1967 TO 2017: A BRIEF ELECTORAL BIOGRAPHY OF UTTAR PRADESH’S TRYST WITH HINDU NATIONALISM
Posted on 2016-07-06 22:16:09
“Upjati chodo, Patel jodo” (forget the sub-caste and use Patel as the surname)
That was the biggest clarion call on that day in Lucknow when more than 2 lakh people had attended the Kurmi Rajnitik Chetna rally of Lucknow in December 1994, just 1 year after the SP-BSP government had come to power. It was a rally organized by Sone Lal Patel (the late father of Anupriya Patel who has been inducted into the Modi ministry today), the then president of BSP in Uttar Pradesh who was also the tallest Kurmi leader of the state. That rally was indeed an OBC revolt against Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s blatant Yadavization of the state by neglecting all other sub-sections and it eventually led to the unraveling of the SP-BSP alliance in the state which had come up with the sole purpose of defeating the BJP in the post Babri demolition election of 1993.
“Ahirs have only one last name – Yadav – but we Kurmis are divided further down the line into Vermas, Patels, Gangwars and others which has resulted in our utter neglect despite being the second largest OBC group in the state” thundered Mr. Sone Lal Patel in that Lucknow rally to loud cheers from the crowd. There were valid reasons for the Kurmi anger of 1994, for Mulayam had indulged in blatantly casteist politics immediately after becoming the CM of the state. Within 1 year of the SP-BSP government coming to power, Yadavs had occupied power in every sphere of UP’s socio-political life. For instance, out of the 900 teachers recruited by the state, a whopping 720 were Yadavs. Similarly, in the state police force, out of the 3151 newly selected candidates, 1223 were Yadavs. In a non-liberalized India this kind of government largesse represented a big deal for the ordinary masses. More importantly, all of this was happening despite of the fact that Yadavs constituted less than 9% of the state’s population!
Mandal politics of the Hindi heartland in the late-80’s and early 90’s had now reached an inflection point. Yadavs who were the most prosperous and also the most educated of the OBC lot were getting all the benefits of Mandalization, including the seat of power, while other segments of the OBCs had been left in the lurch. Thus in Uttar Pradesh’s romance with Mandal polity, that December 1994 Kurmi rally of late Sone Lal Patel proved to be a turning point.
The coming together of SP and BSP was widely hailed by most left-liberal intellectuals of that era as a veritable death knell for the Saffron politics of UP. In fact, hundreds of editorials were written in various publications predicting a doomsday scenario for BJP in the most populous state of India. The fact that BJP had narrowly lost the 1993 state election despite scaling the peak of Hindu political consciousness after the demolition of the Babri Masjid was widely cited as the barometer of Saffron failure in the wake of OBC-Dalit-Muslim unity symbolized by the coming together of SP and BSP. Political logic too dictated that BJP had to fizzle out after having lost the 1993 elections. Yet, all of these assumptions went for a toss after the Kurmi political rally of 1994 which came to embody the OBC angst against Yadav hegemony.
After Sone Lal Patel’s unceremonious exit from BSP, it was BJP that once again emerged as the primary party of non-Yadav and non-Jatav Hindus of Uttar Pradesh. A CSDS poll survey done on the eve of 1996 assembly elections shows how BJP had maintained its hold over vast segments of Hindus despite many doomsday projections by various strands of mainstream media. Not only was BJP getting its traditional votes of upper castes, but also BJP was the first choice of all non-Yadav OBCs. In fact, throughout the decade of 1990’s through 3 state and 3 national elections, BJP under the leadership of Kalyan Singh had maintained a vote share above 31%. Even in the 1996 elections, Kalyan Singh managed to retain nearly 33% vote-share in the state going against all odds and defying political punditry.
