Updated: September 18, 2014 10:57:25 am
In Uttar Pradesh, the results of the by-elections for 11 assembly seats and one Lok Sabha seat have proved to be dramatically different from those of May 2014. The victory of Tej Pratap Singh, nephew of Mulayam Singh Yadav, in Mainpuri, the family’s Lok Sabha seat, is not surprising. But the BJP has won just three assembly seats while the SP has won eight. The Congress drew a blank. Two of the assembly seats are located in western UP, the scene of communal riots over the past year, and are part of Lok Sabha constituencies that the BJP won in May. The bypoll results have now boosted the morale of the ruling SP, which had performed badly in the national elections. The campaign for the UP by-elections was followed with great interest after the BJP won only four out of 10 seats in the Bihar bypolls in August, losing out to the RJD-JDU-Congress combine. Both UP and Bihar point to a complete turnaround in voter choices in the Hindi heartland.
Since May, the political situation and the atmospherics had changed in UP. After the BJP’s stunning victory in the national elections, expectations did not seem to run high among most parties, and the campaigns were low key. Voter turnouts were also much lower than in the national election — 53.18 per cent for the assembly seats and 56.4 per cent for the Mainpuri Lok Sabha seat. Only the Thakurdwara assembly segment in Moradabad witnessed a high 69 per cent turnout. In some urban constituencies, such as Lucknow East and Noida, it was hardly 34 per cent.
The BSP decided not to contest, but this is not surprising. The party has usually kept away from bypolls. It felt that collaborating with the SP, which might have brought together the minorities, backwards and Dalits, was not possible, given the acrimonious relationship between the two parties. Also, Mayawati’s chief target is the Congress, which has been the party of the Scheduled Castes in the past. More importantly, she has decided to move away from the BSP’s “sarvjan” strategy and concentrate on regaining the support of her core constituency, the Jatavs. She has also begun preparing for the next assembly elections, which many believe will be held earlier than scheduled. The Congress, yet to recover from its humiliating Lok Sabha defeat, did not make effective preparations, in terms of either candidates or campaign strategy. Badly divided internally, it is concentrating on rebuilding the party organisation. In these bypolls, then, it was a straight contest between the ruling SP and a BJP grown aggressive and over-confident after its earlier performance. This worked to the SP’s advantage as minority, backward and Dalit votes were not divided.
The reasons for the BJP not performing as well as it expected to in UP may be found in the highly disturbing and divisive nature of the campaign fought by local BJP-RSS leaders. For the national election, in a highly organised and strategised UP campaign, Narendra Modi had addressed 40 massive rallies across the state over a period of six months. Party cadres had deployed both overt and covert communal strategies. Modi himself alluded to Hindutva at times, but in most rallies, he stressed on corruption and the lack of development under UPA 2 and the SP state government, and promised the electorate rapid development based on the “Gujarat model”. His massive victory in UP stemmed from the fact that he was able to address the frustration and unhappiness of the middle classes and the unemployed youth, who felt that the state had been left behind in the development story.
In sharp contrast, in the recent bypolls, Modi did not address rallies in UP. The campaign was managed by Amit Shah, RSS and local leaders. More importantly, the agenda of development, so conspicuous in the earlier election, was almost entirely replaced by religious mobilisation and questionable tactics such as inflammatory speeches by leaders like Gorakhpur MP Adityanath and casting madrasas as hotbeds for the “education of terror”, funded by animal slaughter. Most significantly, it fielded the appalling idea of “love jihad”. While it is true that “love jihad” was picked up and spread by the media, there does seem to have been a concerted campaign to win the elections through deepening religious polarisations and permanently influencing the cultural ethos of UP. Senior BJP leaders such as Rajnath Singh denied knowledge of the idea of “love jihad”, it was dropped from the political resolution at the UP state executive meet and it is believed that the state BJP president merely asked the youth to be alert about the issue in his inaugural address. But the term is in circulation even after the by-elections. In the past, fringe elements with extreme views were responsible for moral policing and creating divides. This is the first time that such ideas have been discussed so seriously, and the BJP’s top leadership, even the PM, has made little effort to stop party colleagues, including ministers, from propagating them.
The last two months in western UP have demonstrated that the basic aim of the BJP-RSS campaign was not limited to gaining seats. It also intended to construct in the Hindu mind an image of Muslims as the “other”. The religious mobilisation witnessed during the UP campaign is part of a larger BJP gameplan to create deep social divides, damaging the idea of secularism and tolerance. “Love jihad” is a particularly regressive idea, one that seems to license the self-appointed guardians of morality to control the lives of women and set society back by years. Though the BJP won both the seats in western UP, the younger generation, by and large, seems to have rejected the idea. While such mobilisations may fit into the BJP-RSS’s political plan, they are dangerous for our democratic fabric. The by-election results are a timely democratic corrective to what was becoming a very dangerous game.
The writer is professor at the Centre for Political Studies and rector, Jawaharlal Nehru University
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