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The Next Battlefield


BJP is looking at a potent combination of upper caste and backward caste votes to realise its ‘Mission 265’ goal in the upcoming Uttar Pradesh assembly polls
PRAMOD KUMAR | Issue Dated: May 5, 2016, New Delhi
Tags : Assembly Elections | BJP | INC | BSP | Samajwadi Party | Chief Minister Nitish Kumar |

In ways more than one, the 2017 Assembly Elections in Uttar Pradesh is a battle of semantics as well. While the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to see it as a “Key to Success” poll; the opposition has time and again insinuated with the use of the “Waterloo” moniker that these elections will prove for BJP to be the final nail in the proverbial coffin.

The next assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh will be no less than a literal war for the parties involved. On one hand will be Bharatiya Janata Party and on the other hand will be parties like Bahujan Samaj Party, Indian National Congress and the Nitish Kumar-led ‘Janata Parivar.’ The ruling Samajwadi Party, a formidable force still, will make it a triangular contest.

Uttar Pradesh has been a laboratory of caste-based identity politics. And like any laboratory, there are hard data and predictions based on those data. The data and prediction indicates that it will be Bahujan Samaj Party’s turn this time around to rule the state. Samajwadi Party, for all practical purposes, is on the back foot. But that is not to suggest that it has run out of tricks. Far from it. Samajwadi Party has had the history of taking Muslim voters for granted, and this has not backfired till now. An amalgamation of Muslim votes with its core Yadav and other  Backward Caste votes can still spring as an elixir for the party.

But that’s not all. Buoyed by the victory in Bihar, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar is trying to bring in different factions of the old Janata Dal family and is aspiring to cobble up an alliance with Congress Party, with his sights firmly set on 7, Race Course Road.

Therefore, it won’t be an exaggeration to say that not only the personal prestige of the parties, but even of these party leaders is on stake in the upcoming election. And before you say that this sounds too far-fetched, rest assured that this election will also clear the scenario for the 2019 general elections in the country. This will have an immediate impact on the political health of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, his team mate & party president Amit Shah, and Om Mathur, who is in charge of the party in the state.

Political pundits swear by the potency of this Modi-Shah-Mathur troika. Without a shred of doubt, this is the most powerful troika in the country now. The way they politically purged L. K. Advani and his aides and then went on to harvest the internal squabble among opposition parties to score a splendid victory in Uttar Pradesh is itself a story worth telling for many years from now. Their long term strategy not only proved to be effective but developed a life of its own. It is also because of this strategy that the Prime Minister retained the Varanasi seat over Sabarmati in Gujarat. It was a clear signal that he is here to stay for long.

At the same time, make no mistake, there was no love lost for Varanasi. It was not love at first sight either. It was the product of a cold and calculated machination. Not only is Varanasi well connected to the entire India by an ebullient rail network, it has multiple direct roadways' connections to states as far as West Bengal. The area of Eastern Uttar Pradesh is also the most conducive one for any big ticket developmental projects. It is one of the most visited cities in India by foreign tourists. Any development of the city will reflect favourably on those tourists, which in turn spreads Modi’s fame far and wide.

Dr A. K. Singh, who belongs to one of the erstwhile royal families from the area, says, "Congress might have ruled for 60 years but they should learn a trick or two from Modi and his team. We were bewildered initially by his new-found love for the city of Benaras, but as the assembly polls draw near, we have started to make sense of this move of his. Since it is his constituency, it will develop automatically. And if it is a tip of an iceberg, then it will send such a signal to the people of Uttar Pradesh that no one will be able to stop the Bharatiya Janata Party from forming the government in Uttar Pradesh.”

