After the collapse of Babri Masjid on December 6th 1992, the central Congress government had arbitrarily dismissed all the 4 BJP ruled states of North India – Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Himachal Pradesh – to impose president’s rule. A year later, when these states went to polls, BJP lost power in three of those which effectively put a pause to all the ‘perceived’ gains of the Hindu nationalist movement. In essence, localized political factors had trounced the overarching narrative of a pan-Hindu rise of new political consciousness. Indeed many newspaper columns (of the English language variety, of course) celebrated BJP’s defeat as a big setback to Hindu nationalist politics after the Babri demolition.
There was the curious case of the 4th state which was actually telling the counterintuitive story of the new direction that the politics of Hindu nationalism would take in future. Where Shanta Kumar, Sunderlal Patwa and to a much lesser extent, Kalyan Singh had failed, Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had not merely succeeded but had done so in a spectacular fashion. In the Rajasthan elections of 1993, not only had BJP increased its vote-share by a whopping 14% (from 25% to 39%) but also had increased its seat tally from 85 to 95 as compared to 1990 when it had contested in alliance with the Janata Dal.
The ‘Rajasthan doctrine’ or the ‘Shekhawat doctrine’ forms a part of an important learning curve in BJP’s evolution across India’s electoral landscape. There were in fact 4 facets to that Shekhawat doctrine that have remained at the core BJP’s rise as today as the dominant political party of India;
BJP as a political party in particular and the Sanghathan as the larger ecosystem seem to have learnt many long-term lessons from their 1993 defeat to bring in structural changes to the party’s approach to elections. Careful observation tells us that the current political philosophy at the heart of the Shah-Modi team strategy for Uttar Pradesh is based on these very same four pillars of the original Shekhawat doctrine. In fact, if anything, the new BJP under the tutelage of the 2 Gujarati strongmen has taken this doctrine to far greater depths than ever before. Let us consider the same four aspects in the context of Uttar Pradesh 2017;
These might be small subtle electoral moves by Amit Shah, but are definitely cogs of a larger wheel of BJP’s politics in the heartland. As political data analysts we need to understand the structural engineering of BJP’s growth in Uttar Pradesh to make sense of these new cogs in its giant wheel. A panoramic long-term electoral study shows the classical chart pattern of “higher highs” and “higher lows” in terms of the saffron party’s data chart starting from 1957. In the 2014 elections, BJP’s electoral data achieved its ‘breakout’ moment from the ‘higher low’ point of 15% vote-share to create a new lifetime high at 44%. What is more, this breakout was achieved with very high volumes of voter participation further confirming the trend.
In essence, the implementation of the 4 point Shekhawat Doctrine in UP 2017 is an attempt by Shah to sustain that new breakout at its near-peak. Thus his emphasis seems to be on limiting the attrition rates to the minimal from the 2014 social coalition of USHV – United Spectrum of Hindu Votes – even as he is trying to build on potential pockets within the Hindu social coalition. This is why BJP (and its smaller allies) have ended up giving nearly 150 tickets to non-Yadav OBCs and 63 tickets to non-Jatav Dalits (in the reserved seats). Effectively in out of every 2 UP MLA seats, BJP now has either a non-Yadav OBC or a non-Jatav Dalit aiming to amalgamate upper caste and lower caste Hindus!
In the 2014 parliamentary elections of Uttar Pradesh, the overarching theme that lifted BJP to unprecedented heights was Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate. For a vast majority of UP Hindus it was like a religious duty to express their faith in their new reverential personage by pressing the EVM button in favor of BJP. To that extent, Modi as the leader had virtually embodied and mostly replaced Rama as the political figurehead of Hindu awakening in the heartland. One can only understand this subtle matter of faith (or aastha) as a deeply personal commitment of the UP voter with Modi if one travels across the state in a political pilgrimage, for there are deeper sociological forces and elements of cultural history at play here.
