UP results as seen from across the border

March 16, 2017 12:52 PM


Out of the over 100 people I talked to during my visit to Varanasi, 95 percent intended to vote for Modi and thought that the Bharatiya Janata Party could overwhelmingly sweep Uttar Pradesh’s (UP) elections – as it did the general elections of 2014.

But my secular friends in Delhi were predicting a hung assembly the way they had forecast in 2014. When my prediction unfortunately proved right, I was mocked for having the third eye of Shiva to see the coming verdict, even though my friends, who have been squeezed into a corner by the rise of Hindutva, could not see such a verdict coming again.

After these state elections, Prime Minister Modi has emerged as a strongman of India (like the iron lady, Indira Gandhi). The media is quick to spin the BJP’s victory as Modi’s personal victory. Along with his surrogate Amit Sha, president of the BJP, he has risen above the party, the cabinet and the traditional establishment of Delhi. In fact, all traditional players of the capital are out in the cold.

However, Vijay Shankar Upadhyaya, a brilliant socio-political analyst, aptly described Narendra Modi’s phenomenal appeal across all Hindu castes and his BJP’s landslide victory in the state elections of UP and Uttarakhand, due to Modi’s populist platform of “communalised development”.

The results of five state elections in India, with three states (Punjab, Manipur and Goa) going to the Congress Party and the two larger states (UP and Uttarakhand) swept by the BJP, might create an illusion of an evenly poised divided polity. Later, the BJP succeeded in outflanking the single largest party (Congress) in Goa, where the sitting BJP government was defeated, and Manipur, where the BJP showed a very impressive beginning by smartly but dubiously winning over other smaller parties and independents looking for favour from the centre. The fact is that it is Prime Minister Modi who has swayed India’s politics by combining development with majoritarian communalisation of politics. There is apparently a slim chance of a challenger emerging at the national level till 2024.

An overconfident Modi in his victory speech at the BJP headquarters in Delhi claimed to have five years to make a post-Nehruian “New India” around his appeal for vikas (development). What is most interesting is his newfound emphasis on the poor – despite representing Corporate India and the upper castes. It may be noted that the construction of the Ram temple was neither mentioned during a prolonged election campaign, nor even slightly referred to on the occasion of the victory celebrations, even though an ideologue of the RSS reiterated the Parivar’s pledge to start its construction.

Despite fanning communal divide while referring to the neglect of shamshaan ghats (cremation places) and supply of electricity during Ramazan and Muslim congregations under an obliging SP rule while comparing its scarce availability to Hindus during their festivals, Modi still persisted with his campaign’s main theme of ‘development for all’. The BJP appealed to the poor with the slogan of “Gharib, Gharib, Ek Saman; Hindu Ho Ya Musalman” (Poor are the same; Hindu or Muslims), but did not award a single ticket to a Muslim. This was ostensibly to abolish the Muslim factor in electoral politics. That may cost it quite heavily in Kerala and West Bengal but will help the party resurrect its saffron ideal of a Hindu Nationalist Rashtra.

The real barometer of his resounding success is the massive victories in UP, Uttarakhand and the impressive showing in the north-eastern state of Manipur. In the post-Ram Janmabhoomi movement period and Mandal-driven upsurge among lower castes (Dalits and Yadavs in particular) against upper castes, Modi broke the backbone of Jatiwad (caste-based politics) and Parivarwad (dynastic politics) while also puncturing the balloon of a balancing ‘Muslim vote bank’.

Combining development with across-the-caste communalisation and building a grand coalition of ‘forward castes’, ‘non-Yadav OBCs’ and ‘Jatav-Dalits’, he overwhelmingly won in most of the constituencies that are considered to be strongholds of the Yadavs (like Manipuri, Etah, Etawah), Dalits (Budelkhand and Agra) and Muslims (Aligarh, Muzaffarnagar, Deband and Moradabad).

Opposed to his widely appealing slogan – ‘sab ka sath, sab ka vikas’ (development for all) – the narrowly based caste-based parties (Yadav’s Samajwadi Party (SP) in alliance with the Congress and Dalits’ Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) could not keep their disillusioned traditional support base, despite making cheap promises to lure voters who had were fed up of the ‘rule of the corrupt’ of the SP and BSP’s successive governments in UP. Before Modi’s charismatic and communal populist appeal the Congress even lost even all the four seats in Amethi – the traditional constituency of the Nehrus.

Most important is Hindutva’s victory in what could be perceived as the disenfranchisation of the Muslims, even though the BSP allocated around 100 tickets and the SP-Congress alliance awarded over 70 tickets to Muslims. Muslims are 38.4 million (19.2 percent) of the 200 million people living in UP and their vote is quite crucial in 34 of 80 Lok Sabha seats and 130 of the 403 seats of the state assembly. Their share in representation has fallen from 17.1 percent to 5.9 percent and they have won only 24 seats compared to 68 seats in 2012 with no representation in Lok Sabha. Some of the reasons of their rout are: multiple Muslim candidates divided their votes, splitting of votes across constituencies and reservation of seats for the Scheduled Castes.

Another example of Modi’s appeal was witnessed in backward eastern UP or Poorvanchal, which had been the bastion of caste politics and Ansari artisans. Here Yogi Adityanath has socially engineered a broad coalition of Hindus from Bahraich to Gorakhpur to counter Muslims and the spread of madressahs which he dubs the “hub of terrorism”.

After these state elections, Prime Minister Modi has emerged as a strongman of India (like the iron lady, Indira Gandhi). The media is quick to spin the BJP’s victory as Modi’s personal victory. Along with his surrogate Amit Sha, president of the BJP, he has risen above the party, the cabinet and the traditional establishment of Delhi. In fact, all traditional players of the capital are out in the cold.

With the corporate sector backing him, despite facing some temporary problem with the demonetisation issue, and the support of a flourishing middle class, Modi is on his way to consolidate a Hindu majoritarian nationalist state with big power ambitions that are shared by most shades of opinion. Unlike the timid and remote-controlled ‘accidental prime minister’, Manmohan Singh, Modi is a man of his own destiny (which stands opposite to the Nehru legacy.

However, a stronger prime minister of India is perhaps in a far better position to negotiate with Pakistan and take some courageous decisions while proving to be tougher in the face of perpetual adversity. Modi’s development design requires smoother regional and inter-regional connectivity. An energy-hungry India needs access through the shortest route to Central Asia and Iran.

On the other hand, Pakistan is too preoccupied with its war against internal terror and on unstable the Af-Pak region, and would like to ease its eastern front. Both Pakistan and India are now about to become full members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. China is investing loads of money on its One Road One Belt project and is likely to divert surplus capital from investing in the US to Asia.

India is China’s largest trading partner and Beijing is keen to let India join OBOR which is going to connect whole of Asia. China and Pakistan are also expecting India to join the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. Instead of fighting battles for smaller territories, greater regional trade and economic partnership can create dynamic interdependence that can help resolve bilateral disputes in a win-win situation. Can we expect both prime ministers to grab the opportunity and kick-start the stalled process of reconciliation and dialogue?

The writer is a senior journalist.

Email: imtiaz.safma@gmail.com


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