Tuesday, Nov 29, 2022

Seat by Muslim seat, BJP scripts UP narrative

Plans strategy against BSP’s 97 Muslim candidates, hopes to gain out of SP’s M-Y formula — with a wary eye on Akhilesh

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Petro Tech at Vigyan Bhawan on 5th Dec. 2016. Express photo by Renuka Puri. UP elections is a major test for PM narendra Modi. Express photo by Renuka Puri.

The upcoming elections across five states will not only decide who rule the respective assemblies but also help shape the big picture of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. The elections, particularly in UP, are in effect a test for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Over the last few months, the party leadership has been striving to build a new image for Modi, projecting him as a champion of the causes of the poor, exploited, backwards and Dalits. To connect to voters who are not traditionally a BJP base, Modi is set to invoke Ram Manohar Lohia’s legacy.

In a leader’s words, the “anti-capitalist, anti-Marxist” image will seek to send across the message that “Modi ab samajwadi ban gaya”.

“Our party’s chemistry with the public has changed since demonetisation,” BJP president Amit Shah has been telling office-bearers. Alongside this pitch, Shah will prepare a platform for caste-based ticket distribution.

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Known for overconfidence during polls, the BJP has been spreading the word that demonetisation has “overwhelming support”. Leaders claim to have engaged half a dozen agencies on daily surveys since November 8. These have apparently given them an average rating over 70 per cent, except in some urban and Muslim-dominated pockets.

BJP’s rivals

In UP, all the non-BJP parties are contesting on a single theme that can be summed up in three words: Stop BJP Now. The results will have a number of implications. If the BJP wins emphatically enough, it will gain a higher numerical strength in the presidential election. If it wins UP, it could redefine Mandal politics and hit Mulayam Singh Yadav’s OBC consolidation. A defeat for the SP and the BSP will also be a jolt to Muslim voters, especially when the state has no Muslim MP in Lok Sabha.

Ground reports suggest that the BJP will once again play the Hindutva card, although subtly, in western UP. The date of voting in this region, February 15, coincides with polling in neighbouring Uttarakhand, and polarisation — if it happens — can have a domino effect.

BJP leaders said they will use caste strategically, seat by seat, to counter the BSP and the SP. For example, they said, they will seek to make gains in the 97 seats that the BSP has given to Muslims. They said they don’t consider the Congress a serious player and aren’t worried about a prospective Congress-SP-RLD alliance. What does concern the BJP, however, is the transfer of Muslim votes between the SP and the BSP. For the Congress, the immediate task is straightforward: it is in desperate need of an alliance.

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It had sent its first feelers to the BSP, only to be told that Mayawati had already distributed tickets. Her 97 tickets to Muslims, 87 to Dalits, 106 to OBCs and 113 to upper class leaders — including 66 to Brahmins — give her an opportunity to turn the party’s bahujan image into a sarvajan one.

There have been talks between Mulayam and Congress leaders, and, separately, Akhilesh Yadav and Congress leaders. If the SP does split, the Mulayam-Amar Singh camp would need the alliance.

“Do you really think Mulayam’s nominees will get only 5,000 votes in each seats?” said a senior leader in Mulayam’s camp. The leader cited an average victory margin of 15,000 in the 403 seats in 2012.

If SP splits

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In the event of a split, the key question is who gains — BJP, BSP or Akhilesh. One argument is that it will divide Yadav and Muslim votes, helping the BJP whose strategy in any election includes a division in the Muslim vote.

Shah is reportedly banking on “anti-incumbency and insecurity of the aam aadmi under Muslim-Yadav rule”. But if Akhilesh becomes independent of his father, he will be able to pass on the baggage of lawlessness to his father’s faction, besides playing his own development card against Modi’s.

Whenever the contest has followed a Yadav-Muslim strategy, the SP and the BJP have gained simultaneously. The more the SP asks for these votes, the more the BJP attracts non-Yadav OBC and Hindu votes. If Akhilesh comes out of his father’s shadow, he can not only continue that strategy but also appeal for youth and women’s votes. This would make the challenge tougher for the BJP, and the BSP too.

One more possibility that worries the BJP is that a divided SP can consolidate the Muslims towards the BSP. All parties expect Muslims to vote strategically after deciding at the last moment. A united SP would have been easier for the BJP to handle, leaders believe.

Though the BJP and the Congress have different political objectives, both have ended up helping build a strong image for Akhilesh.

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“Akhilesh is not gaining much out of an alliance with us but he doesn’t want to take any chance if his father doesn’t agree to his terms,” a Congress leader said. “When he starts his journey, the alliance will help him run the extra mile.”

The Congress appears ready for a supporting role, just to stop the BJP from capturing Lucknow, which is so necessary for its survival. If Akhilesh consolidates his position in Lucknow, leaders feel the alliance will help Rahul Gandhi remain relevant in the long term in New Delhi.

First published on: 06-01-2017 at 03:06:42 am
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