One part of that faith in Modi had arisen from this belief that he would “undo a lot of wrongs” of the last 70 years by his forceful personality which is the reason why the UP voters wanted to give him a clear mandate unshackled by the pulls and pressures of coalition governments. When Modi dramatically announced demonetization of 1000 and 500 rupees currency notes on November the 8th 2016, he was actually repaying that faith of his voters. Yes, the media narrative following demonetization or notebandi as it is known in local lingo had been overwhelmingly negative. It was as if the entire clan of former atrocity journalists (those who chased Dalit atrocity stories from across the nook and corner of India under the Modi Raj) along with all their cousins and friends had turned into overnight notebandi journalists. It was also portrayed as if the whole of India was either standing in ATM/bank queues whilst every death in India for whatever the reason was blamed on Modi.
“You must understand his (Modi’s) humble beginnings as a chaiwala to realize what he has done with just one decision” argues Parshuram Pasi, a 35-year-old Dalit school teacher in a village near Allahabad, “Mayawati only talks about it in her speeches, but he (Modi) has actually demolished the Dhanna Seth (colloquial term for the rich, moneyed class) who has been bullying Dalits for so many decades”. Parshuram was a full time BSP worker until very recently and had even voted for BSP as late as 2014 defying the Modi wave but is now shifting to Modi (not BJP, mind you, but simply Modi). Travel from Allahabad region all the way up to Meerut and talk to shopkeepers in the dusty by-lanes, the common refrain that you will get from most Baniyas (who were the most impacted community after demonetization) is this, “we have to vote for Modi despite all the hardships, he will eventually come good”. This is the depth of investment that the ordinary voter has made in Modi and demonetization has mostly reinforced that investment.
To a large extent, the Modi division line has now become the default division line of demonetization in the UP society. Those who were for Modi in 2014 are ardent supporters of demonetization too and those who stood against Modi are by and large against his notenbandi measure too – Muslims, Yadavs and Jatavs, in that order, form the core of anti-demonetization demographic of UP. Yet, what demonetization has achieved is to increase the pool of USHV by bringing in those segments of non-Jatav Dalit and non-Yadav OBC voters who were not fully with BJP while mostly retaining the 2014 social coalition. This is where BJP’s ticket distribution methodology is perfectly complimenting its demonetization drive by concentrating more than 200 tickets on non-Yadav OBCs and non-Jatav Dalits.
It is now a well-established fact that most Indian elections are basically presidential in nature which is why most parties have a face as the leader of the campaign. At the outset this argument holds water in Uttar Pradesh too, for BJP has not named a CM candidate of its own while the 2 main regional parties have their own popular local leaders. Yet, unlike a Bihar or a linguistic state like Maharashtra or Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh does not have a regional sub-nationalism theme that appeals to its voters. In fact, if anything, average UP voter considers himself mostly as a national voter and takes pride in the importance of his vote deciding the course of the national politics. Also Modi being the MP from Varanasi is seen as much a ‘local leader’ as Mulayam or Akhilesh or Maya. Surprisingly even the Yadav & Jatav voters to a much greater extent and Muslim voters to a lesser extent no longer overwhelmingly oppose Modi as the PM, instead theirs is a more nuanced opposition necessitated by long-term ingrained hostilities.
Akhilesh Yadav’s attempted image reinvention as a young Chief Minister breaking away from his party’s past and presenting a suave face of development may have come a little late in the day. If he had probably managed to bring about this change some 6 months before the election and had run a strong field campaign, things could have been vastly different for his party. But, his last minute alliance with the Congress and much shortened campaign where the Samajwadis are missing the wily Mulayam’s ability to conjure up many tricks and Shivpal’s brazenness to unsettle many opposition parties means that he has very limited maneuverability. Indeed, many old loyal Samajwadis do confess their unease at not being led by Mulayam to whom they always turned in the past whenever in doubt. “The party is no longer a home for Samajwadi Muslims” says 4 time MP, Safiqur Rahman Barq who joined AIMIM of Owaisi about a fortnight ago. “I will teach what is Muslim power to Akhilesh (sic)” Barq thunders. He has pockets of influence in Moradabad region by virtue of being a multi-term MP from Sambhal and he could hurt the SP’s chances to some extent here.
