Exodus from BJP in Uttar Pradesh impact prevailing perception but is it too early to bet ?
BJP changed CMs in Gujarat, Karnataka and Uttarakhand but stopped short in UP. Replacing Yogi may or may not have helped the party but the exodus of OBC ministers and MLAs have changed perceptions
Political upheavals in Uttar Pradesh this week would superficially indicate that caste has again trumped religion, heralding triumph of Mandal over Mandir.
All eyes are naturally on Uttar Pradesh as the approximately 15 Crore voters in the vast and awkward state (population: 24 crore) prepare to elect a new legislature. The state also elects 80 of the 543 Members of the Lok Sabha and 31 out of the 245 in the Rajya Sabha, which is why UP plays a pivotal role in deciding who would be the next Prime Minister.
Although few chief ministers, in fact just three of them, have completed their full term, Yogi Adityanath did complete his. Though the state has a history of not returning the incumbent, Bharatiya Janata Party had made it clear that both Modi and ‘Maharaj’, as the Yogi prefers to be called, would lead the party’s campaign in 2022. Re-electing Yogi, it made it clear, was imperative to ensure BJP’s victory in the general election of 2024. But the carefully cultivated narrative that the election would be fought between the “80% on one hand and 20% on the other” lies in tatters following this week’s ‘minor’ exodus from the party.
Resignation of three ministers and eight BJP MLAs in three days this week, with more to come it would seem, have disturbed the caste coalition engineered in 2017 by Amit Shah. Ayodhya, Kashi and Mathura, it would appear, are no longer enough to keep Hindus on the side of BJP.
Upper castes and Dalits are said to constitute half the population of the state, the rest comprising Other Backward Castes (OBCs). BJP had forged OBCs, Dalits and the upper castes together as ‘Hindus’. But the exodus of OBC ministers would indicate that religion has failed to act as the glue.
Swami Prasad Maurya had been a minister in the BSP government headed by Mayawati, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Assembly when Akhilesh Yadav was chief minister. A veteran, Maurya is also described by reporters in jest as the weathercock who can sense which way the wind is blowing. He had the option of quitting earlier like Om Prakash Rajbhar did. But by waiting till the election was notified, he has strengthened the suspicion that his decision was motivated by shifting sands.
With Maurya denting BJP’s prospects in eastern Uttar Pradesh and the BJP already on the backfoot in the West, where Jat and Muslim farmers are rallying against the BJP, at this moment, it appears doubtful if Yogi Adityanath would be able to buck the trend in UP of voting out the incumbent.
Brahmins, who constitute 12% of the voters in the state (and 20% in eastern districts) have often determined electoral outcomes in eastern Uttar Pradesh. BJP’s base was largely confined to Banias (traders) and a section of Brahmins. While the party’s OBC outreach had begun with Kalyan Singh in the 1990s, a new caste engineering was initiated in 2017 when Yogi Adityanath, a Thakur and head of the Gorakhpanthi sect, was installed as chief minister. This upset both Brahmins and the Banias.
Sensing last year that it could no longer take Brahmin support for granted, BJP has bent over backwards during the past one year to win them over. Grand spectacles in Ayodhya and Kashi followed. When Akhilesh Yadav offered Puja to Parashuram, a Brahmin known as a slayer of Kshatriyas, BJP quickly unveiled a statue of Parashuram in Lucknow, accusing Akhilesh Yadav of being a pretender. Still a whisper campaign is gaining ground that demolishing smaller temples to make way for the Kashi corridor was a bad omen.
The age-old faultlines had already emerged in the wake of the pandemic, farmers’ stir, growing unemployment and rising prices. with Jats and OBCs also seemingly drifting away, BJP is in deep trouble.
It is possibly too early to say how fresh caste coalitions would work. But the exodus from the BJP is causing seismic shifts. And if the claim that the exodus would continue till January 20 is correct, then the spring of 2022 promises interesting results.
(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)
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