The self-styled poll pundits and several media outlets appear to have completely misjudged the verdict in Uttar Pradesh, presumably because of their wishful thinking. And even those who came close to predicting the results correctly seem now busy to attribute the results to reasons that carefully conform to the propaganda of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
While the verdict is being interpreted as an end to identity politics based on caste, it would be naive to believe that the result is a clear sign of caste barriers breaking down. Some commentators also seem convinced that politics of negativity in UP is over and people have voted for development and good governance. Time, and not too long at that, may well prove them wrong.
They seem to overlook the fact that the foundation of BJP's victory in UP has been laid by spreading hatred against three social groups, namely Yadav, Jatav/Chamaar and Muslim. This is quite different from BJP’s 2014 strategy, as at that point of time hatred was limited to Muslims only, while corruption and failure of UPA were equally attractive issues for a party which alone was positioned to replace the Central Government.
This time the BJP changed the strategy as it was aware that having a CM of their own caste is good enough reason for Yadavs and Jatavs to stick to Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party. So it drafted a new script which is centred on how just one caste enjoys all powers and privileges if SP or BSP comes to power. Since both these parties were seen as wooing Muslims extensively, it provided BJP the desired thread of communalism also to bind the remaining communities in a broader social coalition. The BJP machinery was busy in spreading hatred against the said three communities at least since the last six months.
The population of Yadav, Jatav/Chamaar and Muslims in Uttar Pradesh account for around 41%, but since the division of their votes was certain, BJP could afford to focus on the remaining 59% (Upper Caste, non-Yadav OBC, non-Jatav Dalit) for a winnable percentage of 36-37 in a triangular contest.
The hatred spread by the BJP worked so well that it actually got nearly 40% of votes this time, almost touching its 2014 performamce. However, a minute analysis would suggest that while those Yadavs or Jatavs/Chamaars who might have voted for Narendra Modi as Prime Minister in 2014 have now gone back to SP/BSP, new voters of the broad social alliance, who in 2014 had not voted for BJP owing to local reasons, this time voted for the BJP and made good the loss.
BSP, which has secured only 19 seats, still got 23% of the votes polled, which is 3% more than its 2014 performance, and SP-Congress secured 29% against their combined vote share of 30% of 2014. If the theory of these parties losing their base vote was correct, the vote share of these parties could not have been this much as the population of Yadavs and Jatav/Chamaar is only 10% and 14%, respectively.
BJP won this election as it successfully conveyed to voters that it would deliver "SP/BSP se jyada logon ka saath aur karegi Unse Jyada logn ka Vikaas" even if Muslims do not figure among them.
Similarly poll pundits were quick to jump to the conclusion that the verdict indicates a clear cut approval by voters in UP of notebandi. What appears far more plausible is that the state elections for electing a State Government (read police, land issues, education, welfare schemes and other local issues) were influenced by preferences other than the voters’ opinion on notebandi.
Notebandi is a complex economic decision and its full impact is yet to be ascertained amongst conflicting views of economists. Surely people faced tough time in the initial phase of changing the currency notes but thankfully it got over. Voters are generally of the opinion that they faced immense hardships, but they are still not sure whether it would ultimately benefit them or harm the nation's economy. Many voters further opined that Notebandi and other deeds of Modi and their MPs would surely play a crucial part in their minds while deciding 2019 votes, but not this time as it would be premature.
The extremely aggressive campaign run by SP/Congress/BSP on Notebandi actually proved counter-productive as it made people opposed to SP/BSP rule for various reasons, sense that accepting the adverse effects of Notebandi could help SP/BSP to again wrest power. Such was the hatred BJP campaign successfully injected into minds of voters.
Notebandi was such a topic that reaction to it was enough to ascertain the caste/religion of voters. While Yadavs/Jatavs/Muslims were vocal against it, others either kept quiet or defended the decisions with equal vehemence.
This thought was first aired in a tweet by Omar Abdullah, who called on the opposition to start preparing for 2024 instead of 2019. Subsequently others including several TV news anchors echoed the assessment. It could also be a ploy to make both BJP and Modi complacent. It is by now clear that the more vehemently Narendra Modi is targeted by the Opposition, the more sympathy he garners. It allows him to play the victim and draw a parallel with Indira Gandhi who famously said, "Wo kahte hain Indira hatao, Main kahti hu garibi hatao". Keeping BJP/Modi overconfident and a bit unguarded might not be such a poor strategy after all.
Both BJP and Modi would, however, be alive to the challenge they face. Large sections of OBCs and Dalits might have voted this time along with Upper Castes to defeat their perceived common enemy; but to satisfy the aspirations of both without harming each other’s interest will be a daunting task.
UP being a largely feudal society, every supporter of BJP would not be willing to wait like a RSS pracharak till this country becomes a Hindu Rashtra and would immediately want his share of the pie. While being out of power for 14 years worked in its favour, it may also be difficult to restrain ambition of regional leaders in the exercise of power. The BJP’s acid test is to ensure that it does not unravel in Uttar Pradesh too quickly. If it does or fails to deliver on promises, it will provide an opportunity to the opposition to retrieve lost ground well ahead of 2019.
This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own.