi’s administration, in contrast, has remained untainted by high-profile cases of corruption. Consequently, the welfare schemes like free ration, giving money to women under various schemes, etc, have been implemented without much leakage. Remarkably, BJP has been able to deliver welfarist schemes to the vulnerable sections. Add to this the payments made to the sugarcane farmers, the construction of new roads and expressways, the record procurement of food grains at the MSP, and the Yogi government seems to have an edge over others.
Taking a leaf out of his former ally’s Rahul Gandhi’s book, Akhilesh Yadav of late is on a temple run. From Ayodhya to Kashi Vishwanath and Chitrakoot to Vimalnath, the SP chief regularly visits temples and even posts photographs with Hindu seers on his social media accounts. Akhilesh even claimed that under his party, the Ram temple at Ayodhya would be built within a year.
Political compulsions aside, self-proclaimed champions of secularism fail to realise the dent soft Hindutva does to their camp. Hindutva remains the BJP’s den and it cannot be defeated on its home turf! Soft Hindutva fades in front of the original Hindutva.
The RSS and the BJP have a very strong cadre presence in UP. Ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s advent on national politics, the RSS rank and file has swelled up. The SP or the BSP come nowhere close to the organisational might of the Sangh. Moreover, RSS views Yogi as a future national leader and is willing to throw its might behind him. The Modi-Shah duo also know the importance of the UP Assembly elections in their runoff to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
Owaisi factor and Muslims
Asaduddin Owaisi has started to occupy the larger political space but in UP the fortune may not favour him. Muslims constitute 19 per cent of the state’s population but they’re mostly concentrated in the western part of the state, which is a stronghold of Deoband. The Deobandi school was formed at Saharanpur in 1867 and since then the Islamic theological centre has had a considerable influence on Indian politics, especially in Uttar Pradesh. Mostly, the Muslim voters have voted under Deobandi influence. Deoband knows too well that Owaisi’s gain would be at the loss of the SP, BSP and Congress. It would be impossible for Owaisi to undermine Deoband’s influence, so his party won’t possibly be able to open the accounts in UP. Muslims most likely would vote for SP but in the absence of any caste impetus, it would not convert into required seats.
The odds are in favour of Yogi Adityanath. Under him, Uttar Pradesh has shed the image of a rogue state. Uttar Pradesh’s COVID-19 management has been praised by all and sundry, including the WHO, British High Commission and Australian MP Jason Wood.
The recently released NITI Aayog Health Index for 2019-20 grabbed headlines in which UP was ranked at the bottom. However, the rankings for incremental growth from the base year (2018-19) to the reference year (2019-20) paints a different picture. UP tops the list for incremental growth which means that under Adityanath, the state has been improving its health index better than any other state of India.
The writer is an educationalist and a political analyst. Views expressed are personal.