Enthused by its success in Assam, the BJP is now focused on winning Uttar Pradesh. The national-level executive meeting in Allahabad on June 12-13 gave some indication about the BJP’s strategy. On the campaign front, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be showcased as a mascot of development while the ground strategy will factor in caste and religious equations. The party’s endeavour seems to be to keep disparate elements together and not let internal conflicts spill over and disrupt the campaign.
The grand sabha organised in Saharanpur district of UP last month to mark the completion of two years of the NDA government at the Centre emphasised the credentials of Modi, the administrator. In his public address, Modi only spoke about the government. Even in Allahabad, his focus was on governance. Vikas and corruption were the focus of his speech. In all probability, the party will lean on Modi to provide the leadership in the campaign.
But vikas is just one layer of the campaign. Both at Saharanpur and Allahabad, there were clear signs that the BJP may not shy away from taking up issues that could polarise the electorate. There is speculation that Kalyan Singh, chief minister of UP when the Babri Masjid was demolished and presently the governor of Rajasthan, will be given a key role to emphasise the Ram temple agenda. Ram has already become a part of the campaign rhetoric in UP. Recently, BJP President Amit Shah said “we will see who the people of UP will select as their Ram”. Adityanath, an influential figure in eastern UP, has repeatedly said Hindutva and the Ram mandir will be the party’s important campaign issues in the upcoming elections. Cow politics has got a new life after a forensic report said the meat found near Mohammad Akhlaq’s house in Dadri was beef. At the Allahabad national executive, Shah highlighted the “exodus” of “Hindu” families from Kairana.
Simultaneously, the BJP is crafting a social engineering plan. The party has been working at two levels to attract the non-Yadav OBCs, MBCs and non-Jatav Dalits to its fold. First, it is ensuring the representation of these social sections in the party leadership. Second, it is organising programmes and events to reach out to members of these castes.
The selection of Keshav Prasad Maurya as president of the party’s UP unit, building ties with caste leaders like Anuradha Patel, Anil Rajbhar are all a part of the attempt to create a grand alliance of OBC and MBC castes including Patel, Rajbhar, Maurya, Kaachi, and Nishad. The Sangh Parivar is also planning “Vichaar Kumbhs”, to facilitate bonding among the Dalits, OBCs and savarnas. The Samajik Samrasta Bhoj at the “Vichaar Kumbhs” is an attempt to strengthen the party’s ties with non-Jatav Dalit castes. The prasad of the puja, to be held along with the Samrasta Bhoj, will be distributed. The Sangh sees the puja and prasad as a means to expand the Hindutva political sphere.
To expand its social base, the BJP is accommodating community leaders from those Dalit castes which have been ignored by others in the party organisation. From the district to the mandal level, it has reserved seats for Dalits, OBCs and women in organisational committees. At the mandal level, five of the 15 positions are reserved for women and two seats for members from SC and ST communities. Of the 60 members at the block level, 20 will be women and four from SC and ST communities. Among the SCs and STs, members of non-Jatav castes like Khatik, Sonkar, Musahar, Bhangi are given preference.
The BJP is also constructing temples for heroes and gods revered by these castes. Sabri Mata temples are under construction in Musahar hamlets — the community considers to have descended from her. A model of the Sabri Mata temple has already been constructed in the Musahar hamlet, Atal Nagar, in Jayapur, a village adopted by the prime minister. Temples for Suheldev Rajbhar have also been proposed in Rajbhar hamlets.
All these could, however, be subsumed under a larger communal identity, and the ongoing communal rhetoric and minor incidents could lead to polarisation. Discussions at Bajrang Dal and VHP camps in Ayodhya and the rise of communal tension in Purvanchal indicate that communal sentiments may harden closer to the elections.
(This article first appeared in the print edition under the headline ‘Target Uttar Pradesh’)