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Voting in western Uttar Pradesh done, the initial assessment of the BJP is that the party might not have done as well as it had hoped, leaders admit. For the upcoming phases, the party’s primary target will be retaining the support it had gained in 2014 among non-Yadav OBCs and farmers of central and eastern UP. And its campaign pitch will be development under the central government, with possibly more rallies by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. BJP leaders had been hoping for consolidation of the Hindu vote, a trend widely attributed for the party’s sweep of western UP in the Lok Sabha elections. Now, leaders confide that this did not take place despite a “conducive atmosphere”. During the campaign, BJP leaders such as Yogi Adityanath had sought to make an issue out of an alleged exodus of Hindus out of the region.
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Citing internal surveys, BJP leaders now say Modi’s “image” and the “goodwill” he enjoys remains the party’s “biggest advantage”, whereas the local leadership and the organisation have failed to retain the trust they had won among people, including in traditional support bases. They say the party will have to organise more rallies for Modi. He has addressed rallies in Kannauj, Barabanki and Hardoi this week, and is set to address one each in Fatepur (Sunday) and Phulpur-Allahabad (Monday), followed by rallies in Gonda and Basti later this month.
The party leadership has asked the state unit and those working on the ground to push campaign material based on the NDA government’s initiatives for farmers. “Material that exposes poor law and order in UP will also be highlighted. Speeches of all star campaigners will emphasise jungle raj under SP rule,” says a BJP leader. Party leaders claim they continue to enjoy support among non-Yadav OBC communities including Saini, Kurmi, Maurya, Koeri and Lodh. The Yadavs comprise 8 per cent of the population while non-Yadav OBCs comprise roughly a third of the population. And more than a third of the BJP’s candidates are from non-Yadav OBC groups. The BJP estimates that the support of these communities can help, even if there is a consolidation of Muslim votes behind one party.
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In 2014, 26 of the BJP’s 28 OBC candidates had won. Keshav Prasad Maurya, the party’s state president, is an OBC leader. If a combine of non-Jatav Dalits (Pasi and Valmiki) and non-Yadav OBCs stand by the BJP, leaders say, “nothing can stop the BJP from forming the government”. What the BJP is hoping against is the possible consolidation of Muslims behind one side. The party wants to see the Muslim vote divided between the SP-Congress and the BSP. With Mayawati having fielded an unprecedented 97 Muslim candidates, BJP leaders are optimistic thar Muslims will not vote en masse for the SP-Congress.
A different calculation, however, has left them wary about the SP-Congress. The alliance has created an impression of bringing forward and backward castes together, the BJP leaders say, worrying if it could break into the BJP’s traditional support base. “Brahmins and Thakurs, who have been voting for the BJP, may look at this combination as a prospective winner. The BJP’s strategy should keep that in mind too,” a leader says. About Modi, party leaders say its internal surveys have shown the PM’s clean image and as an “action leader” has gone up since demonetisation. Some in the party were reportedly against the prime minister being overly exposed in UP when the poll is going to be so tough. Those working in the state, however, want the party to ensure more rallies by him. “In fact, he is the only popular leader for the BJP. The party machinery and the local leadership have not been able to pull it off in UP. When we don’t have a face in the state to project, it’s only Modi we can rely on,” says a party leader now working in UP.