The historic journey (Yatra) of the Hindu political thought
We have in the past clearly demonstrated as to how the 20th percentile and the 30th percentile are important resistance zones in India’s electoral college of multi-cornered contests. For instance, in the 2014 elections, wherein Congress fell below the 20% vote-share for the first time, it had to face the ignominy of winning only 44 MPs. On the other hand, BJP which climbed the 30% zone for the first time in 2014, managed to get a clear majority on its own. Historically, in India’s multi-cornered elections, whenever a political party crosses 20% vote-share, it becomes the main opposition force winning a large number of seats; whereas whenever a party touches the 30% vote share milestone, it transforms into ruling party. These are significant numbers in Indian elections, for what they signify is the increasing acceptance of a political party in the society. 20% vote-share signifies that 1 out of every 5th person supports that political party which catapults the party into the power matrix. 30% vote zone signifies that every 3rd person in that state is now supporting that particular political party which puts it as the primary force of the state (this rule is not applicable to straight bipolar states). In the case of BJP’s rise in Uttar Pradesh, one man was on the cutting edge at both these interjections.
Kalyan Singh’s political innings had begun some 3 decades before that 1996 realignment of the Mandal polity in UP. Way back in the 1960’s when Congress was still the dominant political force and RSS was still merely at the political periphery, the Kalyan Singh experiment was the first clear instance of the Sangh building a socio-political coalition of a united Hindu vote. Belonging to the Lodha OBC community of the state, Singh came to symbolize a modern day Kshatriya warrior who would vanquish all to create a new political order. Mahabharata legend has it that when Parashurama killed all the Kshatriyas, Lodhas were the only warrior race who survived his onslaught and established various Lodha kingdoms in the aftermath – which is why Lodhas are popularly known as Lodha-Rajputs. In the modern day, Kalyan Singh came to represent that cleavage of Hindu social alignment where a Lodha would once again lead the Hindu political renaissance.
It was in the 1960’s that Kalyan Singh began assimilating large OBC groups into the Sangh belief system which led to not only his personal victory in the Atrauli assembly seat in 1967 (which he represented for almost 35 years and 10 terms) but also catapulted the BJS (Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the precursor to BJP) to the 20% zone in Uttar Pradesh. In fact, BJS won 22% vote-share and 98 seats in the 425 member assembly of Uttar Pradesh in 1967. Thus, BJP and Sangh have had a solid presence in UP – at least in terms of votes – for 50 years now, going back to more than 2 decades before the advent of the Ram Janam Bhoomi Andolan (known as the ‘RJB movement’ in popular lexicon).
As a matter of fact, the RJB movement was not really the first instance of mass Hindu awakening which had actually taken place for the first time some 5-6 years earlier. In 1983, some 312 chariots traversing the length and breadth of the country had passed through 531 districts (out of 534) covering 4432 blocks (out of 5129) and 184592 villages touching a whopping 72.39 million people. These chariots carried Gangajal (holy water from river Ganges) and a portrait of Bharat Mata to symbolize the unity of Hindu nationalist thought process minus any caste divisions – the Ekatmata Yatra.
The original Ekatmata Yatra of 1983 was the brainchild of Balasaheb Deoras, the then Sarsanghchalak of RSS who understood the necessity of mass contact for political awakening. If Mahatma Gandhi liberated the Congress party from the elite barristers club and took it to the masses, it was Mahatma Deoras who took the Sangh ideology and BJP to the ordinary masses of India. It was during the Deoras era (1973 to 1993) that the Sangh expanded like never before – from 10000 Shakhas in 1977 to 30288 Shakhas in 1994 – and BJP became a national alternative to the Congress.
Kalyan Singh came to symbolize this new Sangh philosophy of “Hindu Ekatmata” in the largest and the most populous state of India. As a result of this ‘social engineering’, BJP jumped from the 20th percentile in the 60’s and 70’s to the 30th percentile in 1991 which gave the party its first (and, till date, it’s last) full majority elected government in Uttar Pradesh.