This disquiet among the Samajwadis is clearly evident at many levels. The fact that Akhilesh virtually gave away 105 seats to Congress, a party that has neither a loyal vote bank to transfer nor was capable of winning more than a dozen seats has not gone down well on many local SP leaders, especially those who have lost out on an opportunity to contest. “A political leader’s very existence is to participate in elections, what would we do sitting idly in an election season?” asked a Samajwadi leader (denied ticket by Akhilesh) from eastern UP who had come to get Mulayam Singh’s “blessings” for his candidature as an independent. Rahul Gandhi’s patronizing behavior towards Akhilesh has also angered many young Yadavs, “these Gandhis will demolish the Yadav clan, that is why Netaji (Mulayam Singh) never had any truck with the Congress party” says a former Mulayam aide, Manoj Singh in Agra, “we will work for Akhilesh, not for Congress” he adds in good measure.
At the core of Uttar Pradesh electoral math is the caste narrative construct that gets unleashed in the small towns and villages days before the elections. Here, historically, the upper castes enjoyed a disproportionate influence on the electorate as they were mostly in the leadership position in the societal structure and drove the narrative accordingly. This is why a BSP succeeded in 2007 when Brahmins made common cause with Behenji to create a “hawa”. Today, there is another demographic that drives the narrative – the under 30 age group voters cutting across caste-lines are at the fore front of spreading a message by leveraging technology of social media and smart phones. It is here that BJP is enjoying its most fruitful political era with both upper castes and the youth giving it a complete narrative control over UP’s electoral airwaves. Thus if you go beyond the media narrative and the Dilli opinion polls, deep into UP’s villages and small towns, you will discover the power of the sheer undercurrent of a saffron wave that is building up through the noise of the young and the restless.
There are two important trend-lines that support our current projections. At the top is the 2014 electoral data which is now the new mean for Uttar Pradesh and all parties (and alliances) are moving towards that mean as is evident from our three rounds of surveys. While BJP is quietly inching towards that range above the 40th percentile, BSP is falling down to its 20th percentile mean. The alliance between Congress and SP was supposed to be the X factor in this election but what we are witnessing is that the alliance also is hovering around its 2014 mean. The second trend-line is the BJP’s performance relative to its 2014 benchmark across India in the assembly elections. Here too, the range is between 0-9% and our current vote-share projections are within that range. The big X factor for this trend line is the impact of demonetization and our survey shows that UP voters, especially specific segments of backward caste voters, overwhelmingly support that step by Modi. Thus, we can safely assume that BJP could beat its benchmark if this trend continues over the next 4 weeks.
The real story of this election has to be the collapse of the Bahujan ecosystem due to demonetization as most of the Dalit ground-force was heavily cash dependent to build the Behenji electoral juggernaut at the polling booth level. Of course, the mass exodus of many powerful BSP leaders only worsened the matters. Now is when the real problem for Maya is beginning to start. Indian voters have this innate tendency of not wanting to waste their votes on election day, thus with BSP simply not being able to put up a fight in many seats, its core Dalit vote, including a section of Jatavs may begin to make a saffron shift over the next week which could completely demolish BSP. In fact, although UP elections are always multi-cornered affairs, in reality, the contest is 2 sided in most seats with the 3rd and 4th parties acting as spoilers. Since the new millennium, the assembly election contest was generally between SP and BSP while BJP as the 3rd pole was mostly playing the role of a spoiler in about 150 odd seats. Today BSP is in danger of being reduced to that role of spoiler played by BJP till 2012.
BJP has a huge lead here and it looks unlikely that such a lead could be broken by the opposition. BSP, which had once emerged very strong in this region seems to be collapsing even here while the Samajwadis never had much strength in this region to begin with.
BJP with a huge margin of 8% has the potential to sweep Uttar Pradesh 2017. In fact, if this trend continues, even a triple century by BJP cannot be ruled out. Yet, we are conservatively converting vote-shares into seats by using sub-regional metrics and by taking into consideration various local factors. It must be stressed here that our seat share conversion has a much higher error margin than the standard error margin of 3.1% for our vote-share projections as there are no clearly defined mathematical models to convert votes into seats in the first-past-the post electoral system.
Note on 5Forty3 Survey