Was it a death knell we heard from Kairana last week or just a warning? It is hard to say. But, if Narendra Modi does not start paying attention to the message that voters in Uttar Pradesh have been trying to send him for months, he may as well give up all hopes of becoming prime minister again in 2019. The message was misunderstood from day one by both the Prime Minister and the president of the Bharatiya Janata Party or they would never have appointed Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of our most populous state.
The vote was never for Hindutva, and his appointment after the election indicated that they thought it was. When the people of Uttar Pradesh gave the BJP 325 out of 403 seats in the state Legislature last year, it was because they believed Modi when he promised ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’. While travelling in rural UP during that election campaign, I heard, in village after village, voices demanding better schools, roads and hospitals. I saw schools without classrooms, hospitals without doctors and village roads that were no more than bumpy ribbons. People believed that the main reason why things were so bad was because they had voted too often for casteist parties and leaders who divided them in the name of temples and mosques.
So to appoint a priest whose political career began with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a grave error. No sooner did he take charge than Yogi Adityanath concentrated on closing down businesses on which Muslims and Dalits relied for jobs. Meat factories and butcher shops were ostensibly closed for being unlicensed, but many licensed businesses suffered as well. Killings by Hindutva vigilantes in the name of saving cows began around the same time as did killings and attacks in the name of ‘love jihad’. It did not take long before all talk of ‘parivartan’ and ‘vikas’ was forgotten.
So, within a year of winning an incredible three-quarters of the seats in the UP Assembly, when elections were held for the Lok Sabha seats of Gorakhpur and Phulpur, voters expressed their disenchantment by voting BJP candidates out. In Gorakhpur, this was an attempt to send Yogi a personal message since his candidate was made to lose in a parliamentary constituency that he himself had won for 20 years. Yogi could only have been plucked out of Parliament and made Chief Minister for Hindutva reasons, because a quick tour around Gorakhpur and its environs should have been proof that Yogi lacked administrative skills. As someone who has travelled to some of the most dismal, filthy places in our ancient land, I can report that Gorakhpur is hard to match in terms of dirt and decay. An MP with basic administrative skills could have rectified much of this just from his constituency fund.
After Gorakhpur and Phulpur were lost, you would think that a political leader with instincts as sharp as Modi would have noticed that something was going wrong. But, Lutyens Delhi is famous for deadening the instincts of the finest politicians, so the message that UP voters were trying to send the Prime Minister appears to have not reached yet. In Kairana, it was once more Hindutva that was on offer and that too by the daughter of a man who in his term as MP had been worryingly connected to exacerbating Hindu-Muslim tensions. So sure was the BJP of winning that they chose Mriganka Singh as their candidate despite her having lost the Kairana Assembly constituency just last year.
There is a kind of poetry in Tabassum Hasan having become the first Muslim MP to enter this Lok Sabha from UP, because her victory seems to be a victory for good in a constituency that has seen much evil in recent years. In the interviews she gave after winning Kairana she made it clear that in her view it was a vote against the ‘communal politics’ that had been played by the BJP. Perhaps the loss of Kairana will make the Prime Minister realise that Hindutva as it is practised by people like Yogi Adityanath is so corrosive that it separates not just Muslims from Hindus but upper-caste Hindus from lower-caste Hindus.
If there is such a thing as a consolidated Hindu votebank, it is guaranteed to come unstuck well before the general election because of this toxic form of Hindutva. All it appears to have achieved so far is to serve very well the interests of opposition parties which were so diminished since 2014 that the names of many of these parties had virtually disappeared. They are not just back but have shown more than once now that they could take away many seats the BJP won in UP last time. A death knell could indeed have tolled in Kairana.