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'If you play on the BJP's agenda, there is no hope for other parties'

By Archana Masih
Last updated on: March 11, 2017 19:23 IST
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'I don't see political alliances working against the BJP until an alternative political agenda is created.'
'In the next two years, we might see a new kind of realignment across India.'

Modi addresses a rally in Jaunpur

Professor Prashant Trivedi, a political expert at the Giri Institute of Development Studies in Lucknow, analyses the UP election verdict with's Archana Masih.

What is taking Mr Modi from strength to strength?

One good thing about Narendra Modi and the BJP is that in each election they are setting the agenda.

Every other political party in every state is responding to that agenda.

Once you play on the BJP's agenda, no matter what you say, it is going to help the BJP.

The only exception was Bihar -- where Lalu Yadav had overturned that agenda. He went back to his basic agenda of Mandal politics -- because the reservation issue had come up and had dented the BJP's appeal considerably.

That did not happen in UP.

Akhilesh Yadav got caught in the same trap as what the BJP had been playing for so many years.

Akhilesh did not talk about the basic politics of the Samajwadi Party.

He did not talk about Mandal, but of the roads and bridges he had built.

If communal politics has to be countered, the issue of social justice has to be forcefully put on the social agenda, the way it was done in Bihar.

If you play on the BJP's agenda election on election, there is no hope for other parties coming back.

Did you expect the BJP would achieve such a landslide win?

One expected the BJP to be the number one party, but was not sure that it would get such a large mandate.

The BJP was doing well in every round -- probably because of two things:

1. Narendra Modi has maintained his influence over the people.

2: The over the surface talk about development was being complimented by a communal polarisation campaign beneath the surface, via social media. This was aiding the BJP in a big way.

What do you see as the reason behind the enormity of the mandate?

We will know better when the vote percentages come. In a three-cornered fight, the anti-BJP vote got divided.

We are seeing roughly that the BJP is getting 40% of the vote; they got 42% of the vote in the parliamentary election and will maintain the same kind of vote percentage.

This means that close to 60% of the people were for parties other than the BJP.

The BJP was able to consolidate its own vote among the upper castes and major OBC castes.

At the same time, it was also able to reach the core votes of other parties through a campaign of communal polarisation.

Obviously, Narendra Modi remains the face of hope for the people -- that was the major contributing factor.

Has the Modi tsunami destroyed caste and communal calculations in UP?

The BJP is able to better micro-manage caste politics. They were able to successfully manage the castes that had a feeling of being left behind by other parties.

Among the Dalits, Jatavs are 56%, the rest -- 45% Pasis etc -- are other castes.

These (45%) feel that whatever comes as affirmative action is being cornered by the Jatavs.

The BJP encashed on that sentiment, similarly for the OBCs.

I don't think all these communities have gone with the BJP, but, of course, a major section of OBCs have voted for them.

Apart from the shamshan, Diwali references some felt the BJP had toned down its shrill communal tone in this election.

The BJP was campaigning at various levels. Since 2014, the penetration of social media is phenomenal.

The BJP doesn't need to campaign on communal issues openly like in 2014.

2014 was also post-Muzaffarnagar, so it was a communally charged atmosphere.

This time the BJP was projecting Modi's work of development and good governance at one level, and at another level through social media and door-to-door campaigns, they were vehemently raising communal issues.

That has worked. Communal polarisation has drawn some votes from other communities also for the BJP, apart from consolidating the upper caste vote.

Like the RLD (Rashtriya Lok Dal) does not seem to have won back its voters that it lost to the BJP in 2014?

It was projected that the Jats have gone back to their old party -- the RLD -- but that doesn't seem to have happened.

The BJP managed to contain the Jat resentment about reservation that stemmed from Haryana.

If you remember Amit Shah had a meeting with over 200 Jat leaders in UP, perhaps this helped bring them on board.

For years, the BJP was thought of as a party of upper castes -- has it now established itself as a party of all castes in UP?

Post-1992, the BJP had already transformed itself.

Kalyan Singh was UP chief minister long back. Leaders like Uma Bharti, Sakshi Maharaj, Vinay Katiyar -- backward and OBC leaders -- have been with the BJP since the 1990s.

(Former BJP ideologue and then party general secretary) Govindacharya had started this debate that the BJP should change its social face. It had happened in the 1990s itself.

Under Narendra Modi, they are renergising that situation.

Voters vote for Narendra Modi rather than BJP. He has become to represent the BJP entirely, isn't it?

In 2014 we saw that Modi had replaced the BJP. Some say he represents the BJP.

Not many people talk of the BJP, they talk about Modi.

Longstanding BJP members must be worried about it because their party has been taken over by one person and the BJP was known as a cadre-based party.

But it is a win-win situation for the party because leaders in other parties are unable to match up to their leader.

It's true that there is no other leader that can match up to Narendra Modi.

Akhilesh Yadav is also a popular leader in UP.

Going by vote percentage, Mayawati still has 22% of the vote. She has also not lost her charisma.

At the peak of her power in 2007, the BSP had 29% to 30% of the vote. In 2014, she got around 20% of the vote -- so she is maintaining her rank and file somehow.

But what is important is whose politics clicks with the people.

Presently, the BJP's politics is resonating with the people, which is why Narendra Modi is larger than life.

But you cannot write off other leaders on the basis of that.