The re-Sanskritization of Dalits
While the socialists and Mandal politics of backward caste assertion represented one strand of Uttar Pradesh politics and BJP’s pan-Hindu nationalism represented the second strand, there was also a third strand characterized by Dalit emancipation. Contrary to popular belief, Dalit politics of UP preceded Kanshi Ram by at least 2 decades and was grounded in the post-Ambedkarite, quasi-cessionist mindset of its ideologues.
“Jatav Muslim bhai bhai,
Hindu Kaum Kahaan se aayi?”
(While Jatavs and Muslims are in brotherhood where is the space for Hindu religion?)
This was the most militant slogan coined by RPI (Republican Party of India) during the 1962 Uttar Pradesh elections which underlined the deep influence of anti-India forces on the Left leaning Dalit intelligentsia. Chamars/Jatavs who are the biggest Dalit community in Uttar Pradesh accounting to 14% of the state’s population forming the single biggest non-Muslim ethnic group was being systematically dissevered from its Hindu roots.
This attempted experiment of Dalit extraction from the Hindu society was an unnatural exercise at its heart, for despite their historic angst against the Varna system and the justified bitterness against Brahminical school of thought, ordinary Dalits still identified with their inherent Hindu roots. Yet, these cessionist ideas did take their toll and the Dalit political process in Uttar Pradesh remained at loggerheads with the larger Hindu society for the next couple of decades.
The advent of Rama on the map of Hindu consciousness – through the RJB movement’s political expression and Ramanand Sagar’s TV series, Ramayan’s psychosocial expression – began to rebuild the broken bridges between the larger Hindu society and the untouchables. On the ground, it was the relentless efforts of the Sangh parivar led by the visionary leadership of Balasaheb Deoras that was bearing fruits. For instance, the numerous Dharma Sansads (literally, religious parliaments) organized by VHP declaring brotherhood among all Hindus managed to heal many a historic wound in the villages and towns of UP. All these efforts culminated at Ayodhya when after Shilanyas, the first brick for the grand Ram temple was laid by a Dalit – an event that was widely highlighted by the local Hindi media which was a moment of great pride for the Dalit community now at the forefront of Hindu religious awakening.
Yet, the larger Dalit political expression in general remained lukewarm towards BJP at the ballot boxes while Jatavs in particular remained steadfastly loyal to a Mayawati led BSP throughout the 90’s and 2000’s. It was Sushri Mayawati who provided the final and the most powerful thrust to the course correction of Dalit demographic shift in Uttar Pradesh in the 2007 election.
“Pandit shankh bajaayega, Haati badhta jaayega” (The Brahman shall sound the conch as elephant marches forward)
“Haathi nahin Ganesh hai, Brahma Vishnu Mahesh hai” (This is not just an elephant but lord Ganesha and a symbol of the triumvirate of Hindu Gods – Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva)
From a cessionist mindset to Hindu symbolisms, the Dalit political expression had come a full circle by 2007 thanks to Mayawati’s unapologetic ode to her Hindu civilizational roots in her slogans. 2007 UP elections actually went beyond mere symbolisms, for Maya created a hitherto impossible social coalition of Brahmins and Jatavs for the first time in the state. What this meant was that at village and block levels, Brahmins and Dalits formed a brotherhood of extremes rejecting all the millions of pages of quasi communist literature written over many decades exulting the irreconcilable enmity between them!
United Spectrum of Hindu Votes of 2014
Once Mayawati had set in motion the final lap of re-Sanskritization of Dalits in UP, the logical demographic progression had to lead them towards BJP. None of the pundits or political scientists actually understood this before 2014, nor have they yet come to terms with it. With Narendra Modi at the helm of BJP in 2014, the Deoras journey that had begun in the early 80’s through Eakatmata Yatra had reached the heart of Hindu civilization’s chasm. Here was a former tea-seller belonging to a miniscule backward community who had battled every societal obstacle to reach the pinnacle of India’s political office and he was speaking the language of Hindu nationalistic aspirations. The Dalits of UP, including a sizable section of Jatavs, were saffronized in the summer of 2014 much to the chagrin of the intelligentsia.