Talking of Amit Shah’s “Jeeto Uttar Pradesh” program, it appears that ‘Mission 265’ is a sort of a semi-final for the next Lok Sabha elections in 2019. The party had scored 71 seats in the last general elections from Uttar Pradesh. It therefore wants to win as many as 265 assembly seats, which fall in these 71 Lok Sabha constituencies. Amit Shah has refrained from directly taking the charge of the state once again. He has given this responsibility to his very dependable Om Mathur. Om Mathur in the past has scored successfully during the Gujarat and Maharashtra assembly elections for the party. That he can keep the cadres disciplined and focused is a foregone conclusion and has been witnessed in the past. Yet, Uttar Pradesh is a difficult nut to crack in many other ways. Mathur has made Lucknow his temporary residence for over a year and a half now. Talking to TSI, he says, “Bharatiya Janata Party is a cadre-based party. And if these cadres get able and confident leadership, they gain the confidence to win any election that is in front of them. At this time, we are lucky to have both. We have a strong organisation and an able leadership in the form of Prime Minister Modi and President Amit Shah. This has filled the state cadres with joy and confidence. I say with utmost confidence that they will not only win the election for the party but will usher in a government with absolute majority, which will work for the development of the state and its people.” Bharatiya Janata Party believes that Uttar Pradesh is a laboratory of identity-based politics and that is why it is going for an amalgamation of forward caste and  Backward Caste votes. Keshav Maurya has been appointed as the State President. It is expected that they will announce a chief ministerial candidate from among the upper castes. Maurya belongs to the  Backward Caste community from the historical Phulpur constituency. An old-timer from Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Maurya is an expert in politicking and had a pivotal role in the Ram Mandir movement. People from inside the organisation believe that this move will boost the party’s image among people who were active in the Ram Mandir movement. Upper castes are no wonder peeved with Maurya’s appointment. But Madhu Mishra’s expulsion from the party for six years strengthened the authority of the new leader. “Maurya is supreme here.
His appointment has come following long deliberations inside the party. He has been selected by the Parliamentary Board. Unless we give chance to new faces, how can we expect new leaders to come of age?” asks Mathur rhetorically.

But Bharatiya Janata Party is an ideological party and those who are ideologically inclined believe that Bharatiya Janata Party’s core vote bank remains the upper caste voters, especially Brahmins. The party has taken notice of this and is planning to put forward a name from the community for the chief ministerial post. But there are lots of deliberations to be done. The main bone of contention is whether to follow the Maharashtra and Haryana model where the chief minister was selected by the MLAs from among themselves; or to appoint some big shot from the Centre, like it was done with Sarbananda Sonowal in Assam. The second option can see Home Minister Rajnath Singh or Union MSME Minister Kalraj Mishra as a front runner. Dr. Mahesh Sharma and Manoj Sinha are also being seen as the dark horses in this race.

Rajnath Singh does not want to be seen vying for the post explicitly. However, he has several plus points with him that include his previous tenure as the chief minister and his background as a leader from the agrarian community. RSS can decide to send him to Uttar Pradesh again. The party is also deliberating whether or not to promote Kalraj Mishra as the Brahmin face of the party. Dr. Mahesh Sharma has also set his eyes on the post, but to his detriment, he is from Rajasthan and his Sharma surname might not reap the expected benefit among Brahmins. Manoj Sinha’s name was tossed up for the post of the party President too but his focus is to make his constituency into another Noida and many believe that he has taken a step or two towards that direction.

Of all the government departments that are regularly used to score political brownie points, Railways is probably on the top of the list. As Minister of State for Railways, Manoj Sinha has opened the doors of his department for the state. From starting new railway projects to personally monitoring their progress, Sinha is directly involved in everything significant. There have been a slew of announcements regarding new lines, doubling of tracks, electrification, connecting the Buddha Circuit with railway lines, et al.

However his biggest stress is on converting unmanned crossings into manned crossings and underpasses in order to reduce the loss of life. As far as the slew of announcements is concerned, every ministry is now focused on Uttar Pradesh. It is expected that after the Finance Bill is passed, the state will be flooded with multiple stone laying ceremonies of various small and big ticket projects including the Ganges Cleaning project and several other infrastructural projects.

The state is reeling under drought and it is expected that the present state government will ask for a significant relief package. Sources confirm that during one of his election rallies, the Prime Minister might announce a package regarding the same. While Ram Mandir expectably would be put to the back burner, the proposal to split the state into five smaller states would be announced in the manifesto.

As far as electioneering is concerned, Prime Minister Modi will be the main star attraction in the rallies leading up to the polls. However the “A Lister” ministers will also be roped in considering the size of the state. These ministers will take care of the respective commissionaires. There is a plan to bring in those faces too who attract votes. But before the government does any of these, it wants to establish its image as a protector of the common man. This will include bringing in tax offenders such as Mallaya, liquidation or extradition of runaway fugitives or terrorists or even sending certain opposition leaders to jail over corruption. In short, it wants to give an image of a party which prefers transparency and has a clean image. And it wants to do all this before the elections are due in Uttar Pradesh. Then again, since the party wants to attract Brahmin votes, it might also be open to the idea of appointing Kalraj Mishra as the head of the campaign in the state. At the same time, Minister Najma Heptullah has also been mobilised and is ergo expected to announce some projects targeted at the minorities. Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi too has been given the task of garnering the Muslim vote. Only recently, a team of Muslim leaders and intellectuals met the PM and held critical discussions. Consequently, it is expected that Shia Muslims will side with the BJP as they did during the General Elections.