Why did Akhilesh do so badly when he topped almost every CM poll?

Akhilesh fell into a trap of his own creation. He moved away from his basic politics.

People were praising him for his development, but those urban middle class people were not going to vote for him. They were going to vote for the BJP.

He left behind the politics of Mulayam Singh like managing the local caste arithmetic and broadly presenting the SP as a party of backwards.

Akhilesh is trying to transform the Samajwadi Party as a party that appeals to all sections.

It does appeal to them, but it is not converting into votes.

His own appeal is beyond his own caste of Yadavs and Muslims.

Along with development, he should have also come out with the kind of politics that the SP is known for and also carried forward the politics of social justice.

So, he should have pursued the politics of development and social justice simultaneously?

Yes. In the Bihar election, there were two faces: Nitish Kumar and Lalu Yadav.

Lalu was re-energising social justice politics, while Nitish Kumar was focusing on development.

Akhilesh focused on one aspect and left the other behind.

Why did Akhilesh fail to impress UP's youth who seem to have greater faith in Modi than in him?

Youth is not a homogenous construct. The charisma that Modi has on a large section of UP would have influenced the youth too.

Youth goes with aspiration and at present Narendra Modi has somehow projected himself as the hope of the people.

He is generating new aspirations among the people.

Akhilesh was trying the same kind of politics like Modi and Modi comes out a taller leader.

Modi would have easily beaten Akhilesh on the plank f development.

How has the SP-Congress alliance been perceived by the people?

For the anti-BJP voter, it was an alliance of hope.

The anti-BJP vote was focused on this alliance in UP.

The Congress does not have a consolidated vote. It doesn't bring any vote for any alliance.

For the upper caste supporters of the Congress, their second choice would have been the BJP. The Congress' local leaders draw their votes.

We will have to see in the 300 odd seats where the Congress withdrew its candidates, if an upper class candidate of the Congress has withdrawn, then it would have helped the BJP more than the SP.

What is the road ahead for the Congress nationally?

In the short term I don't see the Congress reviving itself from this crisis.

The Congress is a party that does not depend on its own efforts than the efforts of its opponents.

In the 2004 election when the BJP crashed under its own weight, the Congress was revived.

Only that kind of situation can revive Congress in the short run.

Otherwise, I don't see the Congress making any kind of effort to revive itself.

Has the Congress lost its pro-poor space to the BJP?

Right wing populism is a global phenomenon. Europe to Trump's victory. The right wing is projecting the cause of the poor, at least in the short term.

Is it time that the Congress dropped Rahul Gandhi?

Whatever good intention he may have, the truth is that he is not clicking.

He has been there for 15 years. He is a burden, actually.

He is a liability for the Congress party.

What about Mayawati? You say she still holds onto her base, but what happens to the BSP now? Will it become another Dalit party like the RPI, will it lose influence in UP and nationally?

The BSP cannot be written off only on the basis of seats.

They still hold onto 20% to 22% of the vote of the state.

Because of the re-emergence of the BJP, the section of the upper castes that voted for the BSP in 2007 has gone back to the BJP.

The BSP will also have to go back to the politics of bahujans.

The kind of space the BJP is reaching out to actually belongs to the BSP.

They (the BSP) have to reach out to other Dalit communities and MBCs.

They were with the BSP initially, and only consolidated into a Jatav party later.

Earlier, the BSP was an umbrella party of all Dalits and MBCs.

There is no quick fix formula. The way they came out with a Muslim-Dalit formula before the election, then in another election they aligned with the upper castes -- this is not going to work.

The BSP has to reinvent itself into a party that has some kind of transformatory agenda. They are capable of reinventing themselves and coming back as a major political party in the state.

With this defeat, won't the knives be out for Akhilesh in the SP?

His control is complete in the SP.

Mulayam Singh Yadav is a symbolic leader of the party. This result will not write off his political future.

He has emerged as an independent political leader on his own, he is no more known as Mulayam Singh Yadav's son.

These parties could not withstand the BJP onslaught. They were helpless in front of Modi's mighty leadership.

Does the BJP victory make the size of the Muslim vote irrelevant?

When the BJP has 40% of the vote, everybody else is irrelevant.

40% votes translate into huge seats.

Has this paved the way for Modi in 2019?

It is a big shot in the arm of the BJP.

At the same time, a new kind of realisation will start taking place.

The possibility of an SP-BSP alliance is not as unlikely in 2019.

In the next two years, we might see a new kind of realignment across India.

I don't see political alliances working against the BJP until an alternative political agenda is created.

An anti-Modi rhetoric is not going to work unless Opposition parties present an alternative political narrative.

The agenda of development has to be complimented with some alternative to the BJP's social imagery.

Parties have to come up with a different social imagination than the BJP.

Congress leader Ashwini Kumar was speaking about how the secular conscience of a section of people hasn't been able to translate into votes for the Congress.

Transformatory politics that transforms the caste hierarchy and transforms the agenda of social justice has a space and provides a major plank to challenge communal politics than on the basis of secularism.

In Bihar the debate was not between communalism and secularism. It was based on the social imagery that the BJP was presenting which was countered by Lalu Yadav's plank of social justice.

If political parties want to challenge the BJP they have to emulate the Bihar model.

IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses an election campaign rally in Jaunpur, Uttar Pradesh. Photograph: PTI Photo

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