Saffronization of Dalits was not an isolated event in itself, for 2014 also witnessed the formation of the United Spectrum of Hindu Votes for the first time in independent India’s electoral history. It was a unique socio-political coalition of almost all the major castes of Hindus who had united together by foregoing all their internal differences. As a result, for the first time, the minority vote-bank politics (a euphemism for Muslim pandering) had been rendered utterly toothless in Uttar Pradesh; so much so that an average Muslim voter had even lost interest in the mission to stop Modi!
Since Kalyan Singh’s unceremonious exit in 1999, BJP had to face a 14 year Vanvas (forced exile) from Uttar Pradesh between 1999-2000 and 2013-14. It was only after the advent of Modi that BJP once again managed to re-enter UP’s political landscape. Before his exit, Kalyan Singh had tried very hard to convince the party about the need for social expansion of its support base to include backward castes into the leadership structure of the party, but a Vajpayee led national leadership was in no mood to bring about these changes. Throughout these 14 years of self-imposed exile, BJP’s electoral fortunes in UP kept dwindling. Yet, truth was that the party’s infrastructure in every village and block of the state had never crumbled,nor had the voters’ inclination towards the saffron pariwar diminished, it was just that the party lacked the capacity and the will to tap the undercurrent of support among the masses. When Modi became the OBC face of the party in 2014, the balance of electoral performance was restored with compounded interest.
What should be the broad 2017 saffron strategy?
The Backward key to united Hindu vote: Between 2002 and 2012 elections, there was a secular decline in the number of BJP MLAs who got elected to Uttar Pradesh assembly cutting across different caste groups. Yet, closer examination of that data reveals that the sharpest curve of the decline is represented by the OBC segment between 2002 and 2007 at 66%, while the decline among Upper Caste BJP legislators represents a more smoothened curve at 30%. This is an important data metric, for it reveals 3 important paradigms about UP voting patterns;
- After the exit of Kalyan Singh, the non-upper-caste segment of Uttar Pradesh simply did not have enough incentive to vote for BJP which was being perceived as a purely Brahminical entity
- OBCs (especially non-Yadav OBCs) value their democratic franchise greatly and are loath to waste their votes. In other words, many OBCs vote for whichever is perceived as the winning party (BJP in the 90’s, BSP in 2007 and SP in 2012 as examples) rather than sticking to one ideological entity
- Strong grassroots campaign makes the biggest impact on OBCs – for instance, the SP campaign of 2012 was the strongest among all the parties while BJP has run weak campaigns in all 3 assembly elections since 2002.
What BJP needs in 2017 is a young chief-ministerial face belonging to the backward caste who can embody the aspirations of the young voters of UP. There are potentially 2.5 crore first time voters in the state and roughly 90000 voters aged below 30 per assembly segment! These are the voters who are most likely to vote beyond the caste silos and it is their aspirations that BJP needs to address. This social media and mobile generation of UP needs a suave face to lead them and not purely Hindutva rhetoric.
BJP cannot and should not go into the polls without a leader, for that could be potentially suicidal. Even a down and out Congress party seems to have realized the need to have a chief ministerial face and is desperately trying to discover a Brahmin leader – don’t be surprised if Sheila Dixit, despite her age, ends up reinvigorating the party in the state, because UP is desperate for change.
We live in an era of unprecedented dimensions of communication which have enabled every human to interact with every other human, including the powerful and the mighty. In this era, no campaign can be built without a personality being the central theme. For instance, Patanjali products are beating giant MNCs because Baba Ramdev and his personality are associated with Patanjali whereas the Colgate toothpastes and Aashirwad aatas are merely inanimate brands. No political campaign can be designed today without a personality… period.