The state has over 24 percent voters with the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe background. Muslims come at number two with around 20 percent votes. Brahmins, Thakur, Kurmis and Yadav are in substantial numbers as well. The Extremely Backward Caste also holds sway in several of the constituencies. In fact, Backward and Extremely Backward castes form 54 percent of the electorate. This is precisely why Bharatiya Janata Party has appointed Maurya as the party president.

Among the Backward Castes, Maurya, Kushwaha, Koiries and Kachhis form over eight percent of the electorate. While BJP gets some votes from every section excluding Muslims, it draws most of its strength from Brahmin, Thakur and Bania voters. Yadavs form 19 percent of the total voters and have traditionally been voting for Samajwadi Party. BJP hence is focusing on other castes from this section who might have grievances with the Yadav dominated Samajwadi Party. A section of Shia Muslims also tends to traditionally vote for the party.

The party has also started focusing on rural areas through the implementation of Gram Swaraj Abhiyan, which was launched to coincide with Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar’s birthday on the 14th of April of this year. They are also focusing on agrarian conventions. The youth wing of the party is focused on manning the booths and starting a booth level contact program. This is being directly overseen by president Maurya. Block level party leaders will be given the responsibility to canvas 10 villages each. BJP has 41 members in the 403 member assembly. In 1991, riding on the Ram Mandir wave, the party formed the government with absolute majority. They had won 221 seats in the then 425 member undivided house. Maurya and others are confident that it is therefore BJP's election to lose than anyone else’s to win. They believe that not only will they win the elections, they will also pave the way for the 2019 general elections.


Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are shocked by my appointment as State President...

Keshav Maurya, State Bharatiya Janata Party President, Uttar Pradesh

In the last decade and a half, Bharatiya Janata Party has been fighting for the second or third position in the Uttar Pradesh assembly elections. It’s a matter of prestige this time for the party and the PM. What are your realistic chances this time?

We will achieve “Mission 265” based on the same agenda with which we won 71 seats in the last Lok Sabha elections. Forget about the past, the BJP of today is much ahead of main opposition parties like Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party. In the Lok Sabha elections, under the able leadership of Prime Minister  Narendra Modi and Bharatiya Janata Party President Amit Shah, we have marginalized Congress to its lowest level ever. In the same way, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party will be marginalized in the forthcoming assembly elections in UP.

Being a leader from the Other Backward Caste (OBC) community, your appointment looks like an experiment with the social equation of UP.

The party has given me a huge responsibility which I will fulfil with the support of every worker of the state unit. Needless to say, Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party are shocked by my appointment as State President. Panic has gripped the cadres of these parties like it had never before.

To balance existing social equations, will BJP project someone from the forward castes as Chief Minister?

These things are decided by the parliamentary board of the party, which is the supreme decision making body. As an ordinary worker of a great party, I have been given a responsibility to win 265 seats and I am positive that I’ll be able to achieve that.

You were part of the Ayodhya Movement once. Will it again be made the main issue in the UP elections?

The matter is subjudice. So it is not proper to comment on the Ram Mandir Issue. It is also true that we don’t have an absolute majority in the Rajya Sabha to bring a legislation. It is also true that it is an emotional issue, which can be resolved with mutual understanding. If this issue can be resolved before elections, it will certainly help BJP. Whether this issue will be central in the polls or not, let me clarify that BJP never intends to take advantage of this issue, as alleged by SP and Congress. In fact, it is SP and Congress who drag this issue up time and again. I suggest that these parties should resolve the issue themselves and construct a temple and take as much advantage and credit as they can.

What will be the main issues in this election then?

Misrule, law and order situation and to make UP free from the clutches of casteist parties like SP and BSP. We will make “SP-BSP Mukt UP” our proposition. We will defeat these forces and will concentrate on development to ensure UP achieves the status of the most developed state. We will establish the lost glory of this state once again.

- -Ajit Pathak


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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017