Uttar Pradesh: The BJP looks for scapegoats

The party line is that BJP supporters were so sure of their victory they didn’t think it necessary to actually step out and vote

Supporters in Lucknow celebrate the Samajwadi Party's victory in the Lok Sabha elections
Supporters in Lucknow celebrate the Samajwadi Party's victory in the Lok Sabha elections

Saiyed Zegham Murtaza

The knives are out. The BJP is looking for scapegoats for its electoral debacle in UP. The party line is that BJP supporters were so sure of their victory they didn’t think it necessary to actually step out and vote. ‘Modi magic’ would ensure victory, so party workers didn’t work overtime. The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) was not active in the state. J.P. Nadda had declared the party no longer needed the RSS crutch. Etcetera etcetera.

Meanwhile, factions within the state unit are busy pointing fingers at each other. The rumour mill had anyway been saying Yogi Adityanath would be sidelined after the election. As the most wanted Hindutva poster boy for the state, Modi would keep Yogi on a leash. Rajput anger created further tension between the two.

Political analysts recall that in 2017, Modi had not wanted Yogi as chief minister. His preference was either Manoj Sinha (currently lieutenant-governor of Jammu & Kashmir) or Dinesh Sharma, the former mayor of Lucknow who was apparently vetoed by the RSS.

Yogi supporters have been belligerent in his defence: Was it Yogiji who selected the candidates? Was it he who was managing the election in the state? Didn’t the BJP use him as a star campaigner across the country, from Assam to Kerala? Wasn’t he crisscrossing the country, delivering speeches, invoking Narendra Modi and ‘Ram Lalla’?

Why blame Yogi when he delivered all the seats in and around Gorakhpur? Why not deputy chief ministers Keshav Prasad Maurya and Brijesh Pathak? Didn’t Maurya fail to deliver even one seat, while all Pathak had to offer was a mixed bag of wins and losses? So who’s the villain here?

Did the PM win or lose?

In Varanasi, the prime minister’s constituency, Union home minister Amit Shah had set up camp with half the Union cabinet. Large contingents of political workers from Gujarat pitched their tents alongside. Virtually all Hindutva mascots, including Madhavi Latha from Hyderabad, campaigned vociferously for the prime minister, as did BJP national president J.P. Nadda.

Modi’s very own trusted officers were in town to coordinate with the administration and the election commission and its observers. Yet, nobody seems to be blaming any of them for the prime minister’s wafer-thin victory margin.

“Everybody in Lucknow and Varanasi knew that the prime minister was trailing during the counting. This was the reason why it was slowed down after 4.00 pm. Votes were manipulated before he was declared the winner late at night,” said a BJP leader.

His contention was supported by a BJP ‘worker’ identified as Ujjwal Kumar Mishra, who said on social media platforms, “Unko derh lakh vote dilaya gaya (he was ‘allocated’ 1.5 lakh votes).” The implication is that Modi had actually lost before this win was ‘managed’ for him.

Even Kishori Lal Sharma’s victory margin over Union minister Smriti Irani in Amethi was higher than Modi’s in Varanasi. “He knows he lost; the officials know he lost; and Yogi not only knows he lost but also how he won,” reflected a journalist in Lucknow. Now it was practically impossible for Modi to show Yogi the door.

Observers in New Delhi, however, wonder if Yogi’s case is really that strong. They remarked on his visible tension during the NDA parliamentary party’s meeting. They also noted that Doordarshan, the public broadcaster, kept zooming in on Yogi’s unsmiling face and shared that feed with all other TV channels.

The CSDS–Lokniti survey

The only real ‘surprise’ thrown up by the post-poll survey conducted by CSDS–Lokniti in Uttar Pradesh is the number of respondents who wanted to see Rahul Gandhi as prime minister. While 32 per cent preferred Modi to continue as PM, 36 per cent named the Congress leader as their choice. The two Bharat Jodo Yatras do seem to have had some impact on voters in a state where the Congress has been out of power for over three decades.

Otherwise, the survey’s findings were on predictable lines. Upper caste and Vaishya voters largely favoured the BJP while OBCs, SC and Muslim voters preferred the INDIA bloc. Nine out of 10 Rajput voters favoured the BJP while non-Jatav Dalit voters shifted heavily to the INDIA bloc.

The survey acknowledged that the BJP’s social engineering this time was trumped by Akhilesh Yadav’s alternative social engineering of the PDA (Pichhda–Dalit–Aadhi Abadi) to counter the allegation that the Samajwadi Party (SP) was the party of Muslims and Yadavs. The SP gave tickets to 32 OBCs, 16 Dalits, 10 upper caste candidates and four Muslims.

The survey also noted the anti-incumbency against the sitting BJP MPs, 26 of whom lost the election. It was a mistake to renominate them. The OBCs and Dalits also feared that the BJP would change the Constitution after some BJP leaders made statements to this effect.

Major concerns

The numbers speak louder than words. In 2019, BJP won 49.6 per cent of the votes in UP. This year, they are down to 41.4 per cent, a drop of eight per cent straight. On the other hand, the SP has become the third largest party in the country, winning 37 seats and securing 33.6 per cent of the votes. With the Congress getting 9.46 per cent and the Trinamool Congress 0.47 per cent votes in Bhadohi, the INDIA bloc’s share tots up to 43.52 per cent.

Despite their spectacular and totally unexpected performance in Uttar Pradesh, there are major concerns within the INDIA bloc. People opposed to communal politics are hugely reassured by the fact that the BJP was defeated in UP despite the Ram Temple. They are, however, worried whether the alliance will last till the 2027 Assembly election.

Prof Abdul Quadir of New Delhi’s Jamia Hamdard University points out, “The BJP has a long history of trying to target Samajwadi and Congress MPs in Uttar Pradesh. It remains to be seen how the two parties will deal with this challenge.”

With Modi and Amit Shah back in the saddle at the Centre, both SP and Congress leaders are apprehensive about how to keep the momentum going and the morale of workers up. A major concern would be to keep their MPs together and prevent poaching by the BJP.

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