Perception and aspiration are twin win mantras in UP: Why does SP win so many elections despite Yadavs constituting only about 8% of the state’s population? The fact is that in UP (like most other parts of India), dominant perception wins elections. Yadavs, despite being about 8% in overall population, punch above their weight because they are the dominant OBC caste at the village and block level (we at 5Forty3 assign Yadav vote a weightage of 10% for the same reason). Dominant castes give an impression of narrative control at the local level which is why other castes coalesce around similar voting patterns.
During the 2007 assembly elections, when Mayawati wooed Brahmins, only a small segment of Brahmins actually moved towards her party. Yet, because of the fact that Brahmins are a dominant caste in the UP societal matrix, an impression gained ground that “even Brahmins were voting for Behenji” which in turn created a reverse osmosis of many fence-sitting OBC voters into the BSP fold. In today’s scenario BJP has 4 distinct advantages, but how the party leverages those would be the key to 2017;
- SP is suffering from anti-incumbency and generally fence-sitting voters have a built-in clock of not voting for the sitting party unless the opposition is too weak and the ruling party too strong (for example Gujarat and MP where BJP is too strong and Congress too weak)
- The total annihilation of Behenji in 2014 when BSP won zero seats and the continuous desertion of many powerful leaders like Swamy Prasad Maurya and R.K. Chaudhary have created nervousness even among Maya’s core Jatav voters while fence-sitters are perceiving this as a weakened BSP in the fray. Moreover, Maya with purely Jatav votes is never in a position to create a perception of winnability so she needs large dollops of support from dominant castes like Brahmins/Thakurs and addendum votes from Muslims to paint a picture of strength. Unfortunately for Maya, neither the upper castes nor Muslims have any great incentive to join her bandwagon, especially after her humiliating debacle of 2014 (many Muslims in western UP still regret wasting their votes on BSP in 2014).
- Most average voters in UP had not anticipated the quantum of BJP’s victory in their state (73 MP seats) which has still left a deep psychological impression of an aura of invincibility of a Modi led BJP in many voters’ minds, especially among fence sitters – although a defeat in neighboring Bihar has reduced that aura to some extent, it still is a dominant mass psychological phenomenon just 2 years after that epoch. If BJP manages to run a confident and strong campaign without betraying any nervousness (unlike in Bihar), that aura of invincibility will only grow stronger and many more groups of voters would join the BJP bandwagon in 2017 believing that the 2014 mobilization was just a precursor
- Unlike Bihar, Uttar Pradesh would witness a clear multi-cornered battle (with a minimum of a triangular contest even if two opposition parties form a coalition) which gives BJP a distinct advantage in the perception battle because of its strong core vote-base cultivated over 50 years in addition to the Modi juggernaut. In such a multi-cornered contest, those unhinged, free Hindu voters would tend to support BJP, especially because of a perceived split in Muslim support.
The other part of perception is the aspirational vote which is a distinctly Hindu feature, more so among the young voters. In 2014, Modi came to overwhelmingly symbolize that aspirational vote among the youth of UP – as did Akhilesh Yadav to some extent in 2012 or Rahul Gandhi in 2009. In fact, one of the lesser analyzed feature of SP victory in 2012 was the junior Yadav’s appeal among young voters – his promise of a laptop and an unemployment dole scheme were 2 distinctive features that attracted the young voters of the state. This is where Maya suffers a big handicap as she has never really given any importance to the young voters – for instance, BSP does not even have a separate youth wing which continues to cost her electorally (our survey during 2014 elections clearly showed that BJP got 19% more Dalit votes in the 18-30 bracket than among general Dalit voters).
BJP’s task therefore is cutout for 2017. It needs to design a massive digital and offline campaign to attract the young voters. A campaign that should be not only aspirational but also distinctly participative, for the young do not want to be talked down. If the young start to move towards BJP, it would create a massive perception among voters that BJP is ahead of the rest in the battle. The important point to remember here is that the young create the maximum noise, both online as well as offline – and that noise is what wins elections these days.
Distinctive micro-campaigns: One of the biggest mistakes that BJP made in Bihar was that the party simply lacked specificity and diversity. The campaign in Bihar was binary in nature – Jungle Raj v/s Modi – which did not incentivize Biharis to vote for the BJP. One hopes BJP does not repeat its “Jungle Raj” mistake in UP.
