The bitterly contested and just-concluded Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections were significant for more reasons than one. These elections, on one hand were being viewed as the semifinals before the 2019 Lok Sabha election and on the other, as a pointer towards future political trends. Given its largest population among all the States, the high stakes elections were also being treated as a referendum on Prime Minister Narendra Modi's policies, particularly demonetisation.
At the very onset of elections, a lot of anxiety had built up around west UP not only because the first two stages in this region would set the course for subsequent phases but also because herein lay a crucial test for the BJP’s political strategy.
The consolidation of Jat votes in favour of the BJP, after Muzaffarnagar riots, was an important development in the party’s plans to cement a pan-Hindu vote-bank. Amid the strident campaigning by Ajit Singh’s Rashtriya Lok Dal and Yashpal Malik’s Akhil Bharatiya Jat Arakshan Sangharsh Samiti which toured west UP with a large entourage of volunteers from neighbouring Haryana, critics of the BJP were hoping for a largescale Jat desertion from the BJP's support base.
Although the RLD voteshare increased from 0.8% in the 2014 Lok Sabha election to around 1.8% in these elections, the party managed to get only one MLA elected from Chhaprauli by a margin of a mere 4,000 votes. Only in four other constituencies – Maant and Baldev (in Mathura), Sadabad (in Hathras) and Baraut (in Baghpat district) it ended up second. In Meerut, Muzaffarnagar, Bijnore, Moradabad, Agra and Aligarh, which have pockets of Jat concentration, the RLD was virtually swept away.
Even the doubling of the RLD's vote from 6,90,000 in 2014 to 15,50,000 in 2017 doesn’t convey the full picture. The eight Lok Sabha seats the RLD contested in 2014 covered only 40 Assembly segments as against 150 Assembly seats the party contested this time. Many of these candidates were SP and BSP rebels who were denied tickets by their parent party.
A large chunk of its voteshare also owed to 22 Muslim candidates it had fielded. It is however another matter that none of these candidates could mobilise enough Jat support to be in serious contention on any of the seats. As for Jats as a community, instead of rowing the solo RLD boat, the coming together with the BJP has increased their number of MLAs to 16 from 5 in the last Assembly; 14 of them on BJP tickets.
If the Jat vote disappointed the RLD with the kind of rallying it had hoped for, the Muslim vote was divided in many constituencies right through the middle. For example, in the much spoken of Deoband, the BSP’s Majid Ali polled 73,000 votes as against the SP candidate Maviya Ali’s 55,000 , ensuring a smooth sailing for the BJP’s Brajesh who won securing 1,02,000 votes.
Similarly in Noorpur Assembly constituency of Bijnore district, the division of votes between the SP’s Naeemul Hassan (66,000) and the BSP’s Gauhar Iqbal (46,000) made it possible for the BJP’s Lokendra Singh (79,000) to register his victory.
In Meerapur Assembly constituency of Muzaffarnagar, the BJP’s Avatar Singh Bhadana won by a margin of a mere 193 votes, defeating SP’s Liyaqat Ali. Here the BSP’s Nawazish Alam, who finished third, secured 40,000 votes. This story of Muslim vote division has repeated itself in a dozen constituencies in western UP.
But the story isn’t one-sided. There are Muslim candidates who gained from division of Hindu votes in west UP. Nawab Jaan (SP) from Thakurdwara, Mohammed Faeem (SP) from Bilari, Rafeeq Ansari (SP) from Meerut city and Aslam Chaudhary (BSP) from Dhaulana have benefitted from the division of Hindu votes.
The real big story of the UP elections is the success of the BJP’s social engineering. It isn’t that only the BJP attempted it. Every party attempts it by trying to woo segments besides its core vote-bank. The success of it, besides the macro political drift among identity devoid electorate, is what commentators call “hawa” or political wind.
Cutting across caste lines and except a couple of strongly identity conscious groups, the success of the BJP's social engineering reflected as much in the rural seats as in urban areas.
An interesting aspect of the UP results is the tenacity with which the BJP has held on to its spectacular 2014 Lok Sabha leads in rural seats. In urban seats, however, there is a slight dip. In fact, in some rural Assembly constituencies there is a further increase in its voteshare.
Take Agra district as an example. The BJP has increased its voteshare from 29.29% (2014) to 41.79% (2019) in Bah; 46.9% to 48.6% in Fatehabad; 38.83% to 47.04% in Kheragarh; and 50.19% to 51.97% in Agra Grameen. All these are rural constituencies. On the other hand, despite its candidates managing to win all of them, there is a dip of 1.4% to 3% in all the three urban seats in this district.
The consolidation of the BJP in rural UP should be the biggest cause for the opposition to worry. Sustaining such support over a period of nearly three years, in the absence of an emotive issue, means that the BJP is in UP for a long time to come.
(Author is a long-time observer of UP politics and commentator on current affairs.)
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