BJP and the Sangh need to identify at least 6 important socio-economic issues that affect the day-to-day lives of ordinary UP citizens and build micro-campaigns in different sub-regions offering unique solutions to these problems (for instance, in Bihar, we had identified agrarian distress and woeful state of primary education as two issues that most Biharis were angry about, but BJP never built a creative campaign on these lines in the state which eventually reflected in the results on November 8th). The party must remember that voters these days demand specific solutions to specific problems rather than ambiguous campaigns against Jungle Raj – for example, if Jungle Raj of Lalu was bad for Bihar, then what was the alternative that BJP was offering to the voters? Whether the 2012 SP victory or BJP’s humungous showing of 2014, they both had distinctively specific incentives for voters – for instance, 24/7 Bijlee, protection of Hindu women (bahu-beti), jobs for the young through non-agrarian reforms and zero tolerance for big ticket corruption at the top were clearly identifiable issues with the NaMo campaign of 2014.
It must also be remembered that the Sangh cadre is most effective when it has clearly identifiable goals to target the voters, especially if economic issues are built on an undercurrent of Hindutva appeal. For BJP to emerge on top in the most populous state of India, strategic coordination with the Sangh is an important pre-requisite and RSS general secretary, Dattatreya Hosabale will be the key player in that regard.
Mission 5 Crore: Going by voter turnout history of Uttar Pradesh and electoral revisions by the Election Commission, some 9 crore voters are likely to participate in the 2017 elections. Historically, BJP’s rise in Uttar Pradesh can be divided into 3 broad phases;
- The 1st Phase of building a core vote base of middle class and upper castes – the 20th percentile – from 1967 to 1991 (including the downturn of 80’s after the failed JP experiment)
- The 2nd phase of expanding the vote base to larger non-Yadav, non-Jatav hindu society – the 30th percentile – from 1991 to 2012 (including the 14 year vanvas of the new millennium)
- The 3rd phase of United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – the 50th percentile – from 2014 onwards
Logical demographic progression of 2014 indicates that BJP’s pan-Hindu vote base can now potentially breach the 50th percentile. To that extent, 2017 is not an ordinary election, for it represents the ideological peak of the Sangh after 50 years of mass contact programs in Uttar Pradesh starting from 1967 and culminating in 2017. The current BJP leadership owes it to the past warriors like Balasaheb Deoras, Kalyan Singh, Ashok Singhal (even K.N. Govindacharya for that matter) and the entire Sadhu Samaj who tirelessly built the saffron political structure in every nook and corner of UP. BJP achieved 3.5 crore votes in 2014 and today there exist the right socio-political and economic conditions and even more importantly, there exist the right technological platforms in UP for BJP to extend the vote share towards the 5 Crore mark!
BJP and Sangh should structurally design a bottom-up campaign targeting 5 crore voters rather than trying to win a simple majority. It requires massive mobilization of karyakartas from all organizations of Sangh Privaar, wherein each karyakarta should be assigned to mobilize 10 to 50 voters in his area of influence. In fact, BJP should specially order 5 crore saffron holy threads and build a multi-level-marketing campaign by which each individual voter should be connected in a holy promise of “change” creating a 5 crore voter chain across the state. At every polling booth (especially in swing polling booths), apart from physical infrastructure of polling agents and workers, a virtual network of social-media and mobile volunteers must be built.
If Amit Bhai Shah and Narendra Modi achieve near 50% vote-share in UP, they would effectively kill all the future opposition political alliances of convenience. The Nitish Kumars and the Kejriwals of this world with merely 60 odd MLAs in a state would never dare to dream about 2019. For all purposes and intents, Uttar Pradesh 2017 has the potential to open the doors for a 15 year long Modi rule to usher in new golden age of India. Can the BJP dare to dream